3 PR lessons from Pope Francis’ TED Talk

Brand managers can take inspiration from the pontiff’s address, which warned listeners not to forget those around them and to use their power wisely.

Image by Aleteia Image Department via / CC BY-SA 2.0

Pope Francis has garnered admiration for his use of social media, but his recent surprise has made even more headlines.

The pontiff took part in TED2017—a nonprofit talk series that stands for “Technology, Entertainment and Design”—which was held Tuesday in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The pre-recorded talk, titled, “Why the only future worth building includes everyone,” marked the first time the pontiff addressed an international conference—and the first time any sitting pope has made a speech like this.

The Verge reported:

According to Bruno Giussani, TED’s international curator, organizing the talk was a huge undertaking. While Pope Francis is on Twitter and Instagram, many at the Vatican weren’t aware of the series, and it took a number of meetings to arrange the speech, which was recorded in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope Francis’s home in Vatican City. Filmed in April, the talk was then edited and translated by a group of 40 translators. (The talk is currently subtitled in 20 languages.)

Since Wednesday, the video has racked up more than 935,000 views on TED’s website, as well as almost 239,000 views on YouTube:

His speech has several life lessons, but Francis also had advice for business leaders and brand managers.

NPR reported:

… [H]is message quickly moved to the conference’s core subject matter (technology and innovation), and seemed to be directed at the audience in the room: the founders of some of the world’s biggest tech companies, as well as politicians, artists, entertainers, venture capitalists and leaders of major cultural institutions and foundations.

Here are a few takeaways:

1. Focus on your audience.

Pope Francis said:

… I would love it if this meeting could help to remind us that we all need each other, none of us is an island, an autonomous and independent “I,” separated from the other, and we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone.

He later cautioned against focusing on products and systems, instead of the people they serve:

Only by educating people to a true solidarity will we be able to overcome the “culture of waste,” which doesn’t concern only food and goods but, first and foremost, the people who are cast aside by our techno-economic systems which, without even realizing it, are now putting products at their core, instead of people.

This can most recently be seen in United Airline’s PR crisis, which prompted the company to release a set of promises to itscustomers in the hopes of regaining their trust.

The airline’s chief executive, Oscar Munoz, said in a statement:

Our review shows that many things went wrong that day, but the headline is clear: our policies got in the way of our values, and procedures interfered in doing what’s right. This is a turning point for all of us at United, and it signals a culture shift toward becoming a better, more customer-focused airline. Our customers should be at the center of everything we do, and these changes are just the beginning of how we will earn back their trust.

You don’t have to wait until your organization’s policies get in the way of building relationships with customers—or until they cause a reputational disaster—to change.

If your customers are the focus of your values and mission, meet regularly with your team(s) to ensure that they remain at the core, and that your messages and tactics show this. If you have put your products and services on a pedestal, take this time to correct your course. You might have an awesome technology or application, but without your audience, you are nothing.

2. Use your power wisely.


The pope encouraged listeners—especially those in positions of power—to act humbly and with tenderness:

Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other. There is a saying in Argentina: “Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.” You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness.

The pontiff’s message should ring true for leaders of all stripes, and brand managers can help their organization’s executives better connect with both employees and consumers.

Why is it important for people to trust organizations’ chiefs? Without it, an organization’s value can decline, and you can be more susceptible to bad press and crises (think Uber). With trust, you can more easily build a community of brand advocates, better retain employees and gain investors’ confidence.

In a recent PR Daily article, ICology founder and vice president of StaffConnect Chuck Gose wrote:

Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer shows trust in CEOs is at its lowest level ever, 37 percent, having fallen 12 percentage points in the last year. The report isn’t saying specifically that employees don’t trust their own CEO, but one might infer that.

Gose said the solution is to encourage executives to participate in internal communications and employee relations efforts. To increase trust with consumers, brand managers can also ensure that executives receive regular media training and have a social media plan for their personal accounts.

The more your executives can connect with those in and outside of your organization, the better your culture will be—along with your bottom line.

3. You can make a difference.


It can be easy to think that one person’s words or actions can’t affect much, especially when widespread change is necessary. However, that’s not the case.

Francis said:

The future of humankind isn’t exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies. Yes, they do hold an enormous responsibility. But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a “you” and themselves as part of an “us.” We all need each other.

PR and marketing pros, let this be a call to remember your community.

The trend of “influencer” relations has shown many brand managers that their organizations don’t exist in a vacuum. The effect that one viral video (such as Kohl’s and “Chewbacca Mom”) or online reviews have on an organization’s sales and a brand’s image can be huge.

Working with members of your community—whether through an official “influencer” campaign or via social media listening and engagement—can strengthen your organization and bring you additional insights.

PR and marketing pros should also note how the pope exemplified how “none of us is an island” with this closing remarks.

A Washington Post news analysis offered this:

In case you missed it, here is the most powerful man in the Catholic Church, humbly asking a bunch of TED conference attendees to keep him in their thoughts, seeking their help as he goes about his work.

That kind of role-modeling helps underscore his message in a world that still muddles authority with leadership and conflates power with muscle-flexing. It offers an example for a world where an American president—one who never apologizes and mostly speaks in boastful superlatives—campaigned that “I alone can fix it” and considers “strong control” evidence of a better leader. It’s an immediate illustration of what humility in leadership looks like.

(Image via)

Topics: PR


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