Costa Concordia Shipwreck a PR Disaster

31 Jan

Dying because of a captain’s navigation error is probably the last thing on passengers’ minds when they board a luxury cruise ship. The sinking of the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy earlier this month is being blamed on exactly that scenario, though. The wreck, and the resulting deaths of 17 passengers, represents an enormous threat to the brand images of Costa Cruises and its parent company, Carnival, the world’s largest cruise line. Costa and Carnival have said little in the wake of the accident, a public relations strategy that could damage not only the two companies but the entire cruise industry as well. 

How Not to Manage Your Public Relations

The captain, the crew and the cruise line have all been cast in a poor light since the accident. Media reports allege that the captain was one of the first to abandon ship, long before any of the passengers. Passengers claim that no emergency drills were ever conducted and that crewmembers had no idea how to operate the lifeboats. Costa Cruises’ strategy is simple: to blame the captain for the accident, saying he brought the ship too close to shore. The captain says the cruise line pressured him to do so for publicity purposes. The accident, the finger pointing and revelations about what happened after the ship hit a rock create an impression of ineptitude on the part of the cruise line and its employees that neither Costa nor Carnival are counteracting. 

Will Carnival’s Strategy Hurt the Entire Cruise Industry?

Carnival and Costa allow the pictures of the wrecked ship and stories of incompetence to speak for them, instead of getting out in front of the story by issuing a public statement, and showing empathy and concern during the crisis. This public relations strategy could be disastrous not only for both companies, but for the entire cruise industry as well, since most passengers don’t know which companies own which cruise ships. All cruise lines depend on positive imagery to win over vacationers and the lack of communication from Costa and Carnival could hurt all of their competitors, too. Adding insult to injury, Costa reportedly offered passengers from the wrecked ship a 30% discount off their next voyage with the company! The cruise line denies making the offer, but it doesn’t sound surprising considering how inept their handling of public relations continues to be in the wake of the accident.

by Matt Mantell

Sources:

Carnival Cruise Lines faces a hostile PR tide” in the Miami Herald

Carnival CEO Lies Low After Wreck” in the Wall Street Journal.

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