After blowing us off in 2008, choosing instead to take what must have been a divine form of the Acela Express from New York straight to D.C., Pope Benedict XVI is likely preparing to visit Philadelphia as part of the World Meeting of Families.
Philadelphians can likely expect the following: lots of crowds, a parade or two, plenty of media attention, and one of our sports facilities being used as the site for a large mass. Although given the performance of our teams of late, that might be a requiem.
Entrepreneurs, meanwhile, can expect the following: money. The papal visit will bring plenty of opportunities to profit. Just consider these five ideas.
1. Sell Souvenirs. Everyone will want a memento of the Pope’s time in town. Back in 2008, my family and I were coincidentally in New York City during the Pope’s visit, and my son bought a t-shirt commemorating the event, which he still proudly wears to this day. Did I mention we’re Jewish? People like souvenirs! With almost three years to plan, there’s plenty of time and opportunity to license products, create new ones, set up a website to sell stuff in advance and start filling up the garage with potential items to sell during the big week. The really smart business people will do their best to corner the market, hiring as many helpers as possible to blanket the city with their goods. They’ll have no conscience whatsoever and sell whatever they can—from ashtrays and t-shirts to duffel bags and teddy bears with a cross on the back. This is America. Catholicism? Capitalism? Sounds pretty close to me, doesn’t it?
2. Sell Food. Don’t want to sell Pope thongs or bandannas? Then think about all those hungry people who will be congregating in the streets. Soft pretzels. Hot dogs. Drinks. Chips. And whatever other food these people are going to want to sustain them through those long hot hours waiting to catch a glimpse of His Holiness. A smart entrepreneur, with enough foresight, could rake in tens of thousands in just a few days selling food to the masses. Just make sure to get rid of the hamburgers by Friday.
3. Form Partnerships. A big event like this will put pressure on both the city and its preferred contractors. Public and private parking lots will likely be stressed to the maximum. Our transportation system will be pushed to the limits. Medical services will need to be on call. Security has to be tight. Which means there will be plenty of opportunity for small and large businesses, not to mention our government, to partner with each other. The economy has forced our city to reduce budgets for libraries, police, firefighters and teachers. Even our political and union leaders have been forced to curb their payments of bribes and kickbacks as a result of these hard times. The papal visit will not be cheap. Smart entrepreneurs will be offering their services to the city and its designated contractors as a more efficient means to get the job done. They’ll cut deals with private parking lots to open up their spaces, offer shuttle services for the elderly, and make their medical facilities available. And those already in the security business will likely look for more business that week too.
4. Support the Catholic Cause. Don’t want to shill bottles of water or deal with the crowds? Then use the occasion to give to a Catholic organization. A great one, for example is the Hibernian Charity, which supports hunger relief. The Brits like to hold parties for their Queen’s Jubilee, so why can’t your business host a party for your customers and suppliers to honor the Pope’s visit? If you’re not a partying type, then maybe support a local church or youth group because, contrary to the recent vilification of priests, the great, great majority of them work hard every day doing good things for their communities. And they’re all in search of funding and help. It’s OK for your business to sponsor events and for you to promote that sponsorship. We live in a media society, and it’s nice to show that your business is behind your community. With the Pope’s visit, it’s a great time to highlight your support of Catholic causes and all the good that they do.
5. Oppose the Catholic Cause. Or, maybe you’re not a big supporter of all the Catholic causes. That’s OK, too. It’s a free country. Of course, it will take a thicker skin (and possibly a bullet-proof vest), but if you’re out to get more attention for your business, then there’s no better way than to take a controversial public stand. The Catholic religion has done plenty of good but there’s certainly no shortage of detractors. Over the past few years, popes have thrown themselves into contentious social issues like abortion, birth control, homosexuality, capital punishment and Notre Dame’s mediocre performance on the field last year. Maybe you don’t agree with all these positions. Maybe you feel strongly about some. And maybe you’d like to use the Pope’s visit to highlight your opposition. You can do this reasonably and without a lot of yelling and screaming. Your business can sponsor, advertise and help promote those organizations that you support. True, you might lose Catholic customers. But you may also gain those who share your point of view. You might get some good press. You might get abuse. But remember: There’s no such thing as bad PR.