Cardinals in Rome: Black Smoke = PR Win!

By Scott Signore

Speaking strictly as a PR guy, if I were a Cardinal in Rome charged with electing the next holiest Man on the planet, I’d take my sweet old time getting to the finish line. Here’s why:

Only Google has the cash on hand to pay for the positive, continuous and positively ubiquitous PR the Catholic Church is experiencing right now. Incredible, isn’t it? Since the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the Catholic Church has been front page and lead story news just about everywhere – every morning and every night. Will there be black smoke or white smoke? Who will it be?

The stories focus on history, pageantry, tradition, and God-influenced decision-making. And, let’s face it, that’s about 200 miles to the left of some of the unseemly Church-related stories of recent weeks and months. To be cheeky, this process has been a PR godsend for the Catholic Church.

Collection of Cardinals, I say keep the Conclave going! Don’t hesitate to have the extraordinarily lengthy discussions appropriate for you to have when you meet only periodically in Rome. The world is atwitter about your every move. To rush the decision is to squander billions of dollars worth of free, positive PR.  Brevity is not your friend. Consider a Roman filibuster and stall as long as you possibly can before casting your votes and sending that heralded white smoke into the sky.

Black smoke is a highly intrigued global audience focused on a pivotal change within the church. White smoke signals the beginning of the end of a massive publicity machine.

The communications people in Rome couldn’t have asked for a better result from the Pope’s resignation. That watershed event could easily have been controversial – and frankly it was for about 10 minutes, but then the media remembered the election process, the coming together of 200 Cardinals from around the world and all of the pageantry that entails. And the people love it; even non-religious folks are getting sucked into the proceedings.

As your (pretend) PR counsel, I say embrace this moment and use it as an opportunity to change negative perceptions and bring new followers into the fold.

Most folks not in PR are probably eager to see the white smoke billowing from the cathedral. But I can’t help it, my PR agency thrives on sustaining tension, which is what the media craves. For the next few days I’ll take my smoke like I take my morning coffee: black.