In the practice of public relations we often turn to staged events to reinforce, improve or change attitudes about our organizations. Two longstanding institutions–the British monarchy and the Catholic Church–did just that this week. The royal wedding and the beatification of Pope John Paul II were joyous, very public events, but did they serve to boost good feelings about their sponsoring institutions?
By nearly every measure, the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton did just that. The monarchy has stumbled in recent years through scandalous divorces, mishandled reaction to Princess Diana’s death, and the rumblings of a citizenry that sometimes wonders if the $128 million annually (by recent estimates) it takes to maintain the monarchy is worth it, especially during tough economic times. But the Brits do love their queen and recognize the role the royals play in the nation’s identity–and its tourism business. An estimated two billion (!) people watched the spectacular nuptials filled with pomp and tradition for which they are so famous. The wedding, overflowing with optimism for the charming William and Kate, showed the world that the British monarchy is worth keeping around.
On the other hand, Pope John Paul II’s fast march toward sainthood has not been without controversy. The beloved pope, who served from 1978-2005, has been beatified faster than anyone before him, and some believe it’s because the Catholic Church is anxious to spread positive PR at a time when its image has been suffering from its appalling priest-child abuse scandals. Critics have said that this pope ignored the scandal and may have been complicit in the non-punishment of priests who committed these horrible acts. The lovely Rome ceremony shared by millions of the world’s faithful was indeed joyous, but the question remains whether this event can serve to improve attitudes toward an institution in which many have lost faith.