If you’re in crisis management and you do drills for things that can go wrong, you often wonder how the media would report your story if things went terribly wrong. Look at the coverage of the Crown Princess incident off the coast of Florida.
Interesting first to see how uninvolved people such as myself get the news. My son called at about 10 pm asking me if his grandparents, my parents, might be on that ship. What ship? The one that almost capsized, he said. No, they were on a cruise ship in Alaska, not headed to the Caribbean. He doesn’t have TV so got his news from a website. That’s how I first found out.
I watched the 11 pm news. They interviewed by phone Seattle area residents who were on the ship, honeymooners who described the horror and a ruined honeymoon.
Then the newspaper reports and other web reports this morning. The AP story shown on newsvine is a great example. First the bare facts. Then several paragraphs of recollections, selected primarily because of their vivid descriptions that describe the horror of their experience. A quotation from the Port Canaveral CEO. Finally, and this is my point, a brief comment from an unidentified spokesperson from Princess Cruises. The obligatory “we’re very sorry, inconvenience, reimbursement, etc., etc.” Nothing wrong with their statement, really. But the company seems strangely in the background. Why are they not out front? Where is the CEO? Why, in the stream of video from frightened passengers is there not at least one senior level executive seen actively dealing with the situation, involved with passengers, talking about addressing their concerns.
One cardinal rule for crisis communicators is to avoid discussing cause. The lawyers make certain of that and no doubt prematurely identifying causes can cause huge problems. But it is one of the first questions reporters ask. Here is a great example. The cause apparently was a steering problem. Oh boy, that raises concerns. I’ve been on a few cruises and now when or if I get on board again I am going to think about their steering systems. Are these ships so poorly designed that some computer glitch or a loose bolt gets caught in a cable and the whole dang ship tips over? Come on. If you want passengers to have some assurance, you better come up with a much better answer than this and in a big hurry.
And the hurry again becomes the point. This story will be off the news by this afternoon. But the impact of the coverage will linger for a long time. Sure, people will continue to take cruises, but with a stronger sense that things can go horribly wrong without any clear explanation. And that if things do go horribly wrong, the Coast Guard, the Port that ship came from will be involved, but the cruise company itself will send out some attractive cruise director-like “spokesperson” to simply say how sorry they are. Fellow communicators, we need to do a lot better than this.