The brand of Catholicism needs last rites


There's been quite a bit of buzz here in Manhattan about the recent elevation of Archbishop Timothy Dolan to cardinal (the Roman Catholic Church Cardinal, not the Arizona or St. Louis variety).
Dolan comes across as a hale-and-hearty man of the people who, in his inaugural remarks as Cardinal-in-chief, told New Yorkers that the Red Sox weren't the enemy, the Devil was. I thought that was a nice tie-in to the beginning of baseball's Spring Training.
But, Dolan is wrong. The Roman Catholic Church's enemy isn't the devil. To paraphrase Pogo, 'The Church has met the enemy and they is us' (actually, Church leaders know they're their own worst enemy, but they're in complete denial). And, the brand of Catholicism is suffering as a result of their parochial view.
According to a HuffPo article, “…untold numbers of people have left the Roman Catholic Church. In a 2008 survey, Pew research found that one in 10 Americans now consider themselves an ex-Catholic.”

Personally, I consider myself a Recovering Catholic.
The HuffPo article says the Church has launched an advertising campaign inviting prodigal parishioners (and bloggers, one would assume) to 'come home'.
The advertising won't work for two reasons:
 - Advertising fails miserably when used to gain, or regain, trust. Consumers recognize (and reject) advertising as a ploy by an organization to say what it, and it alone, wants to say about itself. It's the ultimate top down, inside out marketing strategy (as opposed to word of mouth, social media and public relations, which rely on listening first and then engaging in conversations in authentic ways).
 - The Church's twin policies of celibacy and pro-life reflect the world view of old white men. As is the case with many Fortune 500 corporations, critically-needed change is being retarded with the Church because the guy in the corner office is too far removed from the wants and needs of his audience.
A PR Week reporter asked me what one piece of advice I'd provide to the CEOs of energy companies and Wall Street firms (both of whom finished dead last in a new Harris Interactive 'trust' survey). “That's easy,” I responded. “The CEO's need to leave their corner offices, put themselves in their customers' shoes and experience their brands from the outside in.” Only then will they truly grasp the hostility their greedy,
out-of-touch actions have caused.

I'm sure Cardinal Dolan is a humble guy. I even saw him dishing out food to parishioners on Ash Wednesday. But, while he may have been feeding his flock's bodies, I guarantee he wasn't listening to what was on their minds.
People are fleeing the Church because, like many other dysfunctional brands, it's making the classic mistake of not listening to audience wants and needs, and changing its ways to become relevant again.
Unless something changes soon, it may be time for The Vatican to call in one of its own to administer last rites to the brand. I'd suggest it's already on life support, but I'm not sure of the Church's stance on artificially prolonging life.


3 thoughts on “The brand of Catholicism needs last rites

  1. It’s disappointing to see the brand in such distress, though not a Catholic, it saddens me to see some billion or more folks feel so distant from their faith.
    This week the Pope announced he’s embarking on Twitter campaign to “Save” Lent. Or Lemmings, I’m not sure which.
    Unfortunately my best guess is that, like so many organizations, Holy Mother Church will employ their Twitter account as merely another form of push-message or supply-side communications. Rather than seizing the opportunity to bring folks closer together and ultimately bring the brand more inline with their stakeholders’ needs.
    It’s a shame so many brands fail to grasp the myriad organizational benefits that the socialized environment has to offer.
    It seems that post Vatican II where the idea was to have a much more engaged laity, the exact opposite has happened. And now the Church will probably join those ranks of brands I’ve begun referring to as suffering from Anti-Social Brand Disorder.
    Simply put any organization that continues to use technology and communications tactics to keep stakeholders an arm’s length rather than bringing them closer exhibits Anti-Social Brand Disorder.

  2. Real estate does indeed provide the Church with a huge financial cushion, GoToPEngel, but, like Big Tobacco, the Church is also doing exceptionally well in Third World countries. That’s how they’re offsetting the significant loss of parishoners in First World ones.

  3. You’re right on the money (emphasis on that word is mine) about the Catholic Church. But in the world of big-time religion, they’re like General Motors. It’ll take many more decades, maybe even another century, before they’ll be forced to acknowledge just how badly the rot has set in.
    One of the things that keeps them pretty well insulated in the Vatican is real estate. Even if the people aren’t contributing to the coffers like they used to, there’s always stuff to sell at high value!