How two PR agencies capitalized on the pope's US visit

Brian Communications and Golin built buzz before and during Pope Francis' trip.

Photo of Pope Francis in Philadelphia from News.va Facebook page.
Photo of Pope Francis in Philadelphia from News.va Facebook page.

PHILADELPHIA: When Pope Francis visited the US last month, Brian Communications and Golin were among the firms that seized the opportunity to support the event by connecting with local residents and creating content.

Brian Communications first got involved with the trip in February 2014, said Brian Tierney, CEO of the agency. Last week, the firm – which was AOR to the World Meeting of Families event held in Philadelphia – released metrics reflecting the pope’s reach in just two days in Philadelphia, which included global media impressions surpassing the one billion mark. The leader of the Catholic Church also made the front page of 84 domestic newspapers.

As anticipation built ahead of Pope Francis’ September arrival, Tierney said the firm had to shift its focus from outreach about the event to local details, such as transportation and safety.

In August, people started to weigh the option of leaving Philadelphia the weekend of the pope’s visit and hotels weren’t reaching maximum capacity, so it was time to pivot the agency’s efforts, added Tierney.

Invoking Pope John Paul II’s 1979 trip to the US because of its "emotional connection" to the city, Brian Communications launched the I’ll Be There campaign to rally local residents and businesses to take part in the pope’s historical visit. The campaign included 10,000 #OpenInPHL packages and a PSA of Pope Francis speaking in English, which Comcast promoted in eight markets, said Tierney.

That campaign, combined with other efforts, such as the Papal Playbook, which helped close "the gap of misunderstanding of facts," contributed to local hotels nearly maxing out their reservations, he said.

"We wanted people to say, ‘It is a big event.’ You want to be able to say, ‘I was there,’" Tierney explained.

Golin leveraged its Bridge command centers to push out social content and make a splash on a weekend when a single topic’s mentions were in the billions.

Mary Jo Behrman, executive director of digital at Golin, said the intent of working with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was "to give people a way to feel that they could directly connect with the church in their neighborhood and their dioceses, and make that bridge to really help the church in itself regain some enthusiasm and relevance based on the pope’s visit."

The firm’s efforts included releasing video content in English and Spanish, and creating "an ecosystem of different social channels to figure out how and in what way we wanted to use each," such as launching @PopeInUS or video sharing on Facebook, said Behrman.

"We didn’t have any paid dollars behind any of the content we were using," she added.

Although Golin was cognizant of the "continuously declining" impact of organic content on Facebook, Behrman said  "the shareability and the speed at which we were delivering the content was obviously very important, so we were seeing hundreds of thousands of views on our video posts."

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