Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Recapping the Pope's New York Visit

Now that I've had a few days to get settled in, I'd like to revisit the Papal Public Relations post and add in a few more thoughts.

[Disclaimer: Event planning for the Pope is pretty old school, and as a result, I won’t be talking about Twitter, or the latest FIR on this post. No, this will be a throw back to traditional event planning.]

First, I've included a highly requested Popemobile clip. Here's the Holy Father as he leaves the Youth Rally. It was quite amazing to be so close and to have a free moment to snag the video.

This may come as a shock to some of my colleagues who, like me, faced an unrelenting torrent of questions, demands, and near riots, but this Papal visit has given me a newfound respect for the media.

Some PR pros are susceptible to developing the "us versus them" approach when working the media. I think our agency does a good job of working in collaboration with the reporters that cover our clients, but this Papal visit highlighted three aspects of news reporting that I didn't fully appreciate until this event:

1: Size Matters. There was no way on earth that every outlet could receive media credentials for every stop on the Pope's visit. Some of the events like the Ground Zero stop and the mass at Saint Patrick's Cathedral allowed for precious few media assignments. When it came down to it, the largest outlets often got the spot. That's not to say smaller newspapers, radio stations, and broadcasters didn't get access to high profile venues. Rather, the size of the outlet was a factor in the credentialing and positioning equation.

2: Hurry Up and Wait. As I described in the earlier post. I spent hours upon hours camped out, often in close quarters, with journalists covering the Papal visit. At one point, I found myself stationed next to two photographers. In an effort to kill some time, I commented that today must be hard on them since the media check-in started at 8am for an event that wasn't scheduled until 4pm - thinking the eight-hour wait was brutal for all parties involved. Nope. Not at all. This was their job, they told me. United Nations meetings, visiting heads of-state, waiting was common practice for these guys. They brought books and laptops and seemed legitimately accustomed to sitting on a marble floor for hours, after having spent the entire morning in security lines. All of this for a few minutes or sometimes seconds of opportunity to take the perfect shot.

3: Plan for the Unexpected. You’d think the actual bus ride from the hotel to the venue would be the one aspect of the trip that could be reasonably scripted: get all the media through security and on the bus. Ride said bus. Get off and find the Pope. Pretty manageable, right?

Well, no. As it turns out, the Secret Service escorting the buses to the venue didn’t check the route and we encountered an overpass that was too low for buses. No worries, we spent the better part of an hour backing up on the West Side Parkway causing apocalyptic traffic delays and attracting what I think were news and traffic helicopters. Fox News, with nothing else to do, blogged about the experience here: Wild Bus Ride to Youth Rally. As I think about it, I have no real insight on this one. Shit happens, be ready.

That's it for the Pope, I'll link to a Flickr stream, as soon as I get all the pics uploaded.

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