Business Magazine

Small Business Crisis Lessons from the Carnival Cruise Crisis

By Kcsaling009 @kcsaling


Even the best of operations find themselves dealing with emergency situations. Just recently, Carnival Cruises found themselves dealing with an engine fire that left one of their boats adrift at sea for several days with limited resources. There’s a lot to be said for how Carnival handled the situation, both good and bad {see Melissa Agnes’s great rundown of the good and bad of Carnival’s social media here}, but one piece in particular stood out to me: CEO Gary Cahill’s first statement. Here’s an excerpt:

“…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 shoreside teams are working around the clock to care for our guests and get them home safely.

This apology message came out almost 48 hours after the crisis message hit. I do commend the CEO for making a public statement of apology, and he was present in Galveston when the Triumph finally made port, but take a look at the text of his message. They’re sorry for the inconvenience? They should be! They wouldn’t be attracting a lot of media attention waiting for a public statement of apology if the “inconvenience” hadn’t happened! As for the rest, it might as well be a form letter for all it speaks to the crisis at hand. Getting the guests “home safely” is the most reference he makes.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – in fact, it’s smart for key spokesmen to have message “shells” ready to go that they can personalize and tailor to the situation – but why did it take so long to publish?

Lessons Learned:

I may not deal with media management for a large corporation, but I do deal with social media a lot {for research, for my department at work, and for my home business} and there’s a lot I can learn from this situation about all the things that go along with managing what amounts to two businesses’ online reputations along with my own. Add to that just a little Army crisis management experience, and here are some of the lessons learned I’ve pulled from all this on how we can all better manage our media first responders:

  1. Everyone’s got to get the message. Being one person and one voice for my organization and my personal business doesn’t mean I get to control the situation. Let’s just say I have a personal business issue – a dissatisfied customer, someone who doesn’t like my quality, or someone who just plain doesn’t like me. Can I keep that person from talking? No. I need to get my message out there and get some backup! The more folks there are sending out the same message, the better for my business. In a larger organization, like my department, if a situation comes up, everyone has to know the “official” take and quickly so that we can answer questions. That gets me to my next point.
  2. “No comment” is not an option. Big business or small, you have to say something. Otherwise, everyone else gets to drive the conversation and you look like a fool. Telling your employees or folks you work with that they have to tell people to “hold all your questions until an official statement is made” amounts to the same thing. Instead, tell everyone what they are allowed to say. It’s a lot more effective to say that you don’t know all the details yet, but here’s what you do know.
  3. The CEO is not the only person who gets a voice in a situation. Don’t treat him/her like the only person who gets to talk, because the CEO might be the last person anyone wants to talk to. He/she is only going to give a tailored and crafted official statement, whereas other employees will give more candid statements, and sometimes, if they don’t know what they’re doing, spill all the beans {and when that story goes viral, no one will even listen to the CEO’s tailored statement}. Don’t deal with this by telling your employees to shut up – deal with this by making sure everyone knows how to deal with the situation! Make an effort to make your employees media savvy and empower them to make what statements they can {incidentally, if you can’t trust someone to help manage your brand’s reputation properly, you probably shouldn’t hire that person. just saying}.
  4. Time is of the essence. I’m very fond of saying that we live in an On-Demand generation. A huge majority of the workforce grew up in the golden age of technology. I’m 33 and I’ve been using Internet from the days of dial-up, and when I was in college, Google was coming into vogue. My students now have never known anything other than a world where information is right at their fingertips, and when Facebook came into being, they were too young to legally join. A lot of CEOs and brand managers fall into this generation right now, and so does an army of young eager journalists, media managers, and reputation managers looking for the next “viral” thing. If you can’t get your message out time NOW, you’re already behind. Work ahead! Craft shells, preposition messages, do whatever you can to make those emails, posts, tweets, and other key bits of crisis information closer to the “send” button.
  5. Quality still counts. Oh, so everyone wants everything now and they still want it to be good? Yep, people want it all. I refer you back to my comment about working ahead. In the land of explosive ordnance disposal {that I worked in once upon a time}, we have a concept called “time before the boom” – before a bomb goes off or even gets emplaced, there’s a lot of stuff that can be done to fight it. What can you do to handle a crisis before it hits? What can you do to prepare the quality responses you need before you actually need them?

Turns out you can learn a lot about your own business operations by watching how the big guys do it right and wrong!

What lessons have YOU learned by watching crisis management in action? Share!


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