Pope Francis

The Picture of Opportunity

Pope Francis blesses a baby at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Saturday, Sept. 26. The pontiff visited Philadelphia as part of the World Meeting of Families. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Nick Ameen)

Pope Francis blesses a baby at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Saturday, Sept. 26. The pontiff visited Philadelphia as part of the World Meeting of Families. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Nick Ameen)

The whirlwind U.S. tour by Pope Francis should convince every marketer of the power of photo ops to reinforce key messages.

Pope Francis departs the U.S. Capitol after his address to Congress. (Photo Phiend)

Pope Francis departs the U.S. Capitol after his address to Congress. (Photo Phiend)

From riding around in a tiny Fiat to having lunch with the homeless to meeting with prison inmates, Pope Francis exhibited what humility means in practice and underscored his pleas not to forget society's downtrodden souls.

The imagery from his trip was searing and kept most of the nation spellbound. The Pope's insistence to stop his car to bless a child provided a viral visual witness to his words.

The papal visit is a reminder that imagery can tell a story in a way words never can. Yet so much time is spent on words and too little time on actions that could convey your message in a genuine, impactful way. Even when visual communications are considered, choices often boils down to a video or an infographic, which can lack the raw appeal of an opportunistic photograph.

Photo ops have earned a bad name as manipulative ways to make a point in front of a camera. That bad reputation is deserved for the most self-serving "shots," such as the grip-and-grin pictures of someone handing an oversized check to a charity.

The art of the photo-op is to avoid making it look phony. That usually requires making sure it isn't phony.

Pope Francis is a media-savvy guy who keenly understands the value of walking the talk. He knows he is photographed constantly whenever he steps outside. But his actions that generate endearing images appear spontaneous. There is nothing forced or phony about them.

Pope Francis and President Barack Obama are greeted by Catholic school children on the flightline at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Sept. 22. The children are local to the National Capital Region and presented the pope with a gift of flowers. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys)

Pope Francis and President Barack Obama are greeted by Catholic school children on the flightline at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Sept. 22. The children are local to the National Capital Region and presented the pope with a gift of flowers. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys)

While Pope Francis is a hard act to follow, his ability to curry powerful imagery is something everyone can emulate by following his example.

First, the Pope looks for moments that can crystallize his messages. After a wedding ceremony at the Vatican, Pope Francis donned a red nose like the ones worn by the bridge and bridegroom, which was captured by the wedding photographer. He enabled a photographer during his visit to a prison to capture his arm in the papal robe firmly in a handshake with a heavily tattooed inmate's arm. Francis kissed, hugged and fawned over children with grandfatherly naturalness, with iPhones clicking madly.

Second, the images we saw on TV, online and in social media were all captured and shared by journalists and onlookers, not a Vatican production company. They were in many cases crowdsourced, which attested to their authenticity, even if in some real sense they were stage managed.

Finally, the Pope evaluated his schedule on its symbolic qualities. He insisted, for example, to go to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, not just to be photographed paying homage to the dead, but to participate in a live inter-faith service. The service delivered some of the most emotional imagery of his trip, which never would have been filmed if he hadn't gone there.

Incorporating photo opportunities into marketing PR plans requires a lot of creativity and hard work. But an image that takes seconds to comprehend and embeds itself into memory is worth the effort.

Finding Your Brand Voice

Interactions on social media or blogs should be through a common voice. Finding that brand voice involves a lot more than just picking someone in the intern pool. 

Most companies and organizations have concluded, whether eager or grudging, they need a presence on social media and to engage in content marketing. But discomfort lingers, so the first command decision is who will be delegated the responsibility of tweeting. This is like making a wrong turn into a one-way street.

The whole idea behind consumer or constituent engagement is to build trust. One of the most important avenues to trust is familiarity. You recognize a friend by how they talk. You trust a friend because of their values. The same should be true for a brand.

Here are some of the factors to consider in developing and sustaining a credible brand voice:

Appropriate Voice

If you make hot dogs, your voice should have a different tone than if you are dentist. People associate hot dogs with parties and ballgames. They associate dentists with pain. Your voice needs to reflect your brand personality. 

Blogging about hotdogs has more leeway in the use of humor than dentistry, where the focus of blogging should be on putting people at ease about procedures. There is plenty of room to flex personality in both circumstances. You just need to flex the right personality.

Know Your Objective 

There are differing reasons to engage on social media, which also can influence the tone of your brand voice. Red Bull wants to envelope people in the active adventure lifestyle it promotes. Comcast wants to monitor social media so it can respond immediately to consumer complaints, in the quest to convert people with problems into ambassadors of the brand.