Crisis PR tips from Pope Francis

Today’s guest blog is by Peppercommer Matt Purdue.

popeWith Pope Francis’ historic trip to the U.S.well underway, let’s look at what PR pros can learn from the Holy Father about managing a reputational crisis. After all, it was just two-and-a-half short years ago that the Roman Catholic Church’s image was more holey than holy.

In 2013, Pope Benedict had just become the first pontiff in 400 years to resign, and the church was being rocked by allegations of sexual abuse by priests. Today, however, Pope Francis is a religious rock star and media darling. Here are a few PR crisis lessons we all can take from this fashionable friar.

Pick a cause célèbre: Pope Francis rails against climate change, and recently issued a papal encyclical on the environment and sustainable development. These are smart moves that resonate with younger Catholics and others. This Pope would not be out of place at a locavore green market in Williamsburg.

Take a cue from the cleric of climate and become a champion of a social issue. This will soften your image and show how much you care about your stakeholder’s concerns. Even better, it will distract your opponents from the issues that really matter. After all, Pope Francis doesn’t appear interested in changing the church’s hardline stance against contraception, gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose and women in the priesthood. But his efforts to save the polar bears are making headlines around the world.

Eat a slice of humble pie: Francis is known for eschewing traditional papal perks. He takes the bus and chooses not to live in the Papal Apartments. Instead, he hunkers down in a suite in a Vatican City guesthouse.

The lesson here for corporate execs rebuilding their image is to ditch the Maserati Ghibli. You don’t have to go so far as to take the bus to work – let’s not get ridiculous – but you’re going to need more plebian wheels. My choice is the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. The great thing about the Audi is that it’s a plug-in electric. When you drive to the office and hook up to the power grid, your angry employees and the camera crews stalking you will praise you as a dyed-in-the-organic-wool ecowarrior.

Fortunately, you don’t have to give up all the trappings of success. Pope Francis doesn’t. He charters airliners for his international trips – no commercial flights for this guy. Even better, he gets the media to pay for it all. That’s right. The hordes of journalists covering the Pope must pay full fare on these flights to subsidize the cost of the Pope and his entourage.

So the next time your PR team schedules a media breakfast, make sure you sell tickets to the hacks to recoup the costs of the bitter coffee and stale bran muffins. No group is hated more than the media, so your constituents are sure to love it.

One thought on “Crisis PR tips from Pope Francis

  1. Great piece Matt! I could sense the tongue-in-cheekiness in certain parts. One thing I would add is that Pope Francis has learned the art of framing. You are right that he’s not budging on certain doctrines, but he’s actually having conversations about those topics. Even saying things like “Who am I to judge?” or “You can be forgiven even if you do this” starts dialogue and expresses that he sees where people are coming from even if the church disagrees. That goes a long way with younger folks and shows a loosening rigidity.