The PRV 2013 Final Grade: And the “A” Goes to…

 The PRV 2013 Final Grade: And the A Goes to...THE PR VERDICT’S “A” (PR PERFECT) grade for 2013 goes to Pope Francis, the Argentinian priest who appears to be single-handedly revamping the priorities – and image – of the Catholic Church.

What a difference a year makes. The church was in chaos in February when Pope Benedict XVI resigned the papacy – something not done in over 600 years. Benedict cited advanced age, though the media speculated his decision was linked to an alleged secret gay network within the Vatican and/or depression after his personal assistant leaked confidential information to the media.

Enter Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first Latin American and first Jesuit priest to be named pope. He was an upstart from the beginning: standing to accept his cardinals’ congratulations instead of sitting on the papal throne; sporting a simple white cassock at his first public appearance; and becoming the first Pope Francis, a name he chose to honor St. Francis of Assisi, himself known for his dedication to the poor.

Pope Francis has sent a consistent message to his flock: get back to basics. On Easter, he bathed and kissed the feet of a group that included women and Muslims. On his first trip official trip abroad, he carried his own bag and insisted on limited security. He recently issued a blueprint for the church that denounced “the idolatry of money” and urged Catholics to stop obsessing over issues like same-sex marriage and contraception. Both Time Magazine and The Advocate, a gay and lesbian publication, named him “Person of the Year.”

THE PR TAKEAWAY: If you can’t reinvent, reinvigorate. No pope can rewrite the Old Testament, but he can take the church in a new direction. It’s no secret the Catholic Church – sullied for more than a decade with child-molestation scandals and a dwindling base – desperately needed a leader who could help close old wounds and inspire new hope. Pope Francis has all the  ingredients for great PR: conviction of his beliefs, consistent messaging, and a personality brimming with charm and enthusiasm. For the Catholic church’s PR, Pope Francis is a nothing short of a godsend.

Has Rush Limbaugh Gone Too Far?

 Has Rush Limbaugh Gone Too Far?

PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Rush Limbaugh.

While it may seem that there is nothing politically conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh won’t say, his recent rant against Pope Francis may have just crossed a line.

On his radio show, Limbaugh railed against the Pope’s recent 50,000-word Evangelii Gaudium, or “The Joy of the Gospel,” in which the pontiff laid out his interpretation of the Catholic Church’s mission. Pope Francis urged his followers to relinquish obsessions with issues like same-sex marriage and contraception and instead return to the fundamentals, e.g. helping the poor. He denounced “the idolatry of money” and criticized “trickle-down economics …[which] expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.”

The Pope’s words thrilled many Catholics who have felt the church has strayed from its core values. But his clear dig at more capitalist societies irked others, including Limbaugh. In typical fiery style, he called the Pope’s views “pure Marxism” and said the Holy See was “dramatically, embarrassingly, puzzlingly wrong.” He also struck a paranoid note, wondering if someone “got to him” (God, perhaps?).

A sticky wicket for Limbaugh. His listeners are conservative, but so are many Catholics –  and a lot of Catholics really, really like their new Pope. Is Limbaugh really asking his fans to pick sides?

PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Rush Limbaugh, who risks alienating an important segment of his fan base.

PR TAKEAWAY: Even if your job is to be controversial,  avoid sacred cows. Indeed, Limbaugh seemed to acknowledge as much, saying “I gotta be very careful” during his tirade. We know how much Rush hates to be referred to as “an entertainer,” but the truth is that’s exactly what he is, and insulting a wildly popular Pope is about as PR un-savvy as it gets. Rush doesn’t have to endorse everything that Pope Francis says, but he would be wise to temper his papal tirades – lest he find some of his flock straying.

The Vatican Joins the World’s Conversation

Pope tweets 150x150 The Vatican Joins the Worlds Conversation

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to the Vatican for an image overhaul now underway.

Since Pope Francis’s appointment, the Pontiff has issued more than 30 tweets. Is it  proof that the Vatican’s unofficial PR makeover is underway? Instead of taking clearly dogmatic and non-negotiable stands on established issues, the Vatican, it seems, is adopting a different tone and is joining new conversations. Some of them are raising eyebrows, with the latest being the most controversial: economic justice.

The Pontiff’s latest tweet took aim at corporations, blaming them for rampant unemployment rates throughout the world. “My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centered mindset bent on profit at any cost,” tweeted the Pope. This followed his earlier tweet criticizing the labor conditions at the Bangladesh factory building that collapsed and killed hundreds of people. As the Twitterverse built on the discussion, Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, was asked about the papal tweet at a news conference. “We are . . . frustrated, yes, certainly,” he said.

Suddenly, the Vatican is in the news for different reasons – talking about what’s already in the news instead of driving its own agenda. After ten years of terrible publicity concerning child abuse and accusations of irrelevancy to the modern age, the PR conversation is changing.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to the Vatican for an image overhaul now underway.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Rather than failing to start your own conversation, join an existing one. For ten years, the PR concerning the Vatican has been focused on four hot button issues: abortion, ordination of women, gay rights, and child sex abuse at the hands of clergy. All polarizing, and all laying the church open to the oft-made claim that it is out of touch and irrelevant. A decade of bad publicity has taken its toll, but with the latest tweets, an important repositioning is taking place. The Vatican is now joining the conversation that everybody else is already in, and as it does so, its relevance increases – along with a Twitterverse of future PR opportunities and listeners.

 

New Pope: Better Than Classic Pope?

 New Pope: Better Than Classic Pope?

The PR Verdict: “A” (Gold Star) for Pope Francis and his PR launch.

And the new pope’s PR machine is off and running. This past Sunday was Pope Francis’s first Easter, and his first opportunity to show the world how he is going to change the image of the papacy. So how did he do?

The headlines were impressive. There was Pope Francis with 12 inmates at a juvenile detention center on the outskirts of Rome for an Easter ceremony. Kneeling before the group, including women and Muslims, he bathed and kissed their feet. The news reverberated around the world with Pope Francis saying, “The one who is highest up must be at the service of others.”

Other news: He has declined to wear the golden cross reserved for popes and has said no to the traditional red papal shoes. He continues to live in modest accommodations instead of the regal papal apartments and is talking of an outward-looking church being of service to others. So far, the Vatican is using these simple, humble tactics to position Pope Francis as a breath of fresh, revitalizing air for the Catholic church. Yet there has been no real change of policy. The new Pope feels different, but the papal message remains unchanged.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Pope Francis and his PR launch turning the media spotlight away from well-worn negative allegations.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Tactics over substance. No one doubts the conservative credentials of the new pope. His doctrinaire views on the traditional hot button issues – abortion, ordination of women, and birth control – are in no way a break from popes past. But tactically, he is changing the conversation about the Catholic Church. With a return to humility and service, he has shifted the focus from doctrinal issues to something less contentious. With no change to policy, this Pope has changed the communication of his message to something far more inclusive and less contentious. Tactical PR battles are often overlooked by the weight of substantive issues, but often it is the tone and emphasis in communication that makes all the difference.  The Republican Party, currently looking to refashion its image and messaging, may want to take note.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners and Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to the Vatican. The seat of Catholicism gets our top grade – but not without qualifications. Our simple advice to the new Pope? Enjoy the honeymoon. The appointment was a big PR hit, no doubt: Francis, the first Pope from the Americas and a humble man who embraces a vow of poverty, gave the Vatican the forward-thinking PR page it is looking for. But storm clouds are already gathering. His age (76) will inevitably mean his tenure is abbreviated, while rumors are already surfacing about how he allegedly turned a blind eye to torture abuses during Argentina’s military rule. A high grade for a good start, but the challenge will be staying there; just ask Pope Benedict.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to the TSA. The Transportation Security Administration continues to stand by their decision to allow small knives and other potentially dangerous tools and devices aboard aircraft, despite rising hue and cry from flight attendants, passengers, and politicians. Their defense? They want to turn attention to finding the hundred larger, deadlier threats – like the stun gun one passenger packed in his carry-on baggage this week (missed by security) or the fake bomb strapped to the leg of a security agent during a test (also missed). They have a point, but it’s blunted by another, oft repeated: the 9/11 attacks were begun by box cutters that would be waved right on through with this order.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Kanye West and Justin Timberlake. Enthralled by their current imbroglio? Yeah…neither are we. For those who missed it: West, in his own inimitable and unprintable way, criticized Timberlake’s single “Suit & Tie” at a concert last month. Timberlake struck back this week while hosting Saturday Night Live by changing a line of the same song, crooning  “My hit’s so sick got rappers actin’ dramatic.” Take that, Kanye! Who knows how the unpredictable West will respond – and does anyone really care? Ho-hum. We’ve come a long way from the East Coast-West Coast rap wars of the 1990s, folks. Maybe they should, too.

Vatican Can’t Stop PR Woes

 Vatican Cant Stop PR Woes

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the Vatican.

What could be in the Vatican dossier? That is the question on the media’s collective mind as rumors continue about the contents of the 300-page dossier complied by Vatican officials into the Vati-leaks scandal. What is already well known is that the report details an underground network of gay clergy, allegedly blackmailed by a rival faction within (or possibly outside) the Vatican. Throw alleged nefarious dealings with the Vatican Bank into the mix, and no wonder the recently resigned Pope has a PR headache larger than his ceremonial headdress.

The upshot? Rumors abound that the Pope resigned not due to failing health, but because the repercussions of the recently complied dossier are so damaging he thought it better to return to a life of isolated prayer. Not true, says a Vatican spokesperson, who has vehemently denied media reports, claiming they are “unverified, unverifiable, or completely false.”

Meanwhile, the Vatican is hurriedly making changes to its top management. It announced a new head of the Vatican Bank and moved one of the bank’s former heads to a new unrelated role. Vatican PR says these changes are unconnected with the dossier and is accusing the media of trying to discredit the church and its government. No one can say for sure, but if the Vatican was a publicly traded company, its stock would now be at all time low.

THE PR VERDICT: “F”(Full Fiasco) for a woeful week for the Vatican.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Start from the beginning. From the moment Pope Benedict said I quit, Vatican PR has been fighting an uphill battle. Conceding that his sudden resignation was a surprise, Vatican PR immediately created fertile ground for rumor and speculation. When a company changes management and chooses a new CEO, there is usually a plan in place to help the transition look seamless and unremarkable to the outside world, no matter what went on behind closed boardroom doors. What happened here, at one of the world’s oldest organizations? That’s as mysterious as the contents of the dossier, but for the Vatican, the problems look set to multiply like loaves and fishes.

New Vatican PR’s First Announcement: I’m the New Vatican PR

 New Vatican PRs First Announcement: Im the New Vatican PR

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for the Vatican not publicly backing their new press rep, Greg Burke.

Are the Vatican’s PR troubles coming to an end? The Vatican has been looking around for someone to help its beleaguered image, following a series of ongoing PR disasters. The center of Catholicism announced earlier this week the appointment of a new Communications Director–Greg Burke, a 52-year-old American who has covered the Vatican for Fox News. Presumably he will be taking the organization into a new world of “fair and balanced” PR.

When organizations look externally for a PR adviser, it’s usually due to the unhappy realization that no one likes its messaging. In this case, when dealing with a 2,000 year old institution, it remains to be seen how much flexibility Burke has to fashion messages. Announcing his appointment, he explained to the media what a Communication Director does, describing the position as a “strategy job.” He said, “It’s very simple to explain, not so easy to execute: to formulate the message and try to make sure everyone remains on message.”

Strangely, the key person commenting to the media on his appointment seemed to be Burke himself. Where were the Vatican’s leaders welcoming him to the fold and confirming that its PR is about to turn the page?

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for the Vatican for its handling of the announcement and hiring of its new head honcho.

PR Takeaway: Start as you mean to go on. If a new hire is being brought in to change things up, then a strong public signal of this intention needs to be sent. Having Burke speak to the media about his own appointment without ringing endorsement from the people who hired him already makes him look lame and isolated. Next time, bosses, give your new hire firepower by welcoming and backing him publicly so that the organization and its stakeholders understand change is coming. And new hire, leave your announcement to the bosses and start talking only once your feet are under the table.

Can announcements about new public relations staff ever be made by the PR staff themselves, or does this send the wrong message? Give us your PR Verdict!

Vatican’s Defense: Leaked Documents Are Work of Satan

 Vaticans Defense: Leaked Documents Are Work of Satan

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Vatican PR.

Apparently the Lord is not the only one who moves in mysterious ways. Now the Vatican says it needs to factor the Devil himself into its PR planning. Wondering why current leaks are destabilizing the Vatican and creating havoc in the traditionally hushed institution? The Vatican says the current scandal involving leaked documents and allegations about its financial dealings–known as Vati-Leaks–is the work of Satan.

This startling theocratic explanation comes from none other than Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who apparently ranks second only to Pope Benedict in the Vatican’s’ hierarchy. When asked by Italian media why damage control had failed so miserably, he said the Vatican’s latest headaches were the Devil’s attempt to undermine the holy order.

No wonder the Cardinal  is annoyed: The Devil has leaked sensitive documents and broken secrecy surrounding the Vatican’s banking system. Bertone said in an interview that the image of the Vatican as a place of intrigue and power struggles was misleading, but then somersaulted 180 degrees by commenting, “The truth is that there is an attempt to sow division that comes from the Devil.”

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Vatican PR. (And presumably ”A”–Gold Star!–for the Devil and his PR). If trying to portray events as storms in a teacup, then invoking the Devil is bound to confuse.

The PR Takeaway: It’s not possible to have it both ways in PR. If current scandals are blamed on the Devil, then claiming that there is nothing to worry about sounds odd indeed. Stand the Devil down, Vatican! Otherwise, if some of the allegations are proven to be true, then the Devil might find himself hailed as a whistleblower. What then?

To read more click here.

What do you think of the Vatican’s defense that Satan is behind the Vati-Leaks? Give us your PR Verdict in Speak Your Mind, below.

BREAKING NEWS FROM THE VATICAN’S CHIEF EXORCIST:

fatheramorth BREAKING NEWS FROM THE VATICANS CHIEF EXORCIST:

The PR Verdict: “A” for the Vatican's Chief Exorcist.

Father Amorth, Head Exorcist at the Vatican (yes really), has hit the headlines.  He has shed scandalous light on a long running mystery concerning the unsolved disappearance of a fifteen-year-old in Rome, Italy during the 1980s.  Speaking to the Italian media he alleged yesterday that schoolgirl Emanuela Orlandi, a name well known in Italy, was kidnapped three decades ago, murdered and her body disposed of by officials who worked for embassies to the Vatican.

But wait, Father Gabriele Amorth, who is also the the honorary president of the International Association of Exorcists  (yes REALLY!) says the disappearance of the  young girl was a “crime with a sexual motive”.  He claims she was most probably kidnapped and forced to take part in sex parties.  Based on recent findings from a mysterious Vatican archivist he says, “…parties were organized, with a Vatican gendarme acting as the ‘recruiter’ of the girls.  The network involved diplomatic personnel from a foreign embassy to the Holy See.  I believe Emanuela ended up a victim of this circle,” he told Italian media.

Father Amorth, aged 85 is no stranger to controversy.  Previously he has described yoga as satanic, because it leads to the worship of Hinduism.  Ever vigilant he has also warned against the dangers of Harry Potter novels, urging caution as the texts encourage children to experiment with black magic and wizardry. The reasons he has turned his attention to solving murder mysteries is unclear but oh boy, he always gets his headlines.

The PR Verdict: “A” for Father Amorth and a well managed media hit almost entirely devoid of content. Is the mystery any closer to be solved or could the Vatican’s chief exorcist be a fame junkie?

PR TAKEAWAY:  For the perfect media storm: throw together key words and let the content look after itself.   Is there anything sexier than words that include; sex scandal, sex parties, murder, foreign officials and yes, the Vatican?  When these words come from the Vatican’s “Chief Exorcist” headlines are guaranteed. Content is a little trickier though and despite the rather sensational claims it is not obvious that this mystery will be solved anytime soon. This is one case where a little content has gone a long way. Could higher powers be at work?

To read more click here and here.

The PR Verdict returns on Tuesday, after the Memorial Day Weekend.

 

 

What did Castro Ask the Pope?

popecuba What did Castro Ask the Pope?

The PR Verdict: “B” for Castro for a clever PR move.

“And what does a Pope do?”  That apparently was the question posed by octogenarian dictator Fidel Castro to the Pope on his recent visit to Cuba.  The Pope, no doubt surprised, politely responded to Castro by talking of his ministry, his trips, and his service to the Church, so says the Vatican’s spokesman.

The Pope in his historic visit made a couple of vague digs at Marxism and spoke about the need for freedom, calling on both the USA and Cuba “to seek truth and choose the way of love, sowing reconciliation and fraternity.”   Nothing too threatening for his hosts.

What else came out of the visit?  Christmas was reinstated by the Cuban regime as a courtesy to the Pontiff as was Good Friday.  Hassle free concessions from one of the world’s nastier dictators.

The PR Verdict: “B” for Castro and his cronies for a clever PR move.  He emerged as the “listening dictator” and by making a couple of smart moves, gave catholic minded Latin Americans something positive to talk about.

The Church and committed Marxists don’t usually get along.  What better way to reboot a tempestuous relationship than by asking a question? Castro’s headline-making ice breaker startled not only for its genuine weirdness but because it changed the dynamic of the visit.  Sounding more like a kid on a school excursion, Castro became the listening dictator not the dictator of famously long interminable monologues.  Smart move.

To read more click here and here.

What’s your PR verdict on Castro’s PR strategy?

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