Now that the Pope has left the UK, Cream evaluates the Papal visit from a media perspective, and examines the implications and benefits for Brand Catholic.
With the departure of Pope
Benedict XVI and his entourage yesterday, the UK returns to normal after four
days of prayer, protest and PR. From the 16-19 September, and for a few days
before, the entire country came to standstill as nearly every government agency
seemed preoccupied with the Papal visit. Blanket news coverage across all
platforms made it impossible to avoid the first state visit from the Holy See.
As a marketing brief, this
was not an assignment for the faint-hearted, and I expect there are a few very
tired and extremely relieved PR, press and marketing officers breathing huge
sighs of relief this morning.
Bringing the Pope to the UK
is always going to be a tricky proposition. The spirit of the Reformation looms
large in the British consciousness. It is a permanent fixture in the school
syllabus, and the exploits of the Tudor monarchs provide rich pickings in
popular culture for Phillipa Gregory and HBO. Census figures suggest that Roman
Catholics account for around one in 10 of the population, approximately 4.2
million people – which is a sizeable devoted audience. More importantly this
leaves a crucial 9 out of ten non-Catholics, who are all potential converts to
the faith. Regardless faith, a survey conducted by Theos at the start of
September indicated that 79% of the 2000+ people interviewed had “no personal
interest” in the visit”. It seemed the UK was at best apathetic to the visit.
Vocal opposition from a
number of human rights groups (an estimated 20,000 individuals in London on
Saturday) personal criticism of Pope Benedict‘s handling of child abuse
scandals, not to mention the media stories discussing the cost of the visit to
the taxpayer only served to highlight further how diplomatic this diplomatic
visit needed to be. Compared by one Foreign Office official to a game of three
dimensional chess, there were suggestions early on that the visit was in
organisational and financial disarray.
One thing the Roman Church
excels in is theatrics, and Pope Benedict knows how to put on a show. An
estimated 500,000 combined people saw him in Scotland, Birmingham or London. The
official site for the Papal visit received 1.7m hits during the period (I
wonder how many plastic candles they sold in the online shop?).
As teams of government officials
and members of the clergy breathe a sigh of relief that the visit went, A: without
hitch (the arrest of six street sweepers suspected of an assassination attempt
notwithstanding) and B: at all.
Britain’s most senior
Catholic coining the moniker “Benedict Bounce”, describing the positive
influence of the visit upon the Church and potential churchgoers. In truth, it
will be some time before the real benefits, if any, can be accurately assessed.
A branding success? Although
it pains me to admit it, yes.