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January 27, 2012

Carnival's Conundrum — 8 Things You Should Think About When Dealing With Several Crises At Once

By Gwinavere Johnston, CEO, JohnstonWells Public Relations

Handling multiple crises at once is something we in public relations don't talk about, because it rarely occurs. But it is occurring now with the Carnival Line and the wreck of the Costa Concordia. Here are the crises within the crisis:

  • Many passengers lost their lives and several are still missing.
  • There didn't seem to be a set protocol for abandoning the ship.
  • The captain gathered his belongings and left the ship long before the 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members were safely off.
  • With a large amount of oil on board the ship, there is a great risk of an oil leak and subsequent environmental damage.
  • Costa Concordia did not make an announcement on social media until the day after the accident. Communication on social media from Carnival stopped following the disaster "out of respect for the passengers."
  • The company announced reimbursement for the passengers and refund policies for future cruises. Then, released a slightly different statement on their company website, denying previous statements from a spokesperson.
  • It's a visual story because the ship is right there. Passengers have been interviewed. YouTube is alive with video of the ship.
  • Be a resource for the media. Give social and traditional media additional images they can use. In this case, something other than the wrecked ship. Provide photos of search teams and environmental response teams removing oil.

The huge crisis, of course, is that the ship sank. Carnival's reaction to this tragic accident has spiraled this crisis into a company downfall. What should a company do when they have several large crises within a huge crisis? Here are my recommendations for handling a multi-level crisis:

  1. Separate each crisis and determine who the best spokesperson is for each. The person who is right for environmental discussions is not necessarily the person who should be talking about search operations.
  2. Determine whether the crisis is severe enough to have the CEO as the senior spokesperson.
  3. Develop key messages to be used in specific situations and overall messages for the overall crisis. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
  4. Communicate regularly with the community through both social and traditional media.
  5. Build trust by disclosing any new information right away.
  6. Hold a daily briefing as long as necessary to avoid media speculation.
  7. Create a daily blog to update all who are involved and interested.

Give social and traditional media additional images they can use. In this case, something other than the wrecked ship. Provide photos of search teams and environmental response teams removing oil.

This piece originally appeared on JohnstonWells' blog.

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