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PR Win: Royal Caribbean — Ablaze With Good PR
By: Patrick Foughty, APR
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Cruise lines have been in the news a lot it seems, and the companies that sail these behemoths have had a lot of headaches in the customer service and public relations sector. There appears to always be crisis in the industry, whether they’re sinking off the coast of Italy, going dead in the water, crew or guests going overboard, norovirus sweeping ships, or experiencing fires; it seems like an almost monthly news report of something happening. Of course, this is probably due to years of hard steaming with little time invested towards maintenance overhauls.

The company with the biggest slacker record for ship maintenance and customer service has been the Carnival conglomerate, a subsidiary of which is Costa Crociere, the organization that operated the Costa Concordia (the ship that sank off Italy, in case you’ve been sleeping under a rock). Woe to the public relations team that manages their affairs; if it’s not cowardly Captains it’s complete ineptitude in managing passengers safely during an incident far out at sea, or reckless PR flacks without much of a heart. But their management and PR failures have been dismantled enough in the blogosphere, even here on Talent Zoo.  

Last week yet another cruise incident happened, but this time the company, Royal Caribbean, did it right when the Grandeur of the Seas had a fire in the stern section, forcing it to terminate the cruise early and send passengers home. Now the story is old news and very few passengers seem to have taken their experience personally. So what did they do right?

Operations was ready. To start, the crew was well trained and stayed calm — this led to a professional evolution that kept the passengers reassured that things would be okay. Sure, it wasn’t ideal, but compared to the complete chaos described when the Concordia struck land or when the Carnival Triumph was adrift for four days this was leaps and bounds ahead. That way when the PR flacks use the talking point "we go above and beyond UN safety regulations" it’s obvious they actually do.

Leadership was engaged. Royal Caribbean dispatched CEO Adam Goldstein immediately — or perhaps he dispatched himself — to the ship as it hit port in the Bahamas to meet with customers. Alongside the Captain he met with passengers one-on-one and offered sincere regret for the incident. Then he went on TV when the ship had barely been in port and showed the world he was already there, on scene himself. This showed the world that Royal Caribbean was engaged and in control.

Public Relations was spot on. it’s hard to tell if Royal Caribbean’s PR team is just really good or simply learned by watching Carnival flounder about, but regardless, they focused on customer needs, talked about them like they were in fact people, and handled the media to the point that they even got a media nod of approval for their efforts.

We often like to write about PR Fails, but this effort by Royal Caribbean has been a PR Win (so far), all because of the right mix of training, leadership, and PR savvy.

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About the Author
Patrick Foughty is a former helicopter pilot turned PR lover. He pays bills by playing the role of Public Affairs Specialist for the U.S. Navy in Washington D.C. where he manages media operations and digital media for his organization. When he's not thinking about PR he's working on his first novel or studying medieval history.
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