Yes, Carnival, the World Is Flat

Dear Carnival Cruise Lines,

Please accept my kudos. Few companies have done a more spectacular job of executing consecutive PR blunders.

The critics have feasted on your quivering PR corpse. Generations of PR students will benefit from your remarkable mishandling of multiple shipboard disasters.

So many mistakes made! So many lessons to be learned!

Where to start?

32 passengers die on the Triumph. Cowardly captain flees like a rat. Crew members point fingers. Carnival CEO makes a handful of feeble tweets. The Titanic drifts powerless in the Gulf of Mexico. Irate passengers are treated to plastic bags, overflowing shit buckets and lack of running water. Carnival President publicly disputes passengers’ knee-deep-in-it accounts.

Really? REALLY? REALLY!? Is this the best a $16-billion company can do?

Lesson No. 1: Arrogant, disengaged and disingenuous executives are a PR disaster waiting to happen. Carnival’s top executives should care about, and engage with, their customers. They should go shipboard during a disaster or be fired.

Lesson No. 2: All companies should prepare carefully thought out crisis response and communications plans, and none more than cruise ships on open and dangerous seas. A good plan anticipates every possible contingency and creates an action-plan to respond.

Lesson No. 3: The world is flat, and corporations no longer control the message. This is the most important lesson of all.

The era of top-down communications controlled by media moguls and large corporations has all but ended. Broadcasting insincere platitudes and bromides over mass media is no longer effective at quieting the restless natives.

Armed with smart phones and mobile devices, the unhappy passengers on your ill-fated cruises became a battalion of citizen journalists. They tweeted, Facebooked and otherwise fired their dissatisfaction into a collective cyberspace groan heard round the globe. You could not compete.

In his book, The World Is Flat, Thomas Friedman explains this tectonic shift in communications. In the past, the man who owned the printing press controlled the message. Today, anyone with a smart phone can send a message to anyone at any time in any place. Collectively, the world’s new “citizen journalists” can organically shape a message at lightning speed. (Remember the Arab Spring?)

Yes, Carnival, the world is flat, and unless you get it, your Ship of PR is going to sink again—and again.

There’s only one course left for you to chart.

Listen—really listen—to your customers and be responsive to their concerns. Maybe then, when they tweet about your next shipboard disaster, it will be to tell the world they were happy with how you handled it.

About Chris Biddle

With 35 years of experience as a hands-on communicator and PR practitioner, President Christopher Biddle is well positioned to help New Jersey-based companies tell their stories and get the results they want. An exceptional writer and editor, Chris is also a strategic thinker who has a proven track record in his ability to conceive and execute goal-driven communications projects both large and small. Chris was Vice President in charge of Communications with the New Jersey Business & Industry Association from 1992 until his retirement in 2012. Contact: Website | More Posts

2 Comments on Yes, Carnival, the World Is Flat

  1. Kim Rogoff // May 4, 2013 at 4:16 am // Reply

    I see it as a sense of entitlement. I’ve got the most big boats, like Carnival. I produce the oil everyone wants, like BP. I produce inexpensive clothes that you want, like so many clothing companies that have workers in unsafe conditions producing their products. PR is low on their list of priority because they know one thing. We will use their products regardless and we have short memory spans. BP is the prime example. We watched the oil pour into the sea for days. Those who live near the Gulf Of Mexico looked at economic and social ruin. Yet CEO Tony Hayward said “I’d like my life back”. How is BP today? Doing OK. How is Carnival? Building another boat. They know we are lemmings. Unless we change, PR be damned, they will go on breaking all those PR good sense rules.

  2. I’m a PR student and found this post to ring particularly true. I cannot count how many times Carnival and its PR blunders have come up as the topic of classes. Not only that, but the lessons that you pointed out are ones that have been brought up in my classes. Carnival is the perfect example of what not to do. I’m glad I stumbled upon this post 🙂

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