Usually a communications and marketing team helps get the word out about an organization. By now, however, everyone in Philadelphia — and most of the world — knows Pope Francis is visiting the city in September.
To an outsider, it might seem the communications team for the World Meeting of Families has a pretty easy job.
But according to Tod MacKenzie, chair of the Communications Committee for the World Meeting of Families, getting the word out is only half the battle. With less than three months to go to the meeting, there’s still a lot of information to disseminate to the public.
“When the world shows up on your doorstep, it’s a rare opportunity,” he said. “We’ve got to present our city, state and country at its finest, and to upwards of 2 million people a day.”
MacKenzie is a Boston native and the senior vice president for communications at the food, facilities and uniform provider Aramark, based in Philadelphia. He described the mission of the communications team as threefold: media management, logistics and community engagement.
Working “hand-in-glove” with the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s own communications department, MacKenzie’s committee coordinates planning and support of stories for the news media.
“There’s a lot of copy to be written,” he said, “and we’re trying to plan out how we’ll handle stories on the ground and at unplanned turns of events.”
Lately, however, the committee has been more focused on logistical issues; namely, how to get the expected tens of thousands of people to the World Meeting — and out again.
“The World Meeting itself will be very similar to a large-scale convention, and is a real testament to the dependability of Philadelphia’s infrastructure,” he said. “But we’re estimating that the papal visit will bring in over a million people, so a big part of the last few weeks has been coordinating with the Mayor’s office and SEPTA.”
Indeed, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority only recently released its initial outline of public transit options for the families’ congress taking place Sept. 22-25 and Pope Francis’ visit on the weekend that follows.
According to MacKenzie, the committee will be focusing its energy on getting the word out and making sure visitors are aware of the agency’s restrictions on private vehicles in center city and busing from hubs, as well as abbreviated and modified schedules for the various rail, bus and trolley lines, including regional ones.
“It’s also a diplomatic visit, since the pope is a head of state, and probably the largest-scale event that the city has ever seen, so security is (understandably) of the highest priority,” MacKenzie said. “We’re trying to keep everyone informed so that the visit goes smoothly.”
The pope’s Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sept. 27 — expected to draw a crowd around 1.5 million — is to be an event for the people. As such, it is free, unticketed and open to the public.
But the communications subcommittee on community engagement is also keen on “bringing the pope to the people,” MacKenzie said.
“We’re still brainstorming,” he added, “but we’re looking to do town hall-style meetings — especially in more unstructured areas — for people who might have difficulty getting to the Parkway. We’re exploring getting local parishes to host ‘viewing parties’ and ways to get the events of the week out to the community.”