I have been critical of Royal Caribbean’s PR skills over the years, thinking that this particular cruise line’s credibility is at the bottom of the cruise industry. So when RCCL announced after the terrifying storm which rocked the the Brilliance of the Seas and injured its passengers that the cruise ship "had full power and was operating as normal" and that no passengers were "seriously injured," I thought here we go again – another misleading PR statement.
RCCL has pulled this stunt time and time again, quickly issuing misleading statements in the hope that the media will quote its carefully crafted misinformation and then the story will quickly blow over.
This strategy didn’t work with the Brilliance storm story. The storm was too big. And the damage to the ship’s interior and to the passengers’ psyche were too extensive.
Multiple media sources revealed that the ship was clearly not operating "as normal." The ship was a complete mess. Televisions were ripped from their mountings lying broken on the floor, glass shattered everywhere, furniture tumbled and passengers were thrown like rag dolls throughout the ship which looked like a bomb had exploded inside.
Royal Caribbean couldn’t sweep this one under the rug. The national networks – ABC, CBS, and NBC – featured dramatic photographs and video taken by passengers aboard the cruise ship. Dianne Sawyer’s news show earlier this week revealed the terror aboard the Brilliance as it was rocked and rolled off of the coast of Egypt in the middle of the night. ABC ran a story that the passengers were "in revolt." AOL News and USA Today ran stories that over 100 passengers appeared in the ship infirmary for injuries.
Royal Caribbean’s everything-is-okay PR statement was overwhelmed by the power of YouTube where passengers on the cruise ship post videos and photos of the spectacle for the world to see. The discrepancy of what these photos (below) showed versus what the cruise line said magnified this cruise line’s lack of transparency.
Royal Caribbean finally acknowledged that the incident was indeed "serious" and some passengers were seriously injured (broken bones). Royal Caribbean also agreed to reimburse the entire cruise fare for all passengers and provided an onboard credit.
Captain Hollywood To The Rescue
The cruise line then called on its Vice President of Marine Operations, William Wright, to appear before the media and answer questions about what happened.
Captain Wright flew from Miami to Valletta Malta and was ready when reporters began to interview the Master of the Brilliance, Captain Erik Tengelsen, who has a reputation for being honest and forthright. Captain Tengelsen was at the helm when he was trying to outrun the storm into the crowded port of Alexandria. He knew there was a storm on his tail, but when he slowed down at the port in Egypt, the stabilizers lost their effectiveness. The cruise ship was a sitting duck.
When Captain Tengelsen told the reporter that the incident was "horrific" and that he knew that a storm had forecast to blow to 45 knots and then gusted to 50 to 60 knots, Captain Wright saw danger brewing. He quickly interjected that "Mother Nature is fickle" and the weather must have been a surprise. (see video below) Clearly, Captain Wright had been sent to baby sit the ship and make certain no damaging PR statements with legal implications were made by the vessel’s officers. He shut Captain Tengelsen up and took over the show.
Royal Caribbean also produced a short YouTube video back in its Miami corporate office. Wearing a friendly open collar and sweater with palm tress swaying behind him, Captain Wright provides a reassuring and calming cadence to bring the public’s focus away from the horrific storm off of Egypt. No real information as usual, but a nice relaxing video to calm everyone down.
Many in the media loved it. A very popular cruise blog in the U.K, picked up on the feel-good vibe and Royal Caribbean pulled off a PR comeback with "Full Refund for Brilliance Passengers."
A Seasoned Media Pro
This is not the first time that Captain Wright has been used as a PR ploy for the cruise line. He was the media star for Royal Caribbean following the last high profile incident involving the Brilliance of the Seas.
Our firm was first introduced to Captain Wright when he was pushed to the front of a PR war our firm was engaged in following the death of George Smith during his honeymoon cruise on this very cruise ship, the Brilliance of the Seas, in July 2005. We represented Mr. Smith’s widow. The cruise line wanted the public to think that her husband’s disappearance was just an accident, whereas many thought that Mr. Smith met with foul play. Royal Caribbean handled the circumstances after George Smith’s death badly. It paraded a number of employees from its corporate communications, human relations and security departments in front of the cameras to carry the Royal Caribbean "its-just-an-accident" message – only to see them flounder before the cameras.
Finally, Royal Caribbean settled upon Captain Wright to appear regularly on the cable news shows. I nicknamed him "Captain Hollywood" given his tall stature, good looks, deep voice, and dramatization of the cruise line’s talking points. He was was a natural before the media. Captain Wright appeared regularly on Greta van Sustern’s show on Fox "On The Record." The cruise line also picked him to fly to Washington D.C. to conduct media interviews during the Congressional hearings for the past five years into the investigation into cruise safety and security issues.
Getting cruise executives and media friendly cruise faces in YouTube videos is something I have advocated in the past if the $35,000,000,000 cruise industry wants to compete in the word of media relations.
But cruise lines like Royal Caribbean are still a long way behind the curve in matters of social media. For example, around 15,000 people looked at "Captain Hollywood’s" video – compared to around 290,000 people who viewed a video on our Cruise Law’s YouTube page of a cruise ship facing rough weather in Antarctica.
Royal Caribbean still has problems handling its PR matters. Its first inclination is not to tell the truth. It tends to minimize the seriousness of serious life threatening incidents when honesty would serve it best. It finally has a blog by its President Adam Goldstein, and it finally is using YouTube, although both its blog and YouTube pages lag far, far behind the popularity enjoyed by this blog and our YouTube page. The cruise line still does not integrate Facebook, Flickr or, my favorite, Twitter, into its social media.
Instead, its media strategy is to simply issue the same old tepid "everything-is-just-fine" PR statements. When that doesn’t work, it sends Captain Hollywood to the scene to reassure the faithfuls that everything is okay.
When the next disaster strikes a Royal Caribbean ship, look for Captain Hollywood to fly in from Miami and announce on YouTube that the cruise ship is safe and sound.
Photos of damage to Brilliance of the Seas – MailOnLine
Video – Times of Malta