Category Archives: PR

Travel PR: The Cruise to Hell and Back

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It started out as a fun-filled four-day cruise from Galveston, TX to Cozumel, Mexico. It turned out to be the Cruise to Hell and Back.

When the Carnival cruise ship Triumph experienced a crippling engine room fire one day before it was due back in port, it would set off a PR nightmare for Carnival, a company still licking its wounds from last year’s Costa Concordia disaster, and not too far removed from a very similar disablement of its ship Carnival Splendor in November 2010 All three of these incidents have received intensive media attention, with the Triumph and Splendor accidents playing out in dramatic news stories being reported over a period of several days. As I looked at the monitor in the gym last night, the graphic on NBC News read: Nightmare at Sea. All the positive PR in the world can’t overcome a headline like that.

One question that inevitably comes to mind is: Why? Although they are very rare, disabling engine room fires on cruise ships have happened before. In the wake of the Splendor incident, Carnival set up a Fire Safety Task Force to look at the issue. This is a classic PR tactic, setting up a Blue Ribbon Commission to examine an event and recommend solutions. The more heavy hitters you can get on the commission, the better it looks. It gives key audiences confidence that we have left no stone unturned in our quest to understand what happened and prevent it from ever happening again. Unfortunately for Carnival, it happened again.

A disturbing reality for cruisers is that engine room fires do happen and you may be stuck at sea for five days without power, lights, air conditioning, toilets and other “amenities.” While this type of scenario may be familiar and not alarming to crusty old sea dogs, it’s nearly unfathomable to the thousands of “vacationers” who signed up for a stay in a resort that just happens to be at sea.

In order to increase the safety of passengers at sea, the International Maritime Organization has mandated that ships built in 2010 and later, have two completely separate engine rooms and electrical systems. If one propulsion system catches fire, you can just start-up the other one. But this only applies to new ships and not to the Carnival Triumph, which entered service in 1999. This makes one wonder if discerning cruisers will begin to seek out newer ships with redundant systems, forcing cruise lines to heavily discount travel on older models.

But in the words of another crusty PR dog who shall remain anonymous, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” when it comes to bad PR for Carnival. As I write, anxious relatives are massing on a dock in Mobile, AL, waiting to comfort their sobbing and traumatized kin, who will stream off the ship full of horrific stories they are only too eager to tell to a drama-hungry media horde. The media is already salivating at the thought of bellying up to an all-you-can-eat buffet of first person “survival” stories, while for Carnival’s PR team, it’s just the beginning of a nightmare that may go on for months or years. And for a cruise industry that has all of its marketing muscle behind promoting a fun, carefree vacation at sea, it’s another black eye that has folks questioning its practices and credibility.

So what’s a harried PR pro to do? Here are my top suggestions for Carnival:

Make the affected customers happy at almost any cost. The horror stories that will come off the ship will be what hurts you the most. If Jim and Barbara from Des Moines aren’t happy about the way they’ve been compensated for this ordeal, their stories of pooping in a bag inside a sweltering cabin will just get louder and more exaggerated. You need to do what it takes to get them on your side.

Announce a dramatic and serious initiative to address the problem. The Blue Ribbon Commission usually works well, but because they’ve already tried that once, Carnival now has a credibility problem. They’ll need to add some star power to the effort to give it credibility.

Make sure your side of the story gets out there. The media does a good job amplifying the message of detractors as they pile onto a story. Don’t let falsehoods, exaggerations, unfounded accusations and the like go unanswered. Beef up your PR team so that you always have someone available to give your side of the story.

Define your messaging. Before you can tell your side of the story, you need to decide what that story is. Pull together facts that demonstrate everything you did to prevent the problem, plan for it, implement your plans and most importantly, comfort the customers on the ship and communicate what was happening to their loved ones.

Find some heroes. In the Costa Concordia tragedy, Costa and its parent Carnival took a beating because their top executive on the scene, the Captain, abandoned ship before the passengers had all gotten off. But several of their crew emerged as heroes, saving lives amid the chaos and helping to balance what could have been a very one-sided story. Undoubtedly, there are heroes on the Triumph and their stories should be told.

Time heals all wounds. Like other companies that have faced public relations disasters, Carnival should lie low for a while until things calm down. Marketing during a crisis is flushing money down the toilet. Better to put the marketing machine on pause and then come roaring back when it’s safe to do so.

I have no doubt that Carnival will survive this latest mishap. A good PR strategy will help them get past it faster and come out stronger on the other side.

Update:  Apparently the Triumph hasn’t finished reaking havoc.

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Filed under Crisis Communications, Daniel Durazo, PR, Public Relations, Travel, Uncategorized

BP’s Next Challenge

The slow motion disaster that is unfortunately continuing to take shape in the Gulf of Mexico will undoubtedly become a significant case history in the fields of public relations, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and crisis management.

While British Petroleum has certainly been the victim of a worst-case scenario, they have also been woefully unprepared for a disaster that is obviously within the realm of possibility.  Good crisis planning could have probably predicted the current event and hopefully prodded some preparation to deal with it.

But from a PR perspective, BP has done a good job of accepting responsibility, admitting mistakes, being transparent about what is going on and I suppose when this is over, doing what is necessary to make sure it never happens again.  What is yet to be determined is how much BP is willing or able to make the innocent victims of the disaster whole.

The Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska showed the massive resources, both financial and in human capital, that are required to right a wrong of this magnitude.  And as the oil slick in the Gulf continues to grow and more communities are affected, the job just becomes bigger.  While the fragile eco-system of Prince William Sound is still recovering from the effects of its disaster, it is relatively sparsely populated compared to the communities of the Gulf of Mexico.  Cleaning up the oil and working to restore both the environment and the confidence of an angry public will be a massive undertaking.

Once the flow of oil is stopped, the real work will begin.  Let’s hope that BP is prepared.

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Filed under corporate social responsibility, Crisis Communications, CSR, Daniel Durazo, PR, Public Relations

Lessons from Toyota

Today’s congressional hearings on T0yota’s safety problems and a recent mini-crisis at work have prompted me to focus on the long held rules of crisis communications.  If you read today’s coverage of the congressional hearings and what Toyota is doing about its unintended acceleration problem, you can see how these rules come into play.

Rule One: Show you care.  Demonstrating that you are concerned about the issue shows that you are a responsible corporate citizen.  Saying that you are concerned is great, but showing you are concerned is better.

Rule Two: Take action.  The best way to show you are concerned is to take action to address the problem.  This should be done as quickly as possible.

Rule Three:  Admit mistakes and apologize for them.  Toyota has done this today and it is an extremely effective tactic.  Everyone knows that we all make mistakes and we are very forgiving if we believe the errors were unintentional.  Americans love anyone who is willing to fall on their sword.

Rule Four:  Take steps to make sure this horrible thing never happens again.  Now this is easier said than done, but if you do steps one through three correctly, most folks will take you at your word for step four.  Now just make sure it never does happen again or you’ll really be in trouble.

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Filed under Daniel Durazo, PR

Twitter for Travel

Twitter_256x256[1]I’ve recently begun tweeting for my employer, which is a supplier in the vast global travel industry.

Despite the fact that the travel industry is struggling along with the rest of the worldwide economy, there is no shortage of twitter fans among travel suppliers.  I feel safe saying there are thousands of airlines, cruise lines, hotel chains, resorts, tour companies, travel agents, destinations, experts, bloggers, journalists and pundits of every stripe tweeting on every aspect of the travel industry.

While my tweets are generally informative and my efforts still exploratory, I have found there are some lessons to be learned and opportunities to be exploited in the world of business tweeting.  Here’s what I’ve found:

Twitter is a great sales tool.  If you have prospects, see if they are on twitter.  You can follow their tweets, learn a lot about them and even create a relationship with them.

Listening is as important as tweeting.  I’ve learned a lot about my industry from reading the tweets of the many people I’m following.  Listening to tweets is just as valuable as sending them out.

Own a niche.  Tweeters who own some niche in the industry are seen as a valuable resource and have no trouble getting followers or having their tweets re-tweeted.

Twitter is a conversation.  Some people think Twitter is a publishing tool.  It’s actually a tool to hold conversations and build relationships.  Use it that way. 

Put some personality into your tweets.  I think there’s nothing worse than the corporate tweeter who just posts the occasional sterile information and offers no personality, no humor, no sign of being a human.  Don’t be that guy/gal.

Hashtags work.  Hashtags are search tools that help others find your tweets.  My favorites are #traveltuesday and #followfriday.  These hashtags are day specific and you can find people to follow and generate followers for yourself.  Most industries have a standard hashtag, ours is #travel.

Thanks for reading and happy Tweeting.

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Filed under PR, Public Relations, Travel, Uncategorized

The Top 7 Things Newspapers Need to Do to Survive

 

My newspaper crystal ball

My newspaper crystal ball

I was having coffee the other day with my friend Tim Loughran, general manager of Centro de Richmond, a Spanish-language weekly produced by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  The topic was how newspapers will survive and thrive during a time which does not seem to favor them.  That same day I noticed Jon Newman’s piece on the future of newspapers. All of this got me thinking, “what is the future of newspapers?”

 

As you’ve probably noticed, newspapers and their holding companies are struggling to ride out the current economic storm and some have resorted to filing bankruptcy  to stay afloat while others are shutting down completely.  I’ll blame the economy as the primary culprit for the current situation, but it’s no secret that newspapers were struggling before the current downturn.  In fact, they have been thrashing around for more than a decade trying to find a profitable business model in the digital age.  So far they have failed to find one.

Newspapers are frequently their own worst enemy.  I have a journalism degree and I’m aware of the struggle between those on the publishing side who are trying to pay the bills and those on the journalism side who constantly worry about the Chinese Wall dividing publishing and editorial.  Perhaps this is a valid struggle, but if the newspaper shuts down in the middle of the struggle, who wins? Certainly not the readers.  In this environment, the journalists and the publishers need to finally come together.

But that’s a relatively small thing compared to this:  When newspapers began publishing digital editions online and (for the most part) giving their content away for free, they sent a strong message to their customers that will be extremely difficult to take back.  Here’s the message:  “The price paid for subscriptions and newsstand copies are to cover the cost of the newsprint and the distribution.  The content itself does not have any value and that’s why we’re giving it away it for free online.”  I’m sure this is the last thing newspapers wanted to communicate, but that’s in fact what has happened.  It may be possible to stuff that cat back in the bag, but it’s gonna be tough.

Newspapers are “media” companies, but you wouldn’t know it.  Newspaper philosophy works like this:  Hire some reporters and editors and have them develop some content.  Hire some ad sales peoples and have them sell some ads.  Combine the editorial and the advertising (separately of course) into one nice looking publication and deliver it.  Do it again tomorrow.  Maybe it’s those daily deadlines that have blinded newspapers to the reality that every media company must know:  The number one job of newspapers is to connect people to the world around them.  Newspapers connect readers to their community and they connect advertisers to their customers.  The better newspapers understand this, the more successful they will be.  Newspapers are not the only ones guilty of not understanding their business .  Ad agencies often think their job is to create memorable ads and PR agencies may think their job is to crank out pithy press releases.  In fact, their job is also to connect people.

Unfortunately, newspapers have completely missed the boat when it comes to utilizing technology to connect people.  Bloggers, social media and niche media have steadily siphoned off consumers and advertising revenue in a game that newspapers were well poised to win.  That’s because “new media” understands what “old media”  seems blind to.  Connecting people is where the real value is derived.  

Here’s what newspapers need to do to survive.

1.  Jump on the social media bandwagon.  Newspapers are the medium best positioned to connect people who are interested in similar topics.  Social media “microsites” for local communities, for business, for sports, for real estate, etc. will help build the newspaper’s brand while establishing a sense of community among its readers.  Advertisers will surely follow.

2.  Embrace the bloggers.  Bloggers know that their post is only half of what interests readers.  Reader comments are the other half.  Newspapers still don’t understand this and relegate comments to micro-print at the bottom of an online story if they allow comments at all.  Comments and feedback are valuable content.  Why not highlight excellent comments by dragging them into the body of the story instead of relegating them to no-man’s-land?  Why not enlist well known bloggers to lead the discussion?  The fact that readers care enough to comment should be welcomed and celebrated and will help keep interest in the story going long after it’s publication.

3.  The 24-7 news cycle is killing newspapers.  If you know the newspaper business, you know never to pitch a story to a newspaper reporter after about 3pm, because they are often on deadline for the next day’s edition.  Reporters filed once a day and that was it.  That’s changing quickly as online editions try to keep up with breaking news, but it’s still deeply ingrained into the business.  Reporters need to report the news faster and worry less about the polish.  Newspapers need to deliver the news faster in non-traditional ways.

Speaking of non-traditional delivery of the news, here are some suggestions.

4.  Twitter:  Many traditional media outlets are now using twitter to promote stories that have already been written, but they need to use it to deliver the news as it happens in real time.  Forget the links, just send out the tweets until the story has been written, then link to it.

5.  Mobile devices:  The fact that Hearst is launching a wireless e-reader hints that they don’t “get it.”  I can read the news on my iPhone just fine, thank you.  Give me an app fine-tuned for your publication and I will download it and even pay for it if it’s a good one.  Create mobile websites for your advertisers so the content can be linked to the advertising.  Utilize text messaging to deliver editorial and advertising content to readers who are accessing your content on any platform.

6.  Audio:  Every news story of substance should be bundled with advertising into an audio file for download onto an MP3 player for listening in the car or anywhere else.  Webacasters are already creating content for niche audiences that are available live on their websites or can be downloaded for later listening.  

But besides content delivery, this is what’s most obvious and most lacking among newspapers.

7.  Newspapers need to become a marketing partner.  For many local businesses, newspapers may be their only advertising vehicle.  But few newspapers do more than just take ad orders.  Newspapers should be helping their advertisers by hunting for new ways to drive those customer relationships.  Why not offer a free “marketing audit” to make sure Joe’s Lamp Shop is following marketing’s best practices?  Why not offer seminars to businesses on social media, mobile marketing and all the other ways they can drum up business.  And have a product to offer in these areas.  Newspapers have a special and unique relationship with their customers which they must exploit.

Newspapers are the king of content.  They need to be the king of all media too if they are going to survive and flourish.

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Filed under Blogging, Daniel Durazo, iPhone, Mobile Marketing, PR, Public Relations, Uncategorized

Public Relations Trends for 2009

 

My Crystal Ball is Ringing and It's for You

My Crystal Ball is Ringing and It's for You

Some of my fellow bloggers have been banging out PR trends for 2009, so I figured I’d jump on the bandwagon.  And since I now have two weeks of insight into this New Year, my predictions will no doubt be far more accurate than theirs.

 

Here’s my list:

The Gatekeepers Look Scared

One of the most challenging things about media relations has always been coming up with a creative pitch you think the media will like, getting the media’s attention long enough to pitch it, hoping they like it enough to run with it and then praying the media doesn’t run to a water-main break instead of covering your media event.  But for today’s PR pros, there are numerous avenues around the Gatekeepers and directly to your target audience.  As the media continues to feel the financial pressure of a downturn, the Gatekeepers will become more scarce.  Become fluent in all the ways to reach your target audience and you’ll still be able to do your job regardless of the Gatekeepers.

This isn’t your Father’s Public Relations

On a similar vein, the changing media landscape is changing our business.  We now need to be fully conversant in media relations tools that didn’t exist 5 years ago.  Social media, mobile media and the like are great ways to start conversations, and after all we are in the conversation business. Think about all the ways you can start conversations with your target audiences and develop resources to navigate those channels.  Get aboard or get left behind.

The World is Changing, Change with It

In the past, “diversity” was frequently given lip service while business was conducted as usual.  No more my friends.  The demographics of this country are changing rapidly and the Obama Administration will be the face of a New America.  Hispanics will continue to grow in population and increase their economic and political clout.  Other ethnic and racial groups will become energized and outspoken about having their place at the table.  Design outreach strategies for these groups or suffer the consequences.

Global Warming Heats Up

Despite economic turbulence and see-sawing gas prices, Climate Change as a critical global issue is here to stay.  The incoming administration has made it a priority and PR pros need to be able to tell a positive environmental story about their company or client.  The best organizations will design proactive environmental programs that make it easy for their PR folks to communicate effectively to target audiences.  

Back to Basics

Despite the increase in tools and technology relevant to our business, there is no substitution for effective communication.  While the look and sound of that communication may change, one thing that doesn’t change is the critical need to make yourself understood by your target audience.  Effective writing doesn’t just mean good mechanics, it means communicating effectively so that the message is received and acted upon.  Good communicators are hard to find, treasure them.

Research and Measurement are Necessary Evils

Too many organizations and clients today want to do things on the fly or on the cheap.  Unfortunately, when you shoot the gun without aiming first, you will often miss.  The way to take aim is to conduct research on your issue, your product, your audience, your message, your media and so on until you develop a communications strategy that you can have confidence in.  Similarly, measurement must be done to determine if goals were reached (assuming you had measurable goals in the first place) and then adjust your strategy based on your findings.  Don’t take shortcuts when it comes to research and measurement.

Doing Less With More

I’m a stickler for doing things right, but at the end of the day you can only do the best you can with the resources you have.  That’s why it’s so important to find creative ways to harness the resources to do the job right.  Internal resources can often be begged and bartered, external vendors are more willing to strike a deal to get some work.  Don’t be afraid to be creative or haggle when it comes to marshaling resources.

SEO Needs SOS

Search engine optimization isn’t just for web heads anymore.  Nearly all of your target audiences will seek out information about your company by using a search engine.  All of the great PR in the world won’t help if the search engine results are not flattering, are inaccurate or point to a competitor.  PR people need to be vigilant about their organization or client’s search engine results and take action when necessary.  SEO strategies frequently span PR and web disciplines, so talk to your web colleagues today so you’ll be ready tomorrow.

Social Media Changes Everything

Social Media has created a tsunami of change for traditional media.  Newspaper circulation and ad dollars are plummeting while tech savvy consumers get their news from the web, from cell phones and from non-traditional sources like the blogosphere (because that’s the way we bloggers roll).  Networking sites like facebook and LinkedIn have created social and business networks that are radically changing the communications landscape due to their insular nature.  Many media consumers now feel they have everything they need within their network platforms and needn’t venture out to get anything else.  I can get a job, post a job, keep up with friends, keep abreast of current events and even buy products and services, often without going far from my network.  Finding ways to intersect and disrupt social networks without intruding will increasingly become a sought-after area of expertise.

Those are my Public Relations Predictions for 2009.  Feel free to put them to work for you.

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Filed under Blogging, Climate Change, Green Marketing, Mobile Marketing, Multicultural Marketing, PR, Public Relations, Uncategorized