|The Five Commandments of Papal PR
By: Shawn Paul Wood
Even the Pope has a bad week every once in a while. Take last week, for instance. In one ill-fated week, Il Papa's butler was arrested for creating the "Vatileak" scandal, the president of the Vatican's bank was fired for not being transparent, and there's a new book out about how Cardinals are just like the birds — red herrings that dump on everything in sight.
Surely, there's a need for a PR spinmeister at 777 Holy See Lane. While God is communicating to the man in the lovely hat, who will communicate that to the world?
Meet Greg Burke, a former FOX News correspondent based in Rome who will take the reigns of the newly created office of Senior Communications Adviser to the Secretariat of State. His job? To "help shape the message coming out of the Vatican and make sure everyone there stays on message."
Good luck with that, Greg. And while we await his first proclamation to the press, I'm inspired to note the five commandments of Papal PR. Greg admits he is not an expert in PR and communications, and since there isn't one around here, I'll step in and come down from the mountain.
I. Thou Shalt Understand Controversy. I mean, the guy reports for FOX News. Need I remind you about his boss, Mr. Murdoch? And now we discover Burke is a member of the Opus Dei, an uber-conservative movement in the Catholic Church that believes everyone is called to holiness. And if you saw the Da Vinci Code, you would know it's one of the most controversial forces within the Church because of its secretive nature and strict rules. And that self-flaggellation thing sorta sucks. The good thing is that during a boring press conference, he can break out the cat o' nine tails and entertain the press.
II. Thou Shalt Not Be The Man. Let's face it. There's not much room for growth. It's not like the CEO is going to retire anytime soon. He is, was, and always has been. And the guy who dictates for him on earth is elected via smoke flumes on national TV. Greg Burke didn't sign up for that kind of pomp and circumstance. After all, check his quote:
It will be heard, but only if you sing in one of those fancy, echoed baritone voices that I hear on "Enigma" CDs.
It's going to be challenging and a little scary...This is a huge and important institution with a billion followers. I'm not going to be a powerful guy, but I'll be at the table with people who do have power and I think my voice will be heard.
III. Thou Shalt Attend the Staff Christmas Party. You can imagine that this is not your normal shindig. However, it will come with plenty of candlelight, lots of wine, and be in a fancy shmancy setting. The Nativity scene will probably be a live one and you'd better be prepared to dress to the nines. Oh, and it starts at midnight. Enjoy.
IV. Thou Shalt Embrace Irony. When Burke was a nubile youth picking zits and trading the top Popes' frisbee golf cards, he grew up in St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish. That's right, Gabriel, as in the angel of delivering the message of Mary's bun in the oven. Foreshadowing, much?
V. Thou Shalt Not Be 'The Voice,' Only Have One. Father Federico Lombardi has been the voice of the Vatican, aside from that guy hanging out in St. Peter's Basilica, for years. Burke has been told he can speak to reporters on background, so he can report general sentiment but cannot be directly quoted. This is actually the best part of his gig because it's what flacks are supposed to do. Train the voices, prepare the press, and direct the needs of everyone involved.
Hopefully, he won't get in much trouble because...how would you like to answer to his boss? You can't talk smack because, like my mama told me, "God don't like ugly." Chin up, Greg. Do your job and make folk happy. Overall, Burke has a great shot at making a difference at the Holy See. Given recent headlines, God knows the Pope could use the help.
Shawn Paul Wood
is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here
or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood