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Mis-Communicator of the Week: Pope Francis

1st October 2015


Storytelling has been a hot concept in PR and broader communication circles for the past few years. Effective, long-term, change opinion, storytelling is made up of many elements way beyond ensuring there is always a start, beginning and an end. The structure is the easy part - its the bits that grab attention, move people, that are hard. That is what we have seen this week with our award winner, Pope Francis.

If I had been writing this - and meeting my deadline - yesterday then the award to Francis would have been a positive one. On a 6-day visit to the USA he was given a “rock star welcome” and was described as the “people’s pope” as well as securing impressively positive media coverage in the US and around the world. As he travelled around in a down-to-earth Fiat 500 he undertook diverse engagements such as addressing the United Nations General Assembly, to talk about protecting the environment, as well as visiting a school in Harlem, and leading mass in Madison Square Garden.

All the pictures and column inches were positive: smiling people, smiling pope and genuine excitement about his leadership of the Catholic church. I am not saying that this excitement is misplaced, my criticism comes from a communication perspective. While the pope’s words and actions on this trip all matched the story he is trying to tell (communicating who he is, transmitting more modern values, leading the Catholic church into the future)it has now become clear he doesn’t score maximum points on transparency and, perhaps, authenticity.

Today it has emerged that Francis met with a controversial American local government official who was jailed for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licences, during his US trip. The meeting with Kim Davis took place behind closed-doors at the Vatican Embassy in Washington. Previously Francis has been seen to take a more compassionate view of same sex relationships than his predecessors so this meeting is being reported in negative terms and certainly not in step with the carefully choreographed storytelling achieved during the pope’s stay in the US.

Keeping this meeting secret may have meant that the message of the pope’s visit wasn’t undermined while he was in America. The way it has come out subsequently though will lead many to question his story and conclude Pope Francis is not the modern liberal everyone had assumed which is why he is my Mis-Communicator of the Week.

Mis-Communicator of the Week is written by Edward Staite.



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