Photo by Nacho Arteaga on Unsplash

The Public Relations Pontiff

As Pope Francis continues his historic first visit to the U.S., let’s take a look at why this pope, in particular, has been able to make such a connection with the public. What does this holy, public figure possess that gives him the power to overtake a news cycle stuffed with wall-to-wall political coverage?

In a nutshell, Pope Francis – and clearly his savvy media team back at the Vatican – understands the powerful connection between public relations and public opinion. As the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis knows it’s his job is to repair its image and try to gain new followers in the process.

The simple formula of public relations is that the more transparent you are, the more people will respond positively to you, and then hopefully your message. Political candidates struggle with this concept, but Pope Francis has mastered it. Here’s how:

He’s Mastered Messaging From a communications standpoint, Pope Francis knows how well authenticity plays with the masses. He knows what the public – and the press – wants to see and hear from their current pope, and he delivers. In contrast, his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI couldn’t quite get a handle on his public authenticity and was considered distant to the public. He eventually resigned in 2013.

Pope Francis is considered the ‘People’s Pope’ for a reason. In public, he appears to be warm, friendly, and open to greeting Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Another part of Pope Francis’ authentic demeanor comes from his ability not to shy away from touchy subjects that frequently headline the news.

Pope Francis has commented on euthanasia, terrorism, abortion, climate change, and politics yet provides them in digestible sound bites and tweets that offer a calming and refreshing counter-balance to the harshness of the story.

He’s Camera-Ready. Pope Francis continues to cultivate his ‘People’s Pope’ image in large part because of his unscripted moments that have been captured in photographs. Whether it’s a powerful moment: photographed bowing his head in prayer at a graffiti-covered wall separating Bethlehem and Jerusalem, or a playful one: accepting a hand-delivered pizza pie from a pizzeria owner in Naples, Italy just before he was whisked away in his motorcade. Pope Francis knows that a great image is a currency in this digital age.

It also must be noted that he’s the first pontiff to encourage the selfie. (#PopeSelfie)

He’s A Social Pope Francis (@Pontifex) wisely reached out to the online masses by joining social media soon after his papacy began in 2013. His Twitter account now boasts over 7 million followers. It’s a great lesson for how to reach the Millennials – go to where they live. Twitter is currently his only personal account on social media, but it isn’t the only place where you can find him. He is also on Instagram, not on a personal account, but one registered to the media offices of the Vatican. Facebook gets ‘thumbs-down’ from the pontiff, however.

Accessibility His choice of the open-air popemobile is a perfect metaphor for Pope Francis. His transparency sends a message of a pope who has nothing to hide. Whether it’s reaching people who have been waiting in line or online, the pope wants to meet his followers face to face.

Keeps it Simple From choosing the guest apartment over the papal residence to his sensible black leather shoes, Pope Francis is an uncomplicated leader who wants to relate and appeal to all his followers by living a life of simplicity. Pope Francis brings this common touch to his messaging as well. No matter the debate or the decision, his simple, truthful answers speak of a calm leader trying to restore the battered image of the Catholic Church.

This post was originally written by Molly McPherson for The Communication Center.