Recovery at Sea – What Carnival Cruise Line’s Disaster has to teach businesses

Is there something positive that can come about from the recent ill-fated cruise of the Carnival Triumph?  I think so and I wrote about it in this week’s Hartford Business Journal(http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/)  (http://bit.ly/14osUcl)

Here’s what Carnival has to teach all of us:

Keep Your Stakeholders Informed Early and Often – Here, Carnival got 50 percent of the equation right.  They did, indeed mobilize all media, both traditional and contemporary, to tell their story.  But it kicked in later than a 140 character world would like.  By the time Carnival CEO President Gerry Hill made his first statement on February 12, the ship had been disabled for two days and its condition widely reported in the media. 

Once Carnival’s efforts did kick-in, though, they were timely and productive.  Carnival Cruises’ crisis team created a dedicated page on the Carnival website for news updates.  They also mobilized web-based media with consistent updates via Facebook and Twitter.  Throughout the crisis, Carnival’s social media team posted 20 updates to their Facebook page. (By the way, that page already had more than two million likes, illustrating the need for companies to have their social media programs firmly in place before a crisis.) 

 In addition, Carnival used two Twitter feeds (@CarnivalCruise and @CarnivalPR) to issue updates.  Those updates included “news you can use” as well as tweet that shined a positive light on what they were doing to keep people informed.  Here’s an example: “We’ve taken more than 7,000 calls from family & friends & have been in regular contact with our guests’ designated on-shore contacts.”   One caution here: early on in the crisis, Carnival’s Facebook updates were repetitive, covering the same details over and over.  Most likely, there wasn’t much to add to the story at that time, so I would have advised skipping those repetitive posts.  Since Facebook updates are right next to each other, repeating yourself looks like you’re more interested in just saying something than saying something that adds to the conversation.  That looks a bit disingenuous.  I’d rather see updates that are just that – new information. 

 Issue and support informative, apologetic and compassionate press releases – Your first message in any crisis needs to be a show of compassion and concern to for those affected.  Carnival’s first release did just that.  And it was bolstered by the fact that it appeared to come directly from their CEO, Gerry Cahill.  It reviewed the facts as they knew them, explained that their safety systems kicked in to contain the fire and made sure to say there were no immediate injuries.  Then, it explained what Carnival was doing to bring the ship into a port, outlined what compensation the passengers would be getting, and concluded with: “We’re terribly sorry for the inconvenience, discomfort, and frustration our guests are feeling. We know they expected a fantastic vacation, and clearly that is not what they received. Our shipboard and shore side teams are working around the clock to care for our guests and get them home safely.”  This statement, and all others throughout the crisis, was well supported with properly dated and time-stamped messages via Carnival’s social media.  This allowed anyone following the crisis to spot the latest information easily.

Make the most of your press releases – Carnival’s social media team kept journalists up-to-date with their social media, letting members of the media know when the releases were to be held and when they could be tweeted.  In addition, their social media posts had links to press releases on their site and their Facebook posts had embedded links to press releases.

Using Social Media to Listen and Respond – The cruise line’s social media team also carefully monitored online discussion, addressing questions that came up on line. Most importantly, they used Twitter to address and correct rumors.  Given the length of this crisis, the longer it went on, the more likely rumors were to grow and gather steam.  They did their best to stop them.

Mark the End of the Critical Phase of a Crisis with a Thank You – Carnival’s team made its most important contribution to the future of the cruise line when the ship made landfall.  Upon landing, they posted “All Carnival Triumph guests should be back home with friends and family by now…Crew will be making their way to other ships or back to their homes over the next few days.  Thank you to our incredible guests, tireless team members and everyone who provided assistance this past week.  Best wishes to all as their journey comes to a close.”  These were immediately followed up with five more tweets that reviewed Carnival’s dedication to “great vacations”; apologies to guests, family and friends and more thanks to those who helped end the situation, such as the Coast Guard.  This followed an in-person dockside apology by Carnival CEO President Gerry Hill when the ship landed in Mobile.  His heartfelt expression of concern and gratitude appeared genuine.  Unfortunately, his attempt to “personally” deliver his message to each of the passengers onboard fell flat.  It was carried over the public address system while the passengers were clamoring to get off the ship.  Many didn’t even hear it or care to at that point.

Make it right with action that lets people know you “get it” – Although no one can undo the mental and physical impact of such an ordeal, Carnival’s gone a long way to make things right.  Passengers will receive a full refund, credit for a future cruise, a flight home, and reimbursement for most onboard purchases plus $500.  Much controversy is swirling around whether Carnival’s done enough, but the extent of their settlement offer tells me they are trying to do the right thing.  Unfortunately, it won’t be enough for some.  The lawsuits kicked in less than 48 hours after the ship landed and the online ads from law firms trolling for “wronged” passengers are proliferating.

Recovery from any crisis is a slow and difficult process of rebuilding trust with words and deeds.  Those of us who handle crisis communications also know that recovery from multiple, related crises can be particularly difficult.  That’s the case for Carnival.  Their recent disasters have included a similar fire aboard the Carnival Splendor in 2010 and the Costa Concordia crash in 2012.  These will make recovery especially tough.  My observation is that they have the team and tools in place to do just that.  And the message to all of us in business is that recovery is possible with compassion, concern and a wiliness to make the most of the people and technology at our disposal.

March 5, 2013 at 2:16 pm Leave a comment

Can Penn State Put the Happy Back in Happy Valley?

 Today’s sentencing of former assistant Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky puts something of a cap on the crisis that has defined the university since the story broke in November, 2011.  The question is can this venerable institution rebuild its brand?  Yes, but with care. 

 Before moving on, Penn State officials need to answer five questions to the public’s satisfaction:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Who’s responsible?
  3. Was it intentional?
  4. Could it happen again?
  5. What does it say about the brand?

 The way Penn State honestly tackles these questions (and I do mean honestly) will determine whether the public sees their next steps as more of the same or a true attempt to rebuild trust.

 If and when they lay that foundation, here are 10 steps I’d like to see them take to regaining their reputation:

  •  Acknowledge mistakes – What disturbs people most about this scandal is how mightily Penn State has fought the idea that their culture encouraged the idea that the university could do no wrong.  Clearly, looking the other way on a scandal of this magnitude illustrates a flawed mind-set.
  • Implement deliberate and honest recovery actions – It’s time to reconstruct that mind-set and honestly change the system.
  • Build coalitions and support structures – Penn State has already started reaching out to alumni to cultivate them as their community ambassador.  They are also in the process of actively mobilizing others who are loyal to the institution like students, parents and faculty.  Good for them.
  • Commit to meaningful change – This mean honestly looking at how things are done, what’s acceptable behavior and building a fail-safe system that allows people to anonymously report their concerns.  It will help the university truly prevent something of this magnitude from happening again.
  • Demonstrate behaviors you are advocating – This means integrating an attitude of compassion, composure, humility and sincerity in all your rebuilding efforts.
  • Monitor progress – With today’s technology, monitoring the conversation can and should be a critical step in gauging the reaction to your efforts and adjusting them accordingly.
  • Keep in touch – Let everyone who cares about you know how you are planning to rebuild.  Share your strategy through social media, traditional media, your website, You Tube, and those good old standbys like letters, personal phone calls and emails.  It’s not enough to launch a recovery campaign; you need to bring them all on-board.
  • Solicit ideas for recovery – Those who have been hurt by this blow to the Penn State brand, deserve the dignity of helping you recover.  Set up formal ways of soliciting and using their ideas.
  • Survey stakeholders – You’re going to want to know what’s working and what’s not.  Make sure you ask the people who care, over and over.
  • 10. Don’t celebrate moving on too soon – Make sure you respect all the victims of this tragedy by avoiding the impression that you’ve put the whole thing behind you and are ready to forget.  This dishonors them and makes your recovery efforts seem superficial and disingenuous.

Penn State has a long road ahead of them, but I believe they can and will recover.  They’ll need to be honest, demonstrate that they learned from the scandal and have the ability to move on in an ethical manner.  It won’t be happy in Happy Valley for a long while, but with a concerted effort, Penn State will become a better and more compassionate institution. Today was just the first step.

October 9, 2012 at 3:56 pm Leave a comment

Komen Crisis Management Attempt Works Against Them – Big Time

The Susan G. Komen self-defense is making matter worse for them.  Their YouTube explanation is a good example of how NOT to handle a crisis.

The video is long, self-justifying and takes up 2/3 of it with worthless explanations that dodge the issue.  If you’re going to use YouTube, get to the heart of the matter quickly.  This strategy strikes me as a giant stall and sleight-of-hand to distract us for the real issue.  The lesson for every #crisismanger is this: meet your critics head-on.  Stalling with good words, mission statements and policy explanations makes us wonder what you’re NOT saying.

As a long-time fan of both #SusanGKomen and #Planned Parenthood, I have to say the #Komen folks are coming off here as the villains and Planned Parenthood’s looking like the victim.  Not a good interplay for #Komen.  We know who we root for and it’s not the villains!

UPDATE FEB. 3: Looks like someone at #Komen wasn’t tone deaf.  Decision was reversed today: http://bit.ly/wHUUfP.  It’s a start now GO OUT THERE AND START REBUILDIING YOUR REPUTATION, KOMEN.  You’ve got a way to go!

February 2, 2012 at 5:42 pm Leave a comment

Making The Most of a #McStake

As a vegetarian, I never thought I’d be saying this, but here goes….. Good job McDonald’s.

When their Twitter campaign using #McDStories went terribly wrong, they admitted it and took it down.  They introduced the hashtag Thursday with they tweeted “When u make something with pride, people can taste it.”  People jumped on the hashtag, using it to kvetch about all things McDonalds ranging from food poisoning to chipped molars from the burgers.

They moved quickly to take down the campaign.  Here’s part of the smart, self-effacing email from McDonald’s social media director Rick Wion that explained it:

 

Last Thursday, we planned to use two different hashtags during a promoted trend – #meetthefarmers and #mcdstories.

 

While #meetthefarmers was used for the majority of the day and successful in raising awareness of the Supplier Stories campaign, #mcdstories did not go as planned. We quickly pulled #mcdstories and it was promoted for less than two hours.

 

Within an hour of pulling #McDStories the number of conversations about it fell off from a peak of 1600 to a few dozen. It is also important to keep those numbers in perspective. There were 72,788 mentions of McDonald’s overall that day so the traction of #McDStories was a tiny percentage (2%) of that.

 

With all social media campaigns, we include contingency plans should the conversation not go as planned. The ability to change midstream helped this small blip from becoming something larger.

Bravo, McD’s!  You admitted a mistake and didn’t let the need to be right keep you from admitting a screw up.  Here’s the lesson to all corporations where arrogance gets in the way of such actions: you can admit a mistake and people will forgive and forget.  Or you can think of yourselves as infallible and NO ONE will forgive OR forget.

January 26, 2012 at 4:03 pm Leave a comment

Recovering from a #McStake

As a vegetarian, I never thought I’d be saying this, but here goes….. Good job McDonald’s.

When their Twitter campaign using #McDStories went terribly wrong, they admitted it and took it down.  They introduced the hashtag Thursday with they tweeted “When u make something with pride, people can taste it.”  People jumped on the hashtag, using it to kvetch about all things McDonalds ranging from food poisoning to chipped molars from the burgers.

They moved quickly to take down the campaign.  Here’s part of the smart, self-effacing email from McDonald’s social media director Rick Wion that explained it:

 Last Thursday, we planned to use two different hashtags during a promoted trend – #meetthefarmers and #mcdstories.

 While #meetthefarmers was used for the majority of the day and successful in raising awareness of the Supplier Stories campaign, #mcdstories did not go as planned. We quickly pulled #mcdstories and it was promoted for less than two hours.

Within an hour of pulling #McDStories the number of conversations about it fell off from a peak of 1600 to a few dozen. It is also important to keep those numbers in perspective. There were 72,788 mentions of McDonald’s overall that day so the traction of #McDStories was a tiny percentage (2%) of that.

 With all social media campaigns, we include contingency plans should the conversation not go as planned. The ability to change midstream helped this small blip from becoming something larger.

Bravo, McD’s!  You admitted a mistake and didn’t let the need to be right keep you from admitting a screw up.  Here’s the lesson to all corporations where arrogance gets in the way of such actions: you can admit a mistake and people will forgive and forget.  Or you can think of yourselves as infallible and NO ONE will forgive OR forget.

January 26, 2012 at 1:04 am Leave a comment

Hey Penn State – You’re Missing the Point

“This is not Penn State. This is ‘the Sandusky scandal.'”

This quote by Penn State President Rodney Erickson made me see red.  He offered this lame defense of the university’s “see no evil; hear no evil” approach to the Jerry Sandusky’s situation. It came at one of three town hall meetings he was holding with alumni in an attempt to return to Happy Valley.  To quote AP reporter MaryClaire Dale, “…the 650 alumni in attendance for the sometimes heated 90-minute session didn’t receive him well.” And that’s probably because neither they nor Erickson continue to miss the central point of the scandal – that no one in authority stopped it.

Most of the meeting focused on how storied Coach Joe Paterno was fired. How, not WHY.  If I understand this correctly, many of the folks in that room seemed to overlook the two parts of the scandal.  Part I was, of course, Sandusky’s ongoing acts of child sexual abuse.  Part II (and the one makes Part I into a Penn State issue) was the ongoing ability of everyone around Sandusky, including Paterno, to turn a blind-eye to these acts.

Paterno may be the Godfather of Football and a heck of a winning coach, but he was quietly complicit in letting Sandusky continue to ruin young boys’ lives.  So, please, Penn State administration and Penn State alumni, stop talking about the pain caused by the way Paterno was fired.  Stop asking Erickson and the trustees to apologize to Paterno.  Instead, ask yourself how the University is going to change its culture from one in which football can do no wrong to one in which it’s everyone’s job to do the right thing.

January 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm Leave a comment

Marketing – It’s Everyone’s Business

If you think marketing is the sole province of your Marketing Department you’re missing a lot of opportunities. In fact, in today’s world, marketing should and must be the responsibility of everyone in your company – from the person who refills the salad bar in the cafeteria to the president of the company.

The Salad Bar Lady? Really? Yes, really. Let me give you an example: When we were on the college search for my son, our first stop was Wake Forest. If you haven’t looked at college since you were in bell bottoms, you’re in for a surprise. Searching for a college is like looking for a time-share – it’s marketing on steroids. Colleges woo you with everything from dining halls (no more cafeterias) to the wireless in the dorms to dryers that email the students when their clothes are done. And they obviously understand that getting that message to prospective students is about mobilizing everyone who sees (or could see) your kid and their parents.

So, back to the dining hall at Wake Forest… As I grabbed my tray and began a walk-through of my dining options — from stir fry to gluten-free alternatives to custom-made sandwiches — my confusion must have been obvious. “Can I help you, Hon?” came a lilting southern voice in a crisp white uniform. “You look a little overwhelmed. Let me show you around.” And, so she did. Me, the marketing professional and she, the well-trained marketing ambassador.

And that’s what everyone in your company needs to be…. A well-versed marketing ambassador. Why? Because it is the people who contact your customers day-to-day who are the living, breathing face of your brand to them. Think Starbucks. Think UPS. Think Nordstrom’s. Who does the customer see in these entities? The VP of Marketing or the people who deliver their products and services? So why would you leave the communications of your marketing messages to chance with these customer-facing people? And yet, most companies do and the result is that highly engineered, pricey brand strategies are sunk by ill-informed workers who simply didn’t get the message.

How do you mobilize everyone in your company as a brand ambassador? By treating them as your first and most important target audience. Make them understand just how critical each and every one of them is to your marketing and business success. Make sure they understand your brand and can give voice to it in their sleep. Do your employees understand what makes you the best place to come for your products and services? Do they understand how you stack up against your competition and where you beat the pants off of them? Do they know which customers are best served by what you do and why? Can they tell anyone about the latest and greatest development in your company? In other words, do they understand the elements of your brand?

How many times have you found yourself on hold listening to the message “Your business is very important to us”? How credible is the company that brags about their devotion to their customer service and puts a sour-faced clerk in the Returns Department who treats every customer like they are trying to get away with something? Doesn’t work, does it? There’s a disconnect and it makes you leery of doing business with that company.

Whenever we research and build a brand with our clients the first thing we do is to explain just how important every one of their employees is to carrying that brand forward. We like to create three to five simple talking points and an elevator speech that’s specifically for employees. This enables everyone in the organization to vocalize it. Then, it’s a matter of charging those employees with carrying that message into their daily business practices and empowering them to do just that. You’ve got to get the message to everyone in the organization that they are the living, breathing embodiment of that brand. In the way they talk about what the company does and their role in it. In the way they treat customers. In the way they dress and comport themselves on the job. Because if the customer-facing members of your company aren’t living your brand, how can you expect your customers to believe it?

The bottom line is this (and believe me it is THE bottom line). Treat every employee as the guardian of your brand. Arm them with your marketing messages. Train them to live the brand in every interaction with the customer and each other. Make sure they understand that marketing is a critical part of their success in the organization and that they will be evaluated by how well they handle that responsibility. Empower them to do what it takes to live the brand and reward them for their part in carrying your company’s marketing efforts forward. That’s how you build a company that customers want to do business with, over and over.

September 26, 2011 at 7:12 pm Leave a comment

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