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How Edelman’s Vatican campaign brought faith and sport together

Pope Francis said: “Challenge yourself in the game of life as you do in the game of sports.” With the challenges and issues currently impacting both Faith and Sport today, it is timely and necessary for Faith and Sport to remind and re-awaken people to the massive power for good that these two pillars of human life can provide.

This cultural insight and undeniable links between the worlds of Faith and Sport became the premise and instigator for the Vatican and a team led by Lang Marketing Network with the consultancy of Marrone & Associates to propose a new vision, one which would inspire a global movement for the greater good. Securing the commitment of Allianz as the founding partner confirmed the effort of a global movement, which would pledge to the vision and growth for many years to come. Additional support from the International Olympic Committee and United Nations as major institutional partners gave further strength to the commitment.

Storytelling became the beating heart of the movement, delivering the right message to the masses and inspiring a global change. Creative design company CaroselloLab strategically built the brand identity to resonate around the centric vision of Sport & Faith for the greater good. As lead agency for content amplification, Edelman Italy devised a multichannel media approach to truly inspire action and ensure a movement for the future. Read on to see how the firm and its client and partners achieved a host of goals and objectives in this wide-reaching campaign—and why they were honored with a Silver Award in the “Best Education/Public Service Campaign” category in Bulldog Reporter’s 2017 Media Relations Awards.


SSH is the first global conference on Faith and Sport, a 3-day event involving hundreds of world renowned speakers and attendees to show how the two worlds can work together to promote positive values, inspire youth and better serve humanity.

The event was realized to launch a movement that inspires every organization and participant in Sport to live, think and act in accordance with the “Sport at the Service of Humanity Declaration of Principles”:

  • Compassion: Use the power of Sport to help others
  • Respect: Use Sport to build trust and understanding.
  • Love: Sport is for all.
  • Enlightenment: Sport has the power to transform lives and build character.
  • Balance: Sport has the power to help us make the most of ourselves.
  • Joy: Sport, above all, is about enjoyment.

Edelman took a multichannel media approach across PR, social and digital disciplines to challenge the traditional perception of delivering an event and create a truly sustainable movement, setting a commitment for others to follow and a benchmark for future Global Conferences.

The Challenges: “We wanted to bring together the two very different worlds of Faith and Sport to work as one for the greater good by cutting through the large amount of noise they already generate to make the event stand out,” says Fiorella Passoni, CEO of Edelman Italy. “Furthermore, realize key messaging that focused on inspiring a global change for the greater good with the abstract core campaign (Compassion, Respect, Love, Enlightenment, Balance and Joy).”

The campaign team identified several challenges to the initiative, and outlined the following objectives:

  • Cut through the noise: Make the event stand out in the worlds of Faith and Sport
  • Hero the Vatican and the launch of a new Movement: Ensure the Vatican remained central and intrinsically linked to the story, as host and patron, rather than partner or endorser
  • Sell the vision to the media and masses: Inspire true belief in the declaration of principles and purpose of the event
  • Bring together two very different worlds to work as one for the greater good
  • Build international appeal across various communities: Ensure religion and sport remained at the core, whilst also targeting business, NGO’s, institutions and the mass population

“We also wanted to engage with very diverse stakeholders,” she says, including

  • The Vatican (a State, and a world unto its own)
  • The Catholic Church at Large (something very different)
  • The Sports world (players, sports confederations, regulatory, the IOC, (including its president Thomas Bach) and the Paralympic world organization
  • The United Nations and the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon
  • Faith leaders from all over the world from creeds such as Christian (It’s not just Catholic and Anglican, but also Orthodox, etc.), Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and many others.

The Strategy: The team then came up with the following strategic goals:

  • Champion the six guiding principles across all media channels to unify religion and sport around their values
  • Identify key storytelling moments across the 3-day event to cut through the traditional noise of sport and faith, inspire others to join the movement, generate media coverage and incentivize social media sharing to show the power of SSH
  • Make the movement relevant by aligning with all actors and communities involved under one common thread, especially with the Humanity Sports Club Facebook initiative, created by Allianz the Founding Partner of the movement.
  • Partner with the important attending delegates across social channels and media interviews, to endorse the movement and drive mass involvement

Building the Momentum: Time, agility and knowledge were crucial mandates when constructing the multimedia approach. With just one week to build the strategy and execute during the event, the team decided they had to share stories in a way that would ensure reach, resonate quickly and inspire action by the masses where, when and how they are most receptive. The approach was earned-centric and social by design, intelligently promoted across all appropriate channels: traditional, owned, social and hybrid moving as one.

Amplifying the Movement: The team worked across all amplification moments of the event to ensure maximum visibility, from the securing of both the media guest list and teaser articles for the pre-phase to organizing targeted interviews, creative media tools and television coverage during the event. The team also set up a new social channel Sport4Humanity to drip-feed teaser tweets ahead of the big launch, driving anticipation and capturing the imagination of the many communities involved and public. This created the perfect forum for direct engagement during the event, encouraging the influential attendees to tweet with the #Sport4Humanity and inspire positive actions from across the world. The key steps taken by the team to ensure the most successful amplification across international media channels included:

  • Pre-Event: Development of press kit, engagement of media targets, creation of two “save-the-dates”: Press Conference and Opening Ceremonies, working with Vatican Press Office to organize press conference and conduct media interviews, working with the media and media relations directors participating in the conference to align and maximize efforts e.g. Arsenal, Forbes, & Sport Business Journal, creation of targeted social media editorial calendar
  • Conference Event Activity: Management all media requests for information, press kits, etc., facilitate daily journalists interviews with event speakers and hosts and issue daily press release

Passoni points out the following strategies for the campaign’s social engagement:

  • “Embrace the real-time opportunity combined with on the ground support for ongoing and strategic direct engagement”
  • “Use and creation of dedicated twitter hashtags #SSH16 #sport4humanity”
  • “Proactive and interactive use of Twitter with a group of totally diverse stakeholders who are not used to interacting among themselves”
  • “Strong involvement by sponsoring brands and by a key Vatican dicastery, the Pontifical Commission for Culture, headed by a globally known Cardinal.”
Edelman Vatican

Coordinating with Strength: Strong coordination of the media and various channels was fundamental to storytelling amplification, especially when working with institutions that are traditionally complex in nature with very specific nuances such as The Vatican.

As usual, the campaign schedule didn’t go exactly as planned: Passoni identifies the following shifts necessary as the campaign was implemented:

  • Last minute changes in the program, until the event.
  • Uncertainty of Pope’s presence until the last minute
  • Uncertainty of the content of the Pope’s speech. The team had no prepared text or content for the Pope’s speech and the event touched upon multiple scenarios, which he could have covered.
  • Constant fluctuation and changes of athletes’ presence and content of the televised material.
  • Vatican vetting of all materials.

Driving International Momentum: A rigorous, proactive press office ensured the movement resonated far beyond the event itself. The team delivered local and international news and interview coverage to generate global appeal. The event was attended by many famous sports persons and business influencers, as well as an unprecedented number of religious leaders from varying religions in one room together under one unified theme.

Passoni points out the following unique ways the team built rapport with those reporters and influencers:

  • “Launch of the main event with unprecedented press conference at Vatican Press room with unprecedented participation of a main special sponsor (Allianz), who was also positioned as the founding partner.”
  • “Pitches tailored to major athletes and sports leaders, but also to leaders of faith and major leaders in the sports fields (president of IOC) but also the Secretary General of the United Nations. Coordination with their media structures with an out of the box project.”
  • “Intensive use of all types of media relations specialists (sports, religion-writers, etc.).”
  • “Deployment of decades-old contacts by media relations specialists for a usually recalcitrant “beat” (religion, sports reporters, etc.).”

Sustaining the Movement: The key driver to the core multimedia approach and strategy was to stabilize various platforms for communication at all phases of the event: pre, during and post. The commitment of the Vatican and all key players is not just one for the now but to live on for generations. Key stakeholders have already been engaged for the next event and ongoing twitter activity in the weeks after encouraged people to keep following the actions and six principles.

A few more obstacles appeared, but the team was able to work through them. Passoni identifies these additional hurdles:

  • “Four or five days of media opportunities with a need to change theme every day.”
  • “Restrictions for photos and video at Vatican sites.”
  • “Coordination with Vatican media office (specific timetable and procedures).”

Engaging Diversified Media Targets: Targeting media for this event was extremely challenging as it required a vast amount of research and skill to engage various media who traditionally do not work in the same space. The strategy and outreach has to be broad but specific, broad because the story had to travel to all corners of the world but specific because it had to target specific segments:

  • Worldwide story – Tier 1 international journalists
  • Sports story – Sports influencers and journalists across the world
  • Rome story – Rome based foreign, which is very different from international targets
  • Religious story – Religious media from across the world
  • Local story – Italian media
  • Corporate and political story – Corporate media
  • Diversity story – Health media

The variety of angles created a large swath of media targets in “totally different media sectors that don’t ever meet—sports, religion, international politicians, even parish newspapers,” Passoni explains. There was “a story for every type of media (and TV format) for print format and social media, and finally the websites of the stakeholders.”

The Results: “Following the event, a survey request was sent to all 2016 SSH Conference attendees to measure the impact of the movement,” Passoni says. “Ninety-six percent of respondents report that the SSH Conference met or exceeded expectations.”

  • 75 percent endorsed the Six Principles
  • 63 percent will share the Six Principles
  • 89 percent agreed/strongly agreed that the Six Principles should become a standard to which sport, faith and other organizations should adhere.
  • 84 percent felt that the SSH Conference had prompted them to do even more to use sport to improve the lives of others.

The media results “surpassed all forecasts—with repercussions and visibility in the farthest parts of the globe (even Asia),” Passoni relates. The campaign amassed “more than 300 pieces of media coverage (TV, print, online, radio) from a wide range of countries all over the world—not only Catholic press, but also sport and mainstream media such as ESPN TV, Daily Mail, Frankfurter Allgemeine, Tass newswire and SKY TV.”

Media target achievements included:

  • The International Press: all international press active in Rome and main worldwide media were represented with a wide presence of USA/UK and other main European countries correspondents but also a significant presence from South America, rest of Europe and Asia.
  • The Vatican Press: all main worldwide media covering the Vatican and Pope Francis were engaged
  • International Sport Press: all main foreign sport correspondents currently active in Rome were engaged (especially from main News Agencies such as Associated Press, Agence France Presse) and a series of world sport news outlet.
  • Italian Sport Press: all main Italian sport news outlets were activated: press, online and TVs.

“Such positivity from the invited guests have inspired key strategic directives to move the vision to new heights for the movement and conversation to be expanded and continue in 2017,” she says. “Live tweeting from the also conference proved very successful.”

  • #sport4humanity became a trending topic on twitter
  • +115,000 impressions
  • +1 million user generated engagement impressions

Key Takeaways: The Edelman team learned some valuable lessons while navigating the campaign, which Passoni shares with readers:

  • “Start early, very early—meaning more than a year ahead of time—and build up intensive communications impact in last month.”
  • “Be ready to restyle, and reorganize constantly.”
  • “Understand the priorities of the key stakeholders.”
  • “Be sensitive and aware of the tenets of major World Religions (most people aren’t!).”

Secrets of Success: Passoni also offers the following tips to help you in your next education/public service campaign—and demonstrating how Edelman, its client and partners won a Silver in Bulldog’s 2017 Media Relations Awards:

  • Use specialists for each aspect of the project: Marketing Network, Consultancy, Content expert, creative design company for website.
  • In the case of multiple sponsors, handle each with tailored expertise: In this case, an insurance company (Allianz), an energy corporation (ENI) and a consumer company with the largest possible visibility (Coca Cola).
  • Use sobriety and austerity and respect for peers to transmit abstract concepts of public morality.
  • Deploy multilingual operators ready to act as “cultural ambassadors” and able to quickly extinguish any “conflict fires.”
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