The Pope and PR?

By: Lisa Langsdorf, Director, Fusion PR

In PR, a complete image overhaul can take time, but that’s not to say that it’s impossible. For Pope Benedict XVI, his recent tour in the US seemed purposed to solidify his vision for the Catholic Church while also helping to undo damages related to Church abuses and gaffs the Pope made early on.


Given these circumstances, what is a Pope to do? A PR junket to the US of course.


From a PR perspective it was likely that the Pope’s visit was well planned with the goal to say (without saying): “it’s time to move forward.” The media, for the most part, seemed to be on board dedicating tireless hours to analysis and coverage of his every move.


If you turned on the TV at all since Friday (especially if you live in NY), it’s likely that you watched or channel surfed past “Special Coverage” of the Pope as he made his was through Manhattan. His handlers made all the right moves in terms of the places he visited: Ground Zero, Yankee Stadium, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Park East Synagogue and a ride down Fifth Avenue in the Popemobile. Media attention of the Pope was overwhelming.


This coverage is notably different from the controversy that has shrouded Benedict in the past. The PR lesson to learn here is sometimes an olive branch, and an attempt at reaching out, can make drastic changes in repairing perception. The Pope’s moves were well-planned, the goals defined and the execution flawless.


The same can hold true for businesses, executives and other public figures. Had the Pope stayed out of the limelight, it is likely that attitudes toward the Church would have continued to falter. Rather than ignore the issues, he went into proper crisis communications mode: he condemned the mistakes, asked the community to forgive and promised change. The big challenge will be if change comes. That’s the only way to truly reverse perception…to make changes and to let people know about them. Only time will tell if this happens.


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