Posted: November 14, 2010
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Article Summary As the crippled cruise ship Carnival Splendor limped home to San Diego after an engine room fire, I followed the story casually, noticing that Carnival management seemed to be handling the communication fairly well. Then Tanya Irwin of Marketing Daily left me a phone message asking me to email her a few paragraphs of comment. So I checked out the coverage a little more carefully, confirmed my impression, and sent her this brief comment.

Carnival Manages to Avoid Defensiveness about Its Crippled Cruise Ship

(a November 12, 2010 email to Tanya Irwin of Marketing Daily)
Tanya Irwin’s Marketing Daily article is also online.

From what I can tell, Carnival did a pretty good job of managing communications around its crippled cruise ship.  The company did everything it could to make the situation bearable for passengers, and it did everything you could expect to make it up to them. Errors were corrected in a way that came across as matter-of-fact and not defensive – for example, yes they did take some Spam onboard but they never had to serve it.  As far as I know, there was no effort to keep passengers away from the media when they docked, and no effort to convince them to say nice things.

I read that some passengers weren’t told much about what was going on as the ship limped back to shore.  If that’s so, it was a serious mistake.  But on the whole, Carnival seems to have done pretty well. 

Of course the net effect is still negative, but not as negative as it might have been.

One crisis communication strategy that Carnival communicators might have considered: to get on the other side of the “public opinion seesaw” by saying how awful the trip was for passengers.  I’d have loved to see a paragraph something like this:

“This really was the cruise from hell,” a Carnival spokesperson said today.  “Some of our passengers look forward to a cruise like this for years, and instead of having the vacation of a lifetime they ended up a little frightened and very, very uncomfortable.  It’s amazing to me that most of them took it in stride.  I hope I’d be that understanding if I were in their shoes.”

It’s the nature of journalism that reporters are going to look for somebody to say it was awful and somebody else to say it wasn’t that bad.  Poor crisis communication is when the company is the one saying it wasn’t that bad.  Extraordinary crisis communication is when the company is the one saying it was awful.  

Copyright © 2010 by Peter M. Sandman

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