Don’t let a crisis situation define your brand’s future

By Posted in - Blog & Crisis Communications on March 21st, 2013 0 Comments

If you hop on any Internet search engine today and type in “Carnival Cruise Lines,” the first few headlines you see are:

  • “Carnival Cruise Line in more troubled waters”
  • “Carnival Cruise Line experiences another ship malfunction”
  • “Carnival Cruise Line cancels 12 more trips”

It’s no secret Carnival Cruise Lines has suffered some major brand image set backs over the past few weeks, starting with the much maligned ship Triumph left stranded in the Gulf of Mexico for days on end with passengers stuck on board. Follow that with three more ships’ operations troubles since then and, voila, you have what’s known as a PR nightmare on your hands.

Photo by Victor Habbick,

Photo by Victor Habbick,

So now what? Will this be the end of cruise travel as we know it? Will Carnival Cruise Lines crumble with all of the bad publicity? For both questions, I certainly hope not. I’m not a cruise enthusiast myself (I’ve been on one cruise in my lifetime, and it was actually on a Carnival ship, coincidentally), but I know it’s an enjoyable vacation options for many.

As a PR practitioner, I’ve followed how Carnival’s team is handling the communications of this situation closely. By all accounts, they’re doing everything by the book when it comes to managing a crisis. They’re sharing information with the media and the public when they know it; they’re explaining what they’re doing to rectify the situation (canceling upcoming trips in order to focus on more stringent quality operations controls on board); and they’re offering compensation packages to passengers affected by the breakdowns.

Despite these efforts, there’s probably going to be a downturn in overall cruising in the next year or two. But does that have to happen? Do these rash of instances have to dictate whether or not someone plans a cruise for their next vacation? Maybe not.

Here are a few things Carnival could do in the coming months/year to help turn a potentially negative situation around, and start to regain the public’s trust in their ships:

  •  Be honest about everything: stay in front of the media and its loyal customers with information about what changes and enhancements are being made in the name of safety. Hopefully Carnival is undergoing a massive audit of all of its ships and making improvements where needed. In this case, going above and beyond is crucial here. You don’t want to just meet the status quo; you want to have the best operating fleet of ships on the water. Making those improvements and sharing the news with what’s being done will start to create awareness that Carnival values safety and passenger comfort above all else.
  • Make some converts: Listen to the customers and hear their concerns about why they may not consider cruising again. See if there are ways to invite these “on the fencers” into the fold to experience the new and improved Carnival cruise. Consider discounts on upcoming trips, on board freebies and other engaging ideas to invite new customers to try out the brand. Winning the public’s trust back starts with one customer at a time.
  • Keep the conversation lines open: In an era of social media and 24/7 news cycles, it’s imperative to keep the lines between brand and customer open at all times. Answer customer’s concerns head on. Create advisory councils of customers and potential customers to gain insight into how to continually improve the travel experience.

While Carnival may have a long road ahead of itself in terms of repairing its image, the upshot is that this situation doesn’t have to define its future.

Any brand can find themselves involved in a crisis situation. Following your strategic crisis management plan (you have one, right?), and maintaining an ongoing open and honest dialogue with the public can go a long way to re-gaining trust and confidence in your organization. One negative experience doesn’t have to define your brand’s future. But how you handle the communications throughout the crisis just might.

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