PR on the High Seas

After spending a long weekend with the entire family sans electricity or modern comforts in the Tennessee mountains, my thoughts turn to those on the disabled Carnival Splendor cruise line just pulling into the port of San Diego today after four days without electricity. Unlike my brief trip, these vacationers left expecting a luxury voyage, only to weather unsavory conditions including lack of hot food (SPAM became a staple) and water and – worst of all – waste disposal problems. One word: peeeeuuuuu.

After a fire in the engine room broke out on Monday (day two of seven) and the ship lost electricity, Carnival – so far – has successfully navigated a PR nightmare by turning its media page into a crisis communication hot spot for the Splendor. They’ve issued four news alerts, held two press conferences and used social media to keep ahead of the news with continuous updates on Facebook and Twitter and the Cruise Director’s blog. Then yesterday, in perhaps the best PR move yet, the CEO announced that all Splendor passengers would receive a complete refund, a free trip redeemable until 2012 and complete arrangements for travel home once the ship docks.

Unlike BP CEO Tony Hayward, who was completely disconnected from the lives of the Gulf residents during the oil spill, Carnival’s CEO acknowledged that this accident had ruined their clients’ vacation and was truly compassionate to the situation (I realize this comparison is not exactly apples to apples given the far reaching impact of the Gulf). And even though the news is a ‘”twitter” interviewing passengers by phone and text messages to show the ugly side of the ship, most reporters and stories have had to acknowledge Carnival’s quick and positive response. Carnival could have simply pointed to their “accident waiver” and performed the bare minimum to get the passengers safely to shore, but they rose to the occasion and – in my book- the company showed itself as a PR leader.

BTW – the true PR winner in all of this is SPAM. A new phrase has been coined – Spamcation. You go SPAM.


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