PR lessons from the Pope
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An article by Miriam Pelusi
The Catholic Church is experiencing a resurrection as a once-austere institution turns into a living community.
Three years into his papacy, Pope Francis presents a PR crisis management case and a manifesto for modern public relations.
Yet the Pope is only seen as a great communicator. I will argue that he is singlehandedly elevating the role of PR around the world.
Pope Francis is creating a new genre: immersive PR – and elevating it to a divine art.
Immersive PR techniques
Pope Francis practises PR as a spiritual gift, bringing us to learn from Jesus.
The core message of this fine PR master is love. Calling people by name, smiling, shaking hands, hugging and kissing are PR techniques. Pope Francis, like Jesus, breaks down barriers of indifference with intimate gestures. His homilies start with a simple ‘Good morning’.
This immersive approach to PR delicately changes public perceptions.
Like Jesus, Pope Francis preaches simply, overcoming complex theology and ‘bubbly’ spirituality. He teaches crowds how to pray with memorable techniques applicable in our daily lives. Like Saint Francis, he promotes the richness of poverty. That’s God’s path to untie individualism – the core product marketed by the ‘globalisation of indifference’.
The first Jesuit Pope established a humble style in his first address: “let us begin this journey, the Bishop and the people”.
His authority as pontiff is split into a shared leadership. “Pray for me” seems a slogan stating that everyone is the Pope, just as the divine spirit is in anyone. Christianity serves rather than enslaves.
This servant Pope purifies us by building one-to-one relationships: anyone is a gatekeeper, not a mere stakeholder. The Catholic Church is a family, not a lobby. By following Jesus’ footsteps he creates a dense engagement, a profound communion.
Immersive PR is a resource in the Vatican’s corporate and institutional communication. Behind the ‘Francis effect’ spin, there is Greg Burke – the vice director of the Holy See Press Office. He made communications more immersive by changing the Vatican’s communications structure and strengthening the use of social media.
fraciscusHe continued Pope Benedict XVI’s twitter legacy and recently added Instagram. Those immersive PR techniques gently move our uncentered liquid modernity to a centered fluid community.
Immersive PR surmounts the limitations of the ‘return on investment’: it is rich beyond counting. Franciscan poverty has a remunerative PR effect: it improves mutual understanding by removing uselessness.
Profound concepts in PR literacy
Pope Francis is dearly loved like Pope John Paul II. He shares a meek language with Pope John Paul I and a humble personal story with Pope John XXIII. He realises the cardinal Martini idea of a ‘horizontal Church’ with an immersive PR produsage.
The first Latin-American pontiff is a sensible, natural and calm person – as any PR professional should be.
This Pope is a soul-searcher, not a headhunter. It’s a delicate revolution: with profound respect, he spreads love in the hearth of anyone.
Sensibility replaces empathy in PR. Calmness is a necessary PR skill; it overcomes stress in a fast-paced time. The Pope rejoices crowds with a loquacious silence. He’s busy, but never in a hurry.
In this decade, the biggest PR challenge is generating understanding. Pope Francis edits the PR glossary: he deepens the significance of key concepts by communicating them on an unconscious level.
A visionary events management operation
Pope Francis keeps on making PR events that grab headlines around the world. The Francis effect captivates cinematographic news stories, but immersive PR avoids viral marketing.
For example, observe the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy as an immersive PR campaign. There’s an immersive PR technique: the slogan ‘mercy’ creates a worldwide vision by giving the audience more to act about. The pontiff leads us to rediscover God’s mercy in our daily life.
He sweetly shows people how to feel, not what to think.
The memorable Fiat Lux event on St. Peter’s facade opened the Holy Year in Rome, visually explaining the Laudato Sì. Small events are giant PR icons: the Holy door in Bangui, the exhibition of Padre Pio, a silent meditation with the Holy Virgin of Guadalupe, the mass in three indigenous languages, the Holy Thursday with immigrants.
The Jubilee audiences open up ecumenism. This symbolic liturgy is the concrete manifestation of mercy. Now this message of spirituality gains worldwide attention. The Church becomes a fecund mother, like the Virgin Mary. Her sacred feminine spirituality reawakens Mother Earth.
Me-media management tips
The media frenzy has turned him into a super hero, a pop star and a cartoon. In 2013, he gained a popular cover as the People’s Pope.
He thrills millions of people around the world, like in Rio de Janeiro and in Manila. This celebrity cult reduces him to a testimonial, a selling product. The Francis effect produces populism and idolatry.
On many occasions he has declared that he’s not a temporary star.
In the midst of media
In the midst of media. Photo: Miriam Pelusi
Pope Francis turns the me-media circus around him, into an Apostolic Blessing upon every person.
Pope Francis caresses publicity as an opportunity. The me-media buzz is turned into evangelisation of God’s message.
For example, the apostolic journeys rewrite geography and call for social justice. The return flight press conferences offer an exclusive, an opportunity to broaden his outreach.
His reply to overwhelming curiosity is a PR masterpiece: “We must get used to being normal. The normality of life”.
The Pope’s mission is immortal: “Being servant of the servants of God is something that doesn’t pass.”