A crisis is the most powerful opportunity a corporation can have. How a company handles a crisis solidifies for its customers, more than any advertisement, marketing collateral or public relations puff piece it creates, what its brand really is about. This one moment seals its lasting impression on consumers and therefore, its financial future like no other event can. Yet, still, year after year, companies get it horribly wrong. This time, it was Carnival Cruise Line’s opportunity. Two paths lay before them out of the darkness and, alas, once again, the wrong path was chosen.
Crisis communications, Step One: Get your leader and or leaders out in front of the public, quickly, to announce in their own words what happened, to show genuine care and emotion for the harmed or hurt, (or even just the inconvenienced), to show regret for the event and to tell, in detail, what you are doing to address the situation. Assure us that you have anticipated exactly this kind of emergency, have practiced the response hundreds of times and that you are currently following the appropriate and well-tested strategies at this time. Tell the public what those strategies are. Step Two: When public health is at stake, apply the full command of your resources to rectify it quickly and effectively. Money cannot be a factor during a crisis of public health and make no mistake, that’s what this was, for there is no community in America of 4,000 people where three to four days without basic sanitation, food and water would be tolerated. Step Three: Repeat Step One as frequently as you can and make updates of your progress.
This is not hard, yet so few companies get it right. Time after time, profits are put over people, in the short run, only to see this strategy backfire in the long run. Right now, polls are showing that regular cruisers are less confident and less likely to cruise again than they were after the Costa Concordia accident, which resulted and several lives lost. That is the impact of Carnival’s choice here. And Carnival’s CEO, calmly watching the game as his customers, staff and assets suffered at sea, will be the lasting brand impression. Not even Kathie Lee Gifford will be able to sing them out of this one. It’s Crisis Communications 101. Every company should know it by now.