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Gucci, Armani, And...John Paul Ii?

International Business: VATICAN


The Vatican gives new meaning to mass marketing

Maybe you have traveled to Rome to view the wonders of the Vatican--St. Peter's Square, the Basilica itself, or the city-state's great collections of Renaissance painting and medieval manuscripts. Well, if all goes as planned, you can recreate some of that experience at home--by wearing a T-shirt with Vatican artwork on it, say, or decorating the Christmas tree with an ornament emblazoned with a Madonna and Child from the Vatican.

In a marriage of theology and marketing, the Holy See is using the power of modern licensing and brand management to raise cash and spread the word about the Church. In June, the Vatican Library will launch a mass-licensing program that will put images from the library's art collection, architecture, frescoes, and manuscripts on such mundane objects as T-shirts, glassware, candles, and ornaments. A separate venture is peddling cassettes of the Pope saying the rosary.

Because of its size and intent to sell in department stores and other mass outlets, this blitz differs from small-scale Vatican ventures, such as its gift shop. Holding a master agreement with the Vatican Library is California-based licensing company Cortile Del Belvedere Inc. Founded in 1987 solely to handle the Vatican account, Cortile has already gotten a few deals going. Last fall a Burbank (Calif.) company called 1928 Jewelry Co. launched a line of Vatican Library costume jewelry, including crucifixes and medallions, that fetch from $15 to $75. Meanwhile, Turner Publishing Inc., an arm of Turner Broadcasting System Inc., has sold some 7,000 copies of a $395 Bible illustrated with manuscripts from the Vatican Library. And New York-based Echo Design Group is peddling Vatican Library ties and scarves at $28 to $75.

NO MIRACLES, PLEASE. Cortile Del Belvedere has picked out 16 sublicensees for the June launch. "We've gone very slowly and chosen partners that would not embarrass us or the Vatican," says Elaine Peconi, who founded Cortile Del Belvedere. The Vatican is not looking for miracles. "We are not expecting great returns--just returns," says Father Leonard Boyle, the Vatican Library's director, who faces huge bills for renovating the library.

Meanwhile, Vatican Radio is trying to offset high expenses by cashing in on its rights to the Pope's voice. Last fall, the broadcaster engaged New York-based Alliance Entertainment Corp., a music distributor, to market in Europe and America compact disks and cassettes of Pope John Paul II reciting the rosary. "We live in a world that uses commercial means all the time," says Father Kevin P. Locke, a 39-year-old American Jesuit who negotiated with Alliance. But the goal, says Locke, is not just to make money: "Part of our mission is to use appropriate business techniques for a pastoral purpose." Keep the faith, Father.By Silvia Sansoni in Vatican City

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