Lessons in Branding from an Unexpected Source

15 Aug Lessons in Branding from an Unexpected Source

You know who’s awesome? Pope Francis.

After years of bad press for the Catholic Church, the recently elected pope has been a much-needed breath of fresh PR air.

During his tenure at the Vatican, Pope Francis has demonstrated excellent branding and communications skills, landing him a 92% favorability view among Catholics. Tactics that he uses daily are so simple yet effective that they could be applied by public figures and industries across the board.

Here are a few PR lessons we could all stand to learn from Pope Francis:


Actions Speak Louder than Words

After his election, Pope Francis informed the Vatican that he’d forgo the lavish apartment traditionally occupied by the pope, he’d rather drive a ford focus than travel in a Mercedes limousine, and simple clothes suited him better than formal papal vestments. He wanted to make a statement loud and early that he would, quite literally, practice what he preached.

The idea that actions speak louder than words seems so obvious, yet is forgotten in our profession all too often. It’s one thing to make a declaration that being eco-friendly is important or to pledge to research an issue that customers are facing, it’s another to actually step up and make a change as more than just a publicity stunt.

Luckily his tactics are catching on and Pope Francis isn’t the only one practicing what they preach. Another great example of a public figure implementing real change resulting in real media coverage is the President of Kentucky State University. Raymond Burse took a $90,000 pay cut so 24 low-wage workers on staff could earn $10.25 per hour. Talk about actions speaking louder than words….


It’s okay to be funny

In the B2B/B2G space (and I guess the Catholic Church as well) it’s easy to get caught up in formal presentation. In general, airing on the side of formality isn’t a bad best practice, but every once in a while it’s okay to remind the public that you’re human:

Not only does humor help others relate, but tends to make a public figures a bit more likable.


Embrace new Trends

During his address for the 48th World Communications Day, Pope Francis called the internet a, “gift from God.”  While I’m sure everyone in PR would agree with that sentiment (most days) I was stunned to read that coming from the Pope. He went on to say:

“Good communication helps us to grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately, to grow in unity,” he said. “The walls which divide us can be broken down only if we are prepared to listen and learn from one another.”

In an effort to break down the walls that divide us, Pope Francis has engaged in social media.  His twitter account is followed by 4.35 million people and is filled with prayers, calls to action, and commentary on current events. His papal selfie went viral. He created a twitter account in a dead language. He gets it.

Brands are often hesitant to jump on the social media bandwagon because they don’t understand how it works. This Pope understands that Twitter is a great forum to reach the masses and stay top of mind for demographics that may be distancing themselves from the church. That being said, all social networks are not appropriate for all influencers. When I see the Pope using Snapchat for example, maybe I’ll start worrying.


No matter your religion, it’s hard to disagree that this Pope has built up a great image. His hands on, “man of the people” approach has won him favor in circles that had previously started to migrate away from the church, like millennials.

Whether it is his progressive stances, accessibility, or the fact that he was Time’s “Person of the Year,” Pope Francis has effectively mastered his own brand.



Sally McHugh
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