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Restoring the Faith in Messaging

The announcement of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation just before the start of Lent season comes as a shocking surprise to the world.  Depending on how “resignation” is defined and how the Holy See’s records are interpreted, as few as four and as many as 10 popes have renounced the Papacy.

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Pope Benedictus XVI (Photo Credit: wikipedia.com)

 
The last pope that resigned was Pope Gregory XII in the early 1400s, and like his predecessors, Pope Benedict’s resignation is sprinkled with controversy. So, how does the Vatican respond to such unprecedented news?
 
The Vatican’s semi-official daily newspaper is L’Osservatore Romano, and so far it is gearing its coverage toward restoring readers’ faith in the Church by emphasizing that the Pope’s resignation is conquerable and recoverable.
 
The newspaper’s coverage hammers three central points: the Pope’s resignation is a difficult and regretful decision but made for the greater good; the Pope’s character is that of courage and humility to admit his
inability to stay in his position; and the Church will recover from all of this.
 
Rather than focusing on the fact that the Pope is leaving his position, L’Osservatore Romano draws
attention to the Pope’s character, calling him courageous and humble for being so honest.  And despite the social lashing the Catholic Church has received in the media, the Vatican’s messaging isn’t defensive, but supportive and positive.
 
Consistency is key in the Vatican’s messaging, particularly at a time when a lot of people are looking to the Holy See for a resolution and a way to restore order.  In fact, the messaging has been so consistent and effective that it is positioning the Pope’s resignation as an opportunity for change and a restoration of faith in the Church.
 
The Vatican’s approach serves as a good example that it is not enough to communicate what will be done to fix a situation, but rather it is how a message is communicated that determines whether the message can restore people’s faith.

 

Joanne Sibug, jsibug@pondel.com

Hurd on the Street

This past weekend, Hewlett Packard’s head honcho Mark Hurd abruptly resigned as CEO of the world’s largest technology firm, amid a firestorm of controversy involving actress-turned-marketing consultant Jodi Fisher. Surprisingly, it’s not Fisher’s 2007 sexual harassment case against Hurd that led to his ouster; it was filing faulty expense reports.
 
Following news of Hurd’s resignation, H-P’s stock has lost more than eight percent of its value. In his five plus years as CEO, Hurd restored H-P to profitability, more than doubling the stock, mostly due to his no-nonsense approach to business.
 
Hurd’s predecessor
Carly Fiorina, now a candidate for the U.S. Senate, also was ousted by the company’s board.  Fiorina’s departure, however, was tied to poor performance, a long-standing issue while she was CEO, and primarily due to her inability to fully leverage the company’s acquisition of Compaq in 2002.
 
The trick now for H-P is to find a successor to Hurd, and the challenge is managing the transition with effective communications.   Could H-P’s recent stock drop have been mitigated with a better communications plan?  That’s debatable.  Hurd had a positive influence on the company’s performance.
 
Indeed, it’s hard for any organization to manage a crisis, and strategic public relations is essential in these matters, especially when a company has to communicate contentious news to its constituencies, i.e. investors, employees, and the general public.  Even a tactful tweet can go a long way, but it has to be smart and sincere. We’ll see how H-P investors react when the company reports on August 19.

 

George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com