Does it surprise you that Philadelphia's Mayor Nutter and Pennsylvania's Governor Corbett were blown off by the Pope? Doesn't surprise me at all.
There's a pecking order to life. You blow off the financial services guy who calls during dinner. A beautiful girl gets hit on by an average looking guy and opts for the quarterback instead. Even I, a lowly small business owner, am often asked to meet for coffee or lunch with people that want to "network" or "learn more" or "share ideas" and most of the time I just have to say no. We all have to choose how we spend our time. The Pope could be meeting and hearing the pleas of Mayors and Governors from the cities, towns, provinces and protectorates of hundreds of countries every minute of the day. But he chooses not to.
Clearly, the Pope visiting Philadelphia is something that could be handled at a lower level without taking up the Pontiff's time. The decision didn't require a private meeting between the man on earth closest to God and two dudes from Pennsylvania. A little begging from them at a public session sufficed.
What about you? Do you want to meet the Pope? A CEO? Bruce Springsteen? A political leader? Having friends in high places might get you a brief encounter. Ambushing your target at a public event may get his attention for 30 seconds. But these things aren't meetings. They're fleeting encounters with little chance you'll achieve whatever it is you want to achieve. To get a meeting with the Pope, or whoever your target may be, you'll need to make sure you've considered these five things.
1. You have money. Does this sound obvious? Well, no one seems to have told Mayor Nutter or Governor Corbett. Unfortunately, our two heroes went calling for help with nothing more to offer than a bankrupt city and a really bad basketball team. That's not a lot of incentive for the Pontiff to meet. Trust me -- even the Pope, who is a kind, giving, charitable and compassionate man, has the responsibility for keeping his organization liquid so that he can do more to help the poor. He will meet with anyone who can help him achieve those ends. Your target, be it a CEO, business owner or political leader would be more than happy to meet with you if you're a qualified, wealthy, prospective customer or donor with the ability to pony up some dough for their services.
2. ...and/or lots of influence. I don't like to network or meet for coffee but I'd do it if the person I'm meeting with was, say, President of an association of CEO's who would potentially be interested in my products and he wielded influence over them. Nutter and Corbett have zero influence over Philadelphia Catholics. They just want the jobs and revenues and political glory that would come as a result of a Papal visit. If the Pope wanted to take the time out to meet with someone influential over Catholics in Philly he would've been better off meeting privately with just the Archbishop of Philadelphia or at least Phil Martelli.
3. You have a track record. Money and influence is a start, but it's a good idea to first give before you ask for something in return. And what has the city of Philadelphia given its Catholics besides police protection at the Palestra? Not much. A better track record would've helped. I'm happy to meet with existing customers who have bought my company's products before. President Obama will find the time to have coffee with large donors who have given to his campaigns in the past. The Pope would pay more attention if the two guys who requested a meeting not only had money and influence but had already put some of their money and influence where their mouths are and spent a little of it on a Catholic cause. This would show some commitment and a stronger potential that more money and influence would be spent in the future.
4. And good PR. Don't be discouraged if you don't have money or influence. A good story might save the day for you. Maybe your cause is one that'll bring your target some media exposure -- which is just as good as having money and influence. Maybe you've done something really unique that not only has media value but is also of particular interest to your target -- like you have or you've survived an incurable disease, walked from New York to Beijing, flown to the moon, bought a Phillies season ticket or lived with a leper colony for a year. The Pope already gets a lot of good press, so you have to be pretty special for this to work. But if it's just a CEO or political leader then maybe you can catch his or her eye because you or your business is recognizable or a newsmaker.
5. Finally, you'll need good timing. All of these requirements are mute if your timing isn't good. And sometimes you just can't plan on having good timing. Who knows, even though Nutter and Corbett came begging to Rome with little to offer, there was a possibility the Pope could've squeezed them in for a few minutes if there wasn't a whole lot going on. But President Obama was visiting later in the week, the Queen was also scheduled soon and Villanova killed the Pontiff's bracket so the last thing he wanted was a visit from anyone representing Catholics in Philly. The timing just wasn't right.
Still tentative about reaching out to that big customer? Maybe you'll have better luck scoring that meeting than our Mayor and Governor had with the Pope. But at least they gave it a shot. And so should you.
A version of this blog previously appeared in Philadelphia Magazine.