Insights / public-relations

Public Relations Fail: Costa Concordia

On Jan. 13 Captain Francesco Schettino brought the cruise ship, the Costa Concordia, carrying more than 4,000 people, too close to shore in order to make a display.  This caused the ship to hit rocks and capsize. A tragedy that resulted in 17 deaths and, at last count, a dozen people still missing. Captain Schettino is being held under house arrest and charged with manslaughter and abandoning ship before all passengers and crew were evacuated.

After the incident, the attention was fully on Captain Schettino who had lied about when he evacuated, even stating that he had accidentally fallen off the ship and into a life boat. He also waited too long to raise the alarm and misled the coast guard and his own crew about the seriousness of the situation. Schettino was the clear “villain” in this story until Carnival, owners of the Costa Concordia, inadvertently took the spotlight.

There are certain steps Carnival should have taken in order to remain in positive favor in the public’s eye. It should have apologized profusely for the Captain’s actions, made public statements honoring those who did not survive and offer survivors a significant amount of money to cover the emotional, mental and physical damages caused by going through something so traumatic.

Instead, Carnival CEO, Micky Arison was nowhere to be seen. He sent his condolences to victims while relaxing in Miami and released a few written corporate statements. He remained out of the spotlight and in Miami. It wasn’t until newspapers starting writing about his absence that on Jan. 17 he tweeted “I won’t be as active on Twitter for the next while. Helping our @costacruises team manage this crisis is my priority right now.” Yet he restricted himself to only written statements for 10 days after the accident.

Then it was reported that Carnival reimbursed survivors for this cruise and offered 30 percent off of their next cruise. When word spread people were outraged over this news. Carnival denied these allegations and said they offered the 30 percent discount to those who had trips booked with them in the future, not those who were on the Costa Concordia. Yet, several victims say they were contacted with this offer.costa concordia 805654773

To add insult, a mailer was sent (and some of the members of the Mason crew received it!) from American Express advertising the Costa carnival cruises. The mailer urged people to “Immerse youself in a truly European experience.” The company was embarrassed for sending this mailer out but said that the process to send out mailers is very long and they were created long before the tragedy. (But what’s their excuse for the spelling?)

And if all of these issues are not awful enough, Carnival offered survivors $14,458 each, as well as any additional travel costs or expenses. The majority of survivors have already rejected this offensive offer joining in a class action law suit against the company.

It will be interesting to follow the story and see if Carnival makes an attempt to clear up this PR mess. One thing is certain; it’s going to take a lot of work to turn impressions around and rebuild the line’s credibility!