One of the most poignant and powerful comments I’ve received since doing this blog landed today. It is from Mary Ann who was a passenger on the Greek cruise ship Sea Diamond. Her comment.
The anger against the companies involved is growing–the only recourse seems the court. Their offers and communications indicated–according to my commenters anyway–that they are far more concerned about protecting themselves financially in court than protecting their reputation. They probably don’t give a darn and maybe are planning for bankruptcy anyway. But this stuff hurts the whole industry as I indicated before.
The most relevant point for crisis communicators is that this story lives on. Months after the event, here I am blogging about it. People like Mary Ann are using these opportunities to tell their story. Sure, the media is off onto other stories, but their role these days is more to get the conversation started and then move on. It is the conversation that ought to concern companies like Louis Cruise Lines. The online record is created and is built, and there is no involvement in the conversation.
That’s why I was so impressed with Dell the other day. I blogged about their Dell Hell problems and immediately got a comment back from a Dell representative that explained how they are dealing with it. Dell gets it. Louis does not.
So far, from what we have seen, the sinking of the cruise ship the Sea Diamond provided a very bad example of crisis communications–made much worse by the comment just received about the incredibly poor compensation offering. While this has been much more the focus of attention, another disaster at sea occurred: the sinking of the tug Bourbon Dolphin. While the Sea Diamond has shown many examples of what not to do, the Bourbon capsizing has shown some excellent examples of how crisis communication ought to be handled.
Here is the Bourbon’s basic news site: http://bourbon-online.com/News (One criticism–their homepage has no reference to the disaster other than the news page. The unintended message is that it is business as usual.)
Of particular note is this message from the CEO of Bourbon: http://bourbon-online.com/Bourbon-Dolphin-Message-from-the
There are few better examples of demonstrating the pain and hurt that is experienced by an organization and its leaders in a situation such as this. But this only works when their response efforts and the communication of those response efforts is an accurate reflection of the sentiments expressed here. From what I can tell, they certainly were.
The contrast between these two is great.
Thank you Mark Harris, crisis manager with the UK strategic communication firm College Hill for this example.
This is another post about the wonders of blogging. I write about crisis management and communication–commenting on how companies and organizations are doing when stressed by major crisis events. Like the sinking of the Sea Diamond off Santorini. But I never expected, and still am amazed, when this blog becomes the place for people who share an interest in this event to come together and share their experiences.
I hope casual visitors here will read the comments of some of those who were on board the ship, or nearly on board, or who shared other cruise experiences. The comment this morning from someone who saw the ship go aground, then watched it list from shore, is particularly powerful and amazing.
As I commented before, the implications for those in crisis management these days is profound. The mainstream media impact of this dramatic event lasted a day or two. The blog activity will go on for months. And Louis Cruise Lines and for that matter, all cruise lines, had better be engaged because opinions are being influenced significantly every day.
I commented as a passive observer on what I considered to be the inadequate communication of the cruise company, Louis Cruises, who owned the ship the Sea Diamond which sank in the Aegean. But my evaluation counts for nothing compared to those who were on board. Thanks to this blog world, we can hear from those people. I encourage you to read the comments on my initial post on the Sea Diamond.
Here’s what the latest passenger had to say: I am becoming very disalusioned with this cruise ship company since my wife and I returned home after being aboard the Sea Diamond when she sank. I have yet to hear anything further from them than what the cruise director said to us before we left our rescue ship and their web site, well they still have their three news releases they put out the first day but nothing new about anything since. Do they think that by not responding all of us who were aboard will forget? I think not …
Frankly, I find this incredible and inexcusable. These passengers did not hear anything from the company?? No new postings on their website after the initial releases?
The question that Mr. Johnson asks ought to be posted on the wall of every communication manager and every CEO of every organization: Do they think that by not responding all of us who were aboard will not forget?
It’s one thing for us armchair experts to comment on what we think passengers, stakeholders, people who care want. It’s another thing to hear it from them directly. I just hope everyone in the cruise industry is listening. For that matter, everyone else who takes the life, comfort, safety and peace of customers in their hands.
As one commenter on this blog noted, and several others I talked to who actually got to the Louis Cruises website noted, the press release provided is a surprising example of poor communication. The first reference is to the tour group operator–a deflection? “…informed by a French tour leader…?” The reference to the two missing seems unconnected to the fact that the ship sank. There is no sense of shock, horror, remorse–no apology, no sense of compassion or regret for having not only ruined these people’s vacation but put them through the fright of their life–let alone what this horrible event has done to the incredibly popular cruise industry. Every person who has plans to board a ship (as I do in a few months) will ingrained in their mind that image of the bow of the ship slipping slowly beneath the waves.
And there are no details, nor any promise of more information. One person in London to contact by a cell number. Yeah, like if I want more information I will be able to get it from him.
OK, I don’t want to be too hard on people who I know are working hard and doing their best but all this is exactly why companies who have the kind of risks that cruise lines do need to prepare much better. What will be interesting in the days and weeks ahead is how cruise passengers react, what impact there will be on other cruise lines, and how the industry as a whole will deal with a disaster perhaps as significant as the Achille Lauro (spelling?) where a passenger was killed by a terrorist.
I would hope that the industry association makes it a primary mission to first of all make sure ships like this don’t run aground and sink, but when they do, their members meet today’s expectations for quality news and information.
While I write this rescuers are still searching for two French tourists missing from the cruise ship which sank in the Aegean earlier today. And I am still waiting for the cruise lines website to load. I’ve been waiting about five minutes. They still haven’t loaded. I wanted to see how this cruise line was faring in their communication about this disaster. But, it as if they pulled out the phone lines, boarded up the front door and put up a big sign that says we don’t want to talk to you right now. That’s the unintended message of a website that won’t function when you need it most.
Sure, you say, how could it? They are getting millions of hits right now. And that is precisely the point. Most company websites are not built to withstand the millions of hits that a major disaster like this will cause. Since I am involved in a business that sells web-based technology for dealing with situations like this, we have approached cruise lines with the information that they need their website to be prepared for this sort of incident. I’m sorry to report that not a single one has seen the importance of keeping their most important line of communication open during an event of this magnitude.
Frankly, it is inexcusable. Perhaps a few years ago an excuse might be that organization leaders were simply not aware of what will happen to their web traffic during a major news event. But by now it should be obvious to all but those with their heads in their sand, that when a major news story hits, the next thing that will happen is a flood of those most interested will hit the organization’s website.
How much? Millions. It is very possible than in any incident like this more than ten or twenty million hits in one day. The cost of such infrastructure is substantial. But the option to have an incident website hosted on outside servers that are built to handle this traffic is both smart and an increasingly common method of insuring continuity of communication.
By the way, I waiting about five to ten minutes before starting this to see if the cruise line website would load. And now I’ve written this for about fifteen minutes. It still hasn’t loaded. Why won’t you talk to us Louis Cruise Line?