PR News recently published an interesting article about how Royal Caribbean Cruises successfully handled its public relations image during the 2013 fire aboard the Grandeur of the Seas. Titled How Royal Caribbean Controls the Message During a Crisis, the article explains how the cruise line effectively controlled the narrative when the Grandeur caught on fire while cruising to Nassau.
PR Success: Immediately after the fire, Royal Caribbean quickly flew its president and a professional photographer to the port and tweeted photos of the cruise CEO interacting with guests "so that journalists would use those photos instead of a guest’s."
I mentioned this effective PR move in an article which I posted shortly after the fire titled Where Are Photo & Video Images of the Fire on the Grandeur of the Seas? I commented on Royal Caribbean’s new and improved PR efforts, but pointed out that the cruise line released more photos of the cruise CEO having tea with passengers after the fire than of the damage to the ship.
A video report by ABC News helped to explain why there were no videos or photographs because the cruise ship’s crew stopped passengers from taking images of the fire and chaos. Passenger Carrie McTigue told ABC News that "even when people put their cameras up to photograph the sunrise, they were told, ‘no photos.’"
PR Disasters: But Royal Caribbean has not always been able to control the images shown to the public when its cruise ships catch on fire. In July 2015, the Freedom of the Seas caught on fire. When we learned that the Freedom was on fire while heading to port in Falmouth, Jamaica, we asked a former client who lives near the port to video the fire. He videotaped the ship coming into port, billowing a huge amount of smoke. We immediately posted the video, on our Facebook page, which was viewed by over a million people within two days. We also posted the video on this blog with other images of the fire and the passengers mustering to prepare to abandon the fire-stricken ship.
So when Royal Caribbean tried to spin the story, with a misleading statement by its CEO that the fire was allegedly "small and quickly extinguished," the public could make their own assessment regarding the size and ferocity of the fire. All of the major networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) carried the video on their news programs and the international media included the video on their multi-media presentations.
The public was left with the impression that the cruise line was either completely out-of-touch with the danger posed to its guests or that it deliberately fabricated a falsehood to masquerade as the truth, which I suggested in the Royal Caribbean "Small Fire" Hoax.
Royal Caribbean also caused a public uproar after it sailed the Anthem of the Seas into a well publicized storm last year. Royal Caribbean’s PR people tried to say that the storm was "unforeseeable" but weather professionals didn’t buy it. They ripped the cruise line for routing the cruise ship directly into the storm. Read the Washington Post’s 4,000-passenger cruise ship inexplicably sails into Atlantic mega-storm. Weather experts accurately predicted the Atlantic seas out of New Jersey to be over 30 feet high with winds of hurricane strength, but the Anthem nonetheless recklessly sailed into the storm, terrorizing thousands of passengers and burning out the clutches of its azipods in the process. The Anthem returned to port in New Jersey with only one propulsion unit operating.
Royal Caribbean initially denied any damage or injury to the ship or the passengers and then falsely claimed that the only damage to the ship was "cosmetic." Al Roker, the popular television weatherman on the Today Show, best summed up Royal Caribbean’s claim that the storm was not predicted: "Royal Caribbean’s claim that this was not predicted is bullfeathers." USA TODAY chimed in with "Meteorologists: Royal Caribbean blew it on sailing into storm."
Practice Makes Perfect? The director of the cruise line’s corporate communications, Cynthia Martinez, was quoted in the PR article as saying that that the company often "practices roundtable discussions of how to handle an issue, and sometimes they practice writing tweets and press releases for specific situations." So the next time that a Royal Caribbean ship catches on fire or sails into a storm, remember that what you may be seeing from this cruise line is what it wants you to believe rather than the reality of what actually occurred or – as Al Roker said – "bullfeathers."
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