The Young Pope: Marketing Vatican City

Imagine you’ve been hired to manage publicity for a new client, a client who has just been elevated to the highest position in his field. People around the world—his peers and ordinary citizens alike—are waiting to hear about him, to see him, to get to know him better. Now imagine that your client is decidedly camera-shy and eschews ordinary communication channels.

This is the scenario the Vatican City Marketing Director encounters on the fictional television drama, The Young Pope.

In her first visit with Pope Pius XIII (Jude Law), Sofia (Cécile De France) outlines an outreach plan that includes a photo shoot and commissioning artists to create commemorative dishware featuring His Holiness. But the Pope has other ideas. He asserts that his office should feature a lack of access.

Sofia’s requests for a photo shoot are met with the Pope’s insistence on being photographed in shadow. His response to interview requests are even more extreme given his status as the first American Pope in history: He announces that he will no longer grant interviews.

Sofia’s responsibilities shift by necessity from profit-driven marketing to relationally-oriented public relations. His Holiness is more than a little caught-up in his new position. Upon learning that his first homily has sown “doubt and fear among the faithful,” he announces plans for a press conference, but instead dictates a statement to his special advisor, Sister Mary (Diane Keaton). During the press conference, she reads the statement aloud to a jam-packed room of journalists, all without taking a single question.

His Holiness remains steadfast in his refusal to grant interviews despite media now clamoring for access. The Young Pope’s communication approach is at odds with that of the entirety of the fictional Vatican City.

It remains to be seen whether Sofia will wield any real influence on building relationships between the Pope and the faithful. But the lusciously stylized program contains just the right amount of melodrama, realism, and character-driven narrative to keep viewers engrossed.

—Cheryl Ann Lambert, Ph.D.

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