Communications lessons from the Vatican to the Beltway

Apparently religion and politics do mix.

That idea was one of the takeaways from day two of the Arthur W. Page Society’s Be a Disruptor seminar.

The morning session included discussions with Beltway leaders and a communications advisor to the Vatican. Jim VandeHei, co-founder, president, and CEO of Politico, kicked off the morning with Jen O’Malley Dillon, partner at Precision Strategies and former deputy campaign manager of Obama for America, and Brad Dayspring, communication director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Much of the conversation focused on communications around the Affordable Care Act, which VandeHei characterized as a "debacle." Dillon conceded that early on "the Obama campaign didn’t get it right," but that the campaign "has since moved to a place where they can better target the message" and talk about kids being able to stay on their parents’ plans longer and eliminating pre-existing conditions.

Dayspring contended that Republicans won the days in terms of messaging because they were consistent in maintaining that Obamacare was "too big, not going to work, and can’t do everything it promises."

All agreed that getting a message to punch through the clutter is much more difficult, and connecting with stakeholder often requires "embracing the smart risk" such as when President Obama hit Reddit for an Ask me Anything session.

Panelists were also in agreement about Twitter’s use as a very important platform for getting the message out and about the successful, and not so successful, uses by politicians. Former Senator Scott Brown (R-MA)’s butt tweets didn’t move any political agenda forward. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) was commended for being a savvy social media user because she communicated authentically and built a sense of trust and community online over the long term.

The next panel of the morning moved from the Beltway to the Vatican with former Fox and Time journalist Greg Burke, senior media advisor of the Secretariat of State at the Vatican, talking about messaging that is more action than words as Pope Francis is "changing the image of the priesthood one humble act at a time."

Choosing to live in the community rather than the papal apartments, positioning himself more as a parish priest, and "showing himself where he lives" will not change perception of the church overnight, but Burke contends that change will happen by "producing more people like Pope Francis."

Tradition still rules the day at the Vatican. Burke says in terms of communications "it’s not a big open space," but "we’re getting better at it."

With a small communication staff, the team at the Vatican will also likely continue to take the advice of the Pope to "work hard and pray harder."

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