Papal Dispensation: Water to Wine Easier than Broadcaster to Vatican Comms Pro

“Vatican hires Fox News Reporter as Image Maker” read the  International Herald Tribune headline. Here we go again. Another broadcast news reporter off to conquer the world of public relations. This time it’s Greg Burke, formerly Fox News Rome correspondent.

I’d like to say that I have, ahem, faith in this hire, but I have my doubts. The jump from broadcaster to public relations is not the slam-dunk many journalists perceive it to be. The organizations that hire them for their media knowledge and contacts in that world also envision a seamless and instant transition. But few do it successfully and even fewer do it immediately. Why? There’s just a hell of a lot more to the job than media relations.

Now I’m the first to admit the public relations profession is not something you need years of advanced study and multiple degrees to master. And there are some incredibly strong public relations professionals who have come from journalism, some of whom write for this blog. So I thought I’d cut Mr. Burke some slack. Maybe he is qualified to be the first Strategic Communications Strategist the Vatican has ever hired,” according to the Herald Tribune.

Then he opened his mouth.

“If you look at what the White House has, everyone knows who the spokesman is, no one knows who the secretary of communications is. It’s a very similar job.”

Huh? That’s the full quote. I guess he is explaining that he is not taking over the spokesperson role. Why that’s important to share, I don’t know.

Then there’s this.

“It’s a strategy job. It’s very simple to explain, not so easy to execute: to formulate the message and try to make sure everyone remains on message.”

Ah, I see. So it’s a strategy job. I don’t think everyone staying on message is necessarily the Vatican’s biggest problem. Or even something it needs to do better. It certainly doesn’t strike me as strategic.

It’s not that broadcast journalists can’t become fine communications professionals, It’s just that so many think they can step right into senior positions and immediately thrive. It is the rare journalist who does this successfully in a short period of time.

Why? Because they’ve only seen one facet, and arguably, one of the most overrated. They’ve been pitched stories and interviewed trained spokespeople. That’s analogous to a diner seeing a well-prepared soufflé and saying, I can be a chef. As in cooking, roughly 90% of the work in communications comes prior to the presentation.

Burke is right, there is a great deal of strategy involved and even more research, insights, concepting, planning, writing, testing, etc. Skills developed over a period of time.

I leave you with this final excerpt from the Herald Tribune piece:
Asked how he would handle a case where the message was as much an issue as the medium, Mr. Burke said, “I think at that point you say, ‘we have a train wreck coming here.’ I don’t have an answer on how I’d stop the train, but I’d try.”

Perhaps you could stop it with strategy Mr. Burke.

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