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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

Transocean pays $1.4 billion fine in Deepwater Horizon accident

The Deepwater Horizon

The Deepwater Horizon

The good news for Transocean in their agreement to pay a $1.4 billion fine in connection with the Deepwater Horizon accident, is that they are finally able to put the matter behind them. Along with the environmental disaster that followed the accident, Transocean and BP have slogged through a public relations nightmare that few could have ever imagined and no one would want to try to navigate.

While it’s never a good thing to be found criminally responsible for a disaster of this magnitude, some of those affected by the accident may take comfort in the fact that much of the fine has been earmarked for cleanup, restoration and economic development.

While the size of the fine may be a small comfort to some, Transocean can take comfort in knowng that while the money will be used to restore the Gulf, the money will also be working to restore its reputation.

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Living Stories To the Rescue?

I guess that Google feels bad about the way that it has helped to injure, maim and in some cases, kill newspapers.  Why else would it spend its time and energy to roll out a new product that it hopes will revive them?

I’m talking about Living Stories, a Google experiment to help newspapers present all of their content on a specific topic on a single web page.  Right now, you have to hope that the keywords entered into the papers’ search engine turn up all of the articles in your selected topic, but frequently some are missed.  Living Stories is a partnership between Google, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

As is often the case in technology experiments, the devil is in the details.  If a subject page becomes a defacto authority on a certain topic, I can see it getting a lot of page views.  But newspapers tend to be slow and deliberate when it comes to publishing articles on weighty topics, so the time between a post and a new article in a single newspaper may be too long for today’s Google-addicted immediate satisfaction-seekers.

As with all efforts to resuscitate newspapers, I’m all for it.  I just think this one may not have the horsepower to drag the publishers out of the abyss.

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MASSIVEGOOD is massively good

 

joinmassivegood_bgMASSIVEGOOD is an innovative fundraising movement that combines micro-philanthropy with social media. MASSIVEGOOD will let travelers make a small donation ($2/€2/£2) through a simple click each time they buy a ticket, whether online or through a travel agent. MASSIVEGOOD relies on the network effect of its members to spread the word about the solution. The more MASSIVE the movement, the more MASSIVE the GOOD.

MASSIVEGOOD is in testing phase and will be launched early 2010.

Mission:  MASSIVEGOOD was developed by the Millennium Foundation for Innovative Finance for Health. Funds raised by MASSIVEGOOD are distributed to UNITAID, hosted by the World Health Organization , to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

MASSIVEGOOD:  It’s massively good!

 

 

 

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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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Embrace Rejection

 

John Paul DeJoria

John Paul DeJoria

I just started reading Entrepreneur Magazine again after a long hiatus.

 

Three articles in the July 2009 issue caught my eye.

The first article talks about learning how to alter customers buying habits in order to get your sales going again.  In this economy, customers must be jolted into buying again, not unlike the jolt one receives from a defibrillator in order to get the heart started again.  Customers have hunkered down and have learned a new pattern of buying behavior:  they aren’t buying.  This is causing a downward spiral that by now we know only too well.  To get them to buy, you have to do something drastic like offering them something that’s almost free, just to get them to learn how to say “yes” again.

Another article lists 5 ways to ramp up marketing in a downturn:

  1. If your product is a great value, scream it from the rafters.
  2. Use social media like your life depends on it.
  3. Cause marketing can bring in new customers.
  4. Take the fear away from buying by giving an iron-clad guarantee.
  5. Give stuff away to generate some good PR

The last article tells the story of John Paul DeJoria, the entrepreneur who turned a $700 startup into Paul Mitchell Systems, a $900 million hair care empire.  Not yet done, he co-founded Patrón Tequila, accidentally creating the ultra premium tequila market and becoming rich in the process.  He’s worth an estimated $2.5 billion, making him one of the richest men in the U.S.

John hails from an immigrant heavy part of Los Angeles that I’m very familiar with. On his way to making his fortune, he sold Christmas cards when he was 9, delivered newspapers at 4am and sold encyclopedias.  John was homeless twice; he was sleeping in his car while getting Paul Mitchell off the ground.

John’s story is an amazing rags to riches story of determination.  He says the biggest hurdle in business is rejection.  The difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is the ability to handle rejection and soldier on. Pretty good advice.

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Layoff City

 

Richmond

Richmond

Like a lot of others, I’ve tried to maintain my optimism about an economic turnaround. That was especially tough today when two friends and colleagues informed me they had lost their jobs.  One is a recruiter in Richmond, the other is a producer for an internet radio network in Portland, OR.

I’ve wondered for some time where all the folks in Richmond who have lost their jobs due to the demise of several of this small town’s major employers, will find new ones.  Richmond is a great place to live and work but employment opportunities are very limited, especially for people like me who work in advertising, marketing and public relations.

Fortunately, there are a lot of job search resources out there and Richmond’s networking community is one of the most diverse and vibrant I have ever seen. Richmond is fighting this recession with everything it has and job seekers have a plethora of career networking opportunities and professional organizations and special interest clubs where attendees can hone job finding skills and beat the bushes for their next opportunity.

The best advice:  Don’t give up.  That next great job may be right around the corner.

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