Monday, March 29, 2010

PR Basics the Catholic Church, Toyota and Big Banks Should Know

With all the PR meltdowns around us right now I found this article by Michael Wolff of the Newser a very interesting read. Ultimately whether you are a church, an automaker or a bank - all the same rules of PR apply. Ignore them at your peril.

source I have used before from the high media stratosphere, who asks to remain anonymous, offers the following: “I am not for a second suggesting there is a parallel between Toyota/Goldman Sachs/Big Banks behavior and the Vatican but ... there is a curious similarity to the way each/both handles bad PR. Specifically there is the weak ‘we are all for transparency’ suggestion, the semi-apology, the vow to do better, etc. But there is also the ‘We are ______ (fill in the blank), we don't have to talk if we don't want to, this too shall pass, it always does’ mentality. Tiger Woods in his grudging ‘statement’ and then controlled ‘interview’ epitomizes this. Getting back to business in the face of outrage is the new black.”

I suppose it makes sense for the Catholic Church to regard itself on the level of mighty industrial companies or Wall Street powerhouses, or, even, an incomparable sports star. I suppose, too, that PR is PR—you do what worked for the last guy who got in trouble.

But the thing that seems most riveting about what’s going on with the Church and its CEO, Joseph Ratzinger (who, the New York Times reports, knew about the systematic buggering of hundreds of deaf boys—and did nothing—and that the infamous Rev. Peter Hullermann, in Germany, even after being exposed as a pedophile, was allowed to return to working with children), is the very real possibility that this PR tradecraft and crisis management isn’t going to work.

It’s a slow-motion, nearly balletic train wreck (so slow that it doesn’t even seem to invite outrage anymore, just amazement—and satisfaction). There is the long, incredible, agonizing revelations of sexual abuse in the American Church—nearly a decade of accusations, stonewalling, cover-ups, confessions, lawsuits, settlements, such that nearly everyone who looks at a priest on an American street is now suspicious. Then there’s the appointment of a new Pope, among the most reactionary and hard line of those who could be chosen, a central point man, in fact, in the decades-long cover-up of abuses. Then, having learned nothing from the American experience, there’s a repeat in Europe of accusations, stonewalling, cover-ups, confessions, lawsuits, settlements.

The difference between the commercial world and the Catholic world is that, in commerce, there is always an impetus to give people what they want. You may be a crook or a hound, but you know what sells.

But the Catholic Church hasn’t been selling for years.

In corporate terms, it is, dare I say, more Detroit than Toyota, more the newspaper business than the management of Tiger Woods' career.

There just is no new new thing for the Church to offer. You confess to a long history of abuses (all horrific, baroque, and obvious), but the only thing you have to offer is just more lonely priests with crusty lips and longing looks.

It isn’t just sexual abuse that’s at issue, it’s modernity itself. The Church’s was bound, at some point, to lose its long fight against ever-evolving technology and culture—the fight was only ever a delaying action.

Anyway, it’s been a long week for the Church. And for me: the Catholic League—as far as I can figure, a solitary fellow with an assistant and computer—disconcertingly at the forefront of the Church’s PR effort, has been sending copious amounts of hate mail my way, eg: “You are evil or mentally unbalanced. I will laugh when you die, your soul in hell, the flames licking your rectum.”


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