What can the Pope teach us about branding?

Co-Pilot Story Series |


At Pilot, we have faith in the power of positive storytelling. And we keep a close eye on individuals and institutions who are telling their own stories effectively.

Over the past year, few people have turned more heads than Pope Francis. He was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, received a visit from US President Barack Obama and captured the world’s attention by effectively rebranding his role at the head of the Catholic Church.

On April 2, the Pope was the subject of our first ever Co-Pilot Storytelling Series, an event designed to bring together some of Toronto’s most forward-thinking communicators to discuss topics and trends in effective PR, journalism, brand marketing and digital strategy.

Our theme – Jesus Is My Co-Pilot – explored what modern companies can learn from the Pope, a former Argentine nightclub bouncer who successfully converted a cynical global audience.

The discussion was led by Humayun Khan of e-commerce giant Shopify and Jeff Beer of Fast Company’s Co-Create.

Each panelist shared their Core Commandment for Good PR, gleaned from the lessons of the current Pope.

“My commandment is Thou Shalt Go Outside In,” said Beer, who writes regularly about branding. “The Pope isn’t taking a top-down or inside-out approach. He’s listening and responding to his audience’s needs and desires.”

“Mine is Thou Shalt Default to Transparency,” said Khan. “The Pope really puts his humanity first and foremost and has transitioned both his own brand and that of the Vatican’s from being secretive, unapproachable and exclusive to positioning it as really being there to serve humanity.”

This led to a discussion of brands recognizing the need to “lift the curtain,” be more human, and find a way to serve rather than just take from their customers.

Khan talked about Shopify’s experience in converting mom and pop storefront users into ecommerce evangelicals, and using the power of good communication to steer their users toward successful individual brands.

And when asked what big company was acting the most like Pope Francis, Beer discussed the maverick behavior of T-Mobile CEO John Legere. T-Mobile added 4.4 million net customers last year – a year after having lost customers – by introducing policies that run counter to industry practice, including paying people to switch carriers.

“It’s the telecom equivalent of making married, gay, women priests,” joked Beer.

The Co-Pilot Storytelling Series is a regular event for Toronto’s passionate communications community. Stay tuned for details of our next event.

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