“Let ‘em eat cake” and other terrible PR advice

When Ms. Antoinette was getting mouthy and losing her head, she forgot to empathize and relate to her audience. Maybe she had bad PR advice?

Rant Alert: somewhere in the neighborhood of a Code Yellow on the Dammit! Jack Bauer scale.

So Carnival is in a PR and social pickle (again). This time it’s the Triumph (I’ve known people who’ve sailed and enjoyed that ship) losing power and having to be towed back to Mobile. This isn’t the first time a ship has lost power due to fire, and it’s not a problem exclusive to Carnival.

Now I’m sure the apologies will come fast and furious. Reports already indicate guests will get a full refund and a credit for future cruises, if they want to take their chances again. Emergencies will happen, especially in a business that operates practically 24/7, 365. Put that operation on water, you better believe the contingency plans get complicated.

But that’s not what’s got me steaming mad.
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USA Today ran a short piece with industry experts doing a Q&A on the Triumph fire. At the end there’s some good advice from a VP at a ‘strategic communications firm’ in which he talks about damage control, crisis communications and being proactive with updates with passengers.

Now I’d go much further, also include their families, the media, target social networks. Make every effort to keep people in touch, waive cellular fees, help with travel arrangements and expenses, even for those sans insurance. Mixed in with all the apologies, assurances to figure this out, take better steps to prevent this from happening again. But that’s neither here nor there.

Here’s the line that’s got my knickers in a twist:

“they understand what happened, provided they’re being communicated with and given food and water. Maybe (management) should break out the band.”

Seriously?! That’s the recommended message? “We’re still feeding you and hey, MUSIC?!!”  Next thing you know, someone’s gonna want their life back.

“Break out the band” is dreadful advice, an even worse attitude for damage control.

Of course the crew shouldn’t overreact and cause additional panic; and yes they need to do make steps to comfort guests, help passengers pass the time.

But going on as if nothing’s happening? Making it a party? I don’t think I’d be in the mood for a limbo if I hadn’t showered for two days. There are times levity can ease tension, calm the storm — but adrift at sea with limited resources and terrible conditions isn’t one of them.

Am I making a mountain out of a molehill, or is this not exactly the best crisis PR advice?

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6 Responses to ““Let ‘em eat cake” and other terrible PR advice”

  1. Adam says:

    I’m pretty sure they kicked in the band on the Titanic… A bit famous for it in fact. :)

    You make some great points Davina, and I will add this. These crises are so messy PR-wise. I always read the blog posts and talking heads about what Company X should have done with PR. I think many forget that when this is happening, the people in the room are the company’s lawyers and (if they are invited at all) the company’s PR people. And guess who is dominating the conversation: the attorneys.
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    Davina K. Brewer Reply:

    Oh liability is a big thing, no doubt about it. And one thing lawyers teach witnesses to do is not say more, not give anymore than what’s asked, to answer carefully, choose words wisely.

    I’m still waiting, to see more reaction from passengers on how crew did, what Carnival is doing as follow up (vetted by legal) – and how it impacts the brand overall. So far the F&F I’ve talked to all say same thing – a super low makey nice fare might be hard to resist. FWIW.

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  2. Judy Gombita says:

    Disasters or perceived corporate crises always bring out the pundits and critics, Davina. This fellow appears to be no exception.

    But rather than pay attention to someone stumping for work, why don’t you compare how Carnival is handling this damage-control or crisis compared to the last one.

    I remember there being a ton of criticism about the Facebook page being shut down. I understand this time the company is using the page for (general) updates. Which is good. (I’ve never understood the expectation of non-core audience people expecting a company to respond/debate issues on Facebook in the middle of a crisis. Particularly if the FB page was used mainly for marketing and that ubiquitous “community engagement” function.)

    I understand the bulk of the communication teams time is spent updating family members on the status of things–personal phone calls and emails. Plus, of course, the media. They are, after all, the “core stakeholders/audience” (per the Masters of Disaster book).

    Kudos for these suggestions:

    ….waive cellular fees, help with travel arrangements and expenses

    as I don’t know if those things are typically considered.

    Do you wonder, as I have, why a slow-but-steady “rescue” of the stranded passengers wasn’t attempted by helicopter and boat?

    Such a sad, sad (brand-damaging) image on the news of so many passengers standing on the upper deck, trying to get away from the sewage in their rooms and lower hallways.
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    Davina K. Brewer Reply:

    Good idea to maybe do a follow up analysis Judy.

    What I can say as a follower of both Carnival and their totally-on-the-payroll ‘unofficial’ blogger, they are trying, they are putting info out there, I am seeing negative comments left on updates. Still looking for direct replies, but then I agree w/ you on many fronts about that. It’s impractical, unnecessary to appease the looky loos, perhaps not best place, etc. BTW I’m seeing fans stick by their brand too.

    They are offering full rebate; and free or discounted future cruise; and travel arrangements. Seeing rumors of money too, we will see what really shakes out. Now b/c weather, other factors forced them to return to Mobile, they’re having to make extra steps to get folks in/out of New Orleans. Part just resources in Mobile are more limited, and b/c Carnival staff will need them.

    Some people will think they’ve done what they could, plenty; others not enough. Mileage will vary. FWIW I’ve been stuck, had to make expensive alternative arrangements, so been there but b/c it was weather, no help from cruise line.

    As to other solutions, it’s all about logistics on what’s becoming a predictable situation. The biggest complaint is “why not other ship?!” Weather too bad to transfer is a legit concern, but isn’t really the only reason. It’s b/c there isn’t one; boats are booked 365 except when dry docked.

    I think looking towards future Carnival needs to step up safety, more routine inspections and testing. If they do it yearly, then make it 6 months. Look into other tech beyond generators, maybe solar? Better options when power does fail. And since the Caribbean is their bread and butter… a ship getting stranded seems most obvious problem, so it would seem logical to keep rescue ship on standby. FWIW.

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  3. Seriously?! That’s the recommended message? “We’re still feeding you and hey, MUSIC?!!”

    HAHAHAHHAHAHAH!!!!

    I read his response and, based on the two paragraphs above it, I think he’s being tongue-in-cheek. But, yeah, I’m with you. It’s not great advice.
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    [Reply]

    Davina K. Brewer Reply:

    Reading it again yeah it’s not serious but that’s kinda the point – pretty flippant answer. If someone had rocked the PC, all the Q&A, FB replies.. but that one line slipped out, that would be the sound bite, the tweet, damage control undone. FWIW.

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