Cruise Control

Thinking about the Carnival Cruise Line floating disaster, I am trying to put myself in the place of those that endured days of insufferable hot air, of ubiquitous stench and of that panicky sense of confinement when you know there are no options for escape. 

Yes, I’m talking about Carnival’s PR team.

You have to feel for them, a group that likely spends most of its time arranging “fam” tours for reporters and devising fun social media promotions to keep its image modern and fresh, so that people will no longer associate the brand with the likes of Kathy Lee.  (Hard to forget this.)

Good thing for Dufresne that it was raining so hard.Instead, last week they not only had to deal with widespread news coverage – on a scale that paralleled the Apollo 13 disaster no doubt – but the PR folks in Miami also were forced to confront the biting wit of late-night comics, Comedy Central’s fake news anchors and even a show-opening jab by SNL. (Thankfully for them, it was clever but not all that funny.) I kept waiting for one of these shows to equate the episode with Andy Dufresne’s escape from Shawshank. Scatology, after all, makes for great although often wince-enducing humor.

At the PR team’s disposal was a CEO who by all accounts was willing to say the gratuitously right things – apologies and appreciations mostly – and the company has backed it up by an offer to not charge the 3,100 passengers for what will likely be their most memorable vacation ever. Plus, they’ll get a voucher for a future Carnival cruise, should they be so courageous, and 500 bucks, just for their trouble. You know, the average bar bill on one of those cruises. 

The offer will likely test every bit of skill that Carnival’s PR team can muster because, let’s be honest here, the compensation smells about as bad as the corridors on the Triumph.  

Of the hundreds of people who gathered to greet the ship when it pulled into Mobile, there likely were a few who were not attorneys. Already the first lawsuits have been filed.

What Carnival has not addressed, of course, are reports that the ship was not in seaworthy shape, that it left port with one working engine and had a history of problems. Let’s just be glad Carnival is not in the airline business. 

How the company responds to this underlying issue will likely determine how well it can rebound from the ordeal and whether or not it can rid itself of the stench that is still hanging in the air.

Meanwhile, thousands of the more than 2 million Facebook fans have taken up the debate on the company’s Facebook page. By my count, supporters and detractors seem to be fighting to a draw, and if I’m Carnival right now, I’d take that as a Triumph.

Good luck, Carnival PR practitioners. Here’s hoping the same people that made the decision to let the ship leave port will make better decisions in the days and weeks ahead.      

Josh Dare

Josh’s career in communications spans more than four decades. In addition to providing strategic counsel and crisis communications direction to clients, he is the resident Writer-In-Chief, regularly writing op-eds and bylines on behalf of clients that have been published in The Washington Post, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Huffington Post, among others.

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