Dear Philly — Your papal public relations needs help

     In this picture made available by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis shakes hands with Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter, at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 26, 2014. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

    In this picture made available by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis shakes hands with Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter, at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 26, 2014. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

    Dear Philadelphia — You had the chance to show your best face, yet you’ve inspired an environment of confusion and misinformation, deterring the public from engaging in what should have been a welcoming and historic weekend. The bottom line is you dropped the ball on this.

     

    Dear Philadelphia,

    I’m writing to address your lack of public relations coordination for the World Meeting of Families and the papal visit.

    As a member of the media, I’ve worked with plenty of public relations people in the area, and I have never once seen an event so shoddily unveiled.

    Where was the authoritative tone, ensuring that Philly’s celebration of Pope Francis’ visit would be fun, exciting, safe and an event not to be missed? You either confirmed or denied rumored details, but you never seemed to be in control of the message.

    Instead you left an information vacuum, guaranteeing rampant speculation and an atmosphere of uncertainty. You denied the veracity of each new unofficial security perimeter map that was released, blaming the Secret Service for holding up the final details. But we’re now more familiar with the parody maps (hot lava! pterodatcyls!) than the official details of the security zone — which, even last week, continued to change. You may not have had every answer, but to the media, eager to inform the public, you seemed for too long to have none. How did you allow it all to get so out of hand?

    It’s not just the city. It’s SEPTA and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, as well.

    Restricting transit access for safety is understandable. But the botched online sale of travel passes, releasing information about bridges and parking and routes and restricted vehicles in dribs and drabs, first-come-first-served tickets to the papal Mass revealed very late in the game — after the public was given carte blanche to fill the information void with speculation — it’s not going to inspire confidence.

    No wonder hotels are not selling out. No wonder nobody is picking up Airbnb rooms. No wonder the Fairmount Park camping plan failed. People are too freaked out to make the pilgrimage.

    In a culture of social media extremism and public participation, getting in front of the message is paramount. None of this uncertainty should have played out in the public eye.

    I’ve been covering food in this city for nearly a decade. And over the years I’ve attended more than my fair share of parties, pop-ups and well-orchestrated events. The one thing they’ve all had in common is a single point person controlling every detail that’s released. They’ve prepared the news release, alerted the media, and controlled the dialogue from the start. There are more players involved in the World Meeting of Families and the pope’s visit, but there’s no reason for the cacophony of voices releasing public information.

    Philadelphia is on the world stage with the chance to show our best face. Yet instead of presenting a united front, you’ve inspired an environment of confusion and misinformation, deterring the public from engaging in what should be a welcoming and historic weekend.

    The bottom line is you dropped the ball on this. And no amount of blame heaped on the Secret Service can change that.

    Sincerely,

    Disappointed in the City of Brotherly Love.

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