Ill-PRepared for disaster

      43 Comments on Ill-PRepared for disaster

Following one of this week’s top stories–the Carnival cruise ship Triumph’s disaster when a fire caused a power failure and subsequent awful sanitary conditions–I’ve sampled opinions on the company’s handling of the crisis:

PR executive Doug Elmets said in a CBS interview, “The self dubbed ‘most popular cruise line in the world’ has quickly become the opposite.  It’s not just because of the conditions on board, but the company’s failure to offer a sincere apology and regular updates.  It’s not really how you get into a crisis, it’s how you react once you’re there, and (their) initial reaction is pretty bad…(Carnival CEO Gerry) Cahill should have spoken out sooner.”

Huffington Post’s Catherine New wrote, “Even as Carnival deployed a host of communications strategies to do damage control as news from the Triumph spread, its efforts did more harm than good…’I can’t think of a worse way they could have handled it, whether as a maritime issue or as a PR issue,’ said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of CruiseCritic.com. The company used its Twitter account to post frequent updates about the progress of the Triumph’s return to port.  However, any social media missteps were quickly seized on both by frustrated passengers and the public, who watched the disaster unfurl in real time on television and the Internet.”

Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill aplogizes for one terrible cruise

Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill apologies

David Bartlett, a senior vice president at Levick, a strategic communications firm, wrote for CNN, “Crisis management experts know that customers and the general public are more likely to judge an organization by how it handles a problem than how it got into the problem in the first place…Carnival has to…position itself instead as part of the solution to the problems that caused the disaster.”

My opinion: I’m amazed that despite so many PR cases studies on crisis response, Carnival has been handling this so awkwardly.  It may be a long time before the company can regain a positive reputation.  Can a well-executed PR strategy help now?  Would you still take a Carnival cruise?  Your thoughts?

43 thoughts on “Ill-PRepared for disaster

  1. Erica Barnes

    While I completely agree that this was a terrible PR move and should have been addressed in a much quicker fashion, I also believe that it is never too late for an organization to make a comeback. As a group, I believe the American public is relatively forgiving when it comes to crises, ONLY IF that company in question is willing to make a very public and humbled apology. If Carnival does a little more begging, I don’t think they will have a problem creating renewed faith in their organization.

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  2. Alex Packer

    Well, the damage to Carnival’s reputation is certainly done, but I would not go as far as to say that this corporate giant will not bounce back. As a current student of PR, seeing a crisis handled in such a way raises the question, “do these guys even have a PR department?” In my time as a student I’ve examined countless case studies of both effective and poor crisis communication strategies. While properly handling a crisis can be one of the most difficult tasks a PR professional will ever face, there are a few “no-brainers” that are always imperative. The first of which electing a spokesperson to be constantly available and transparent with the media and public. Carnival failed to do this simplest of steps, and they certainly paid the price.

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  3. aunaturalenyc

    Crisis PR is so crucial for companies, it really is the true reflection of that companies image. I don’t understand why Carnival reacted the way they did, they could have responded in so many other ways that would have reflected much better on them. They should have responded and addressed the issue swiftly with information and an apology. Will everyone never go on this cruise line after this incident? I’m not sure, but it definitely will effect their business for at least a month or so. For me, their reputation has been skewed, and I have never even been on a cruise before.

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  4. diane

    I have never been on a cruise before but always thought of how much fun it would be to go on one. After this crisis, I would definitely rule out Carnival Cruises if I was looking on a cruise ship to go on. A crisis this big needs to be addressed properly to regain a positive reputation, however, it looks like Carnival did the opposite. So many people were waiting for updates and important information but did not get it as quickly as they should have. This was a serious situation and since Carnival did not act accordingly I believe they are going to struggle to regain a positive image.

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  5. Helen Masha

    I do not believe that any amount of PR can help the situation with Carnival cruise ships. One of the biggest mistakes a person can making in PR is to not deal with crisis in a timely manner. It is also important to make sure that the people that were affected by the incident are getting the complete care and information that they need during and after the crisis. In this case this did not happen and therefore Carnival shall pay tremendously for their huge blunder. Personally I love cruises and have been on several but never have used the Carnival cruise line; after this incident I will surely not be going on a Carnival cruise anytime in the near future. They failed to make the passengers and public feel safe and that they are in good hands and once that image is ruined it is nearly impossible to turn it around.

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  6. Nicole Botsaris

    The amount of negative attention this whole debacle has received is unreal. Carnival Cruises has not been as transparent as they could have been in my opinion and I think that many people will back away from cruises after this incident. As PR students one of the first thing we learn is to respond to a crisis in a timely and efficient manner and to always communicate with your customers. Carnival Cruises, as soon as they heard what was going on with this ship should have gotten in touch with those passengers to reassure them that things were going to get better. From what I understand, the conditions on the boat just got worse and worse. I think big companies should always have a solid crisis plan in place, and always expect the unexpected.

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  7. EMC

    First off, no. I would never go on a cruise, if I could help it.
    I do believe that a company of big a Carnival MUST have a serious crisis management strategy, especially when your company deals with long overseas journeys, something that is prone to mishaps and a history of gruesome, heartbreaking events. When my friend told me about this story I was horrified and in disbelief that this happened. Cruise lines are already wrought with controversial opinions and horror stories of things that can happen when your trapped on a vessel in the middle of the ocean. It gets complicated when people onboard have access to media and probably have cabin fever on top of begin subject to this awful mess. It is hard to not receive vicious feedback unless their pain is ameliorated, or the problem is solved.

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  8. Christine

    No PR is going to help Carnival at this point, and it shouldn’t. This company has had an electrical/engine/ship malfunction each year for the past 4 years. Though PR has been able to keep them afloat, this disaster as well as the recent class action law suit will probably be the biggest blow to the company. The only thing Carnival can do is apologize and offer as many discounts as possible to keep them from going under.

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  9. Alex Hyman

    This case was just horrible for the reputation of one of the most famous cruise lines. The situation was very bad and it was handled even worse. It will be difficult for this company to ever change their reputation and it will be years before people stop thinking of this occurrence when they are booking a cruise. It was bad crisis management and there has to be something in place for all emergencies and this showed that the cruise line was not ready for this kind of situation.

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  10. Drew Avery

    In my opinion, after a crisis of any sort, it is very dificult to regain a positive reputation. One obvious reason is due to poor performance. I’ve recently been on the carnival cruise ship and I thought they had some outstanding service.

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  11. Beckett Mufson

    I’ve never been of the kind of economic means that would warrant consideration of a cruise as a possible vacation plan. The ‘poo cruise’ incident has made me even colder to the prospect of locking myself on a boozy boat for a week or two, praying that none of the wrong corners have been cut to keep the ship commercially viable. But obviously many people are coming at this situation from a different perspective, and thus this issue is important for them.

    I’m sure that Carnival will be the object of scorn for just as long as people have the energy and attention span to continue to ridicule it. But after that period ends (I give it three months) I think it will come down to what it always comes down to: price and convenience. People now say that they wouldn’t trust Carnival with their cruising needs, but people said the same about buying BP gas right after the Gulf oil spill. That spill is still a major threat to the ecological sanctity of the Gulf Coast, but that doesn’t stop millions of people from buying BP gas these days.

    I think a positive PR message can definitely salvage the situation. Especially if it’s combined an apology for both the turdtastic adventures of the cruise ship Triumph and the CRAPPY (haha, get it?) handling of the situation. This is funny now, but I doubt its effects will be long-lasting.

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  12. Shurida Lundi

    I’ve never been on a cruise before but I was planning on going on one my senior year of college and now I’m a bit apprehensive. In PR, crisis happen all the time and what I learned is too act quickly and apologize first. Carnival took a long time to address what was going on letting the public formulate their own opinions about the cruise ship line. I know the cruise line was probably nervous but they did not act quickly enough and I am sure they have lost many faithful customers after this event happened. This could have happened to any cruise line and unfortunately it happened to Carnival. I am not sure how they are going to bounce back from this one. If I had to choose where I take my cruise next year, Carnival will probably not be on the list of options unfortunately.

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  13. blarouche

    I love cruising however I was already a fan of Royal Caribbean rather than Carnival. After this I most definitely do not see my allegiance changing to Carnival any time soon. To think that professionals in PR would handle a situation that badly is disappointing. Their failures for this crisis management do not bode well. They did not react as fast as they should have first off and were also trying to sugar coat the situation to the general public without taking social media and passengers use of social media into consideration. Add in the Costa Concordia problem that they had last year and they are not providing the performance that they need to be providing to support the image that they want to present. I think that it’s going to take a long time for Carnival to bounce back from this one.

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  14. aalvey

    Well, I’m not a cruise person in general (I get sea sick) so this is just a nightmare inside of a nightmare for me. In terms of PR I feel like it’s going to take them a while and a few successful PR strategies to get back from this one. Since the situation was so horrific, they can’t afford to deal with this awkwardly. They need to be spot on or else people are going to avoid cruises in the first place or go with a different cruise line.

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  15. Kellianne

    After graduating college my bestfriends and I were planning a Carnival cruise. After I saw the problem last week with a Carnival Cruise, I tweeted at my friends and said we might want to rethink what cruise line we are taking. If it was a one time deal it probably wouldn’t have changed my opinion. But, it seems that they are constantly having issues as a company. As far as PR goes, I think that they really haven’t responded well. Handling a crisis should be the number one concern ESPECIALLY because they have had this issue recently. It’s definitely not a good and positive outlook for future customers.

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  16. Mia D'Angelo

    One thing that really sticks out to me in this post was the quote talking about how to public will judge a company more on the way it handles a crisis, rather then how to crisis was created. I completely agree with this. I remember in my PR 101 class, we looked at the Johnson & Johnson tylenol scandal years back and their crisis PR did an amazing job at maintaining the image of the company by being completely transparent with the public about the issue and their company as a whole. I will remember their handling of the issue much more than how the actual problem was created. Personally, I took a cruise years back on the Costa cruise line. I was actually on the exact boat (years before) that tipped over, off the coast of Italy. The Costa PR failed as miserably as Carnival in my eyes. I agree that I am amazed despite all of their attempts Carnival still mishandled that situation.

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  17. nikkigyftopoulos

    The crisis with Carnival was clearly not dealt with well by the management of the company or the PR department. I agree with the idea that the public is more concerned with how a problem is dealt with, rather than where it originated. Therefore, if Carnival had dealt with the issue the proper way from the beginning, their reputation and publicity would be much more positive. However, the crisis management did not deal with the problem correctly, and as a result, the company has gained a negative public image. Coincidentally, I had been discussing this issue about Carnival with some of my family members this past week. Many of my family members said they would steer away from a Carnival cruise if they had the choice. This just proves the idea that if a crisis is dealt with incorrectly, it can drastically change the image and reputation of a company. It is the job of PR and crisis management to plan ahead for accidents like this, but Carnival failed to do this and consequently has received a lot of negative publicity.

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  18. LucieSorel

    As a person who is already afraid of cruise ships, I would definitely avoid taking a carnival cruise now. For anyone who is thinking about taking a cruise, but not sure if it is for them, this new story will without a doubt make up a lot of minds. I think the fact that the cruise line used twitter as a means to report their status and safety is ridiculous. There were hundreds of families out there, nervous and desperate for information. Many people, especially of the older generation don’t have or know how to use twitter. The situation was very serious and should have been reported accordingly. The news channels and emergency reporting stations should have been utilized. Carnival will not have an easy time coming back from this. They will need a lot of funding and support from the media to make a come back. There is a chance that simply because of fear and anxiety, the cruise line will not make a come back.

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  19. stevenpmorin

    Usually when a company has a misstep and needs to cover themselves, they do so quickly. They do so especially quickly in an age of social media and on-the-go journalism. Additionally, when the case is of life-threatening detail, or at least appears so, an organization’s PR team must be on their game. Carnival’s aim should have been to make sure this does not become big news; in other words, they completely failed. A PR team must act diligently and efficiently to stop problems before they start; Carnival did not do that.

    All that being said, yes, I would definitely go on a Carnival cruise!

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  20. Carrie Walker

    It always amazes me to find when companies come to face a crisis they do not try to learn from their predecessors mistakes. There are numerous case studies that focus on how to manage publics in a crisis. It is always best to be transparent and try to resolve the issue as efficiently and quickly as possible. Sadly, Carnival did not do any of these things in a timely manner. In my opinion a PR strategy can possibly fix this issue as Carnival’s crisis will be trumped by fresh news in a short while. However, Carnival will always be scared by the way they handled this issue and will lose the trust of many of their publics. Personally, my first cruise was on Carnival and even though I had a good experience after this recent issue Carnival will not be my first choice for a cruise.

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  21. Jenny Rowe

    I am interested to see how Carnival attempts to bounce back from this disaster. It seems to me like they may not be able to at this point. When a major company messes up, the public usually sees them try to patch up their reputation. Unfortunately, Carnival has not done much to do this, which I think will be their downfall in the end. This story has turned many people away from cruises, myself included.

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  22. Brittni Hicks

    Carnival Cruise line is a rather larger and reputable company, one would think they would have their public relations under control by now. This incident was handled poorly and I do not think I will be sailing with Carnival Cruise lines anytime soon. From the articles I read online, the passengers on the ship had very little information on what was happening. I don’t think any aspect of the situation was handled well at all.

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  23. mdombkowski

    I am extremely interested to see how Carnival is going to bounce back from this crisis. Their biggest mistake was simply not acting soon enough, delaying a response and not being transparent. They should have learned from PR crises in the past and known to act as quickly as possible. For me, I have never been big on cruises. I don’t think I’ve ever thought they were all that safe, and now after this, I especially would not go on Carnival. Yes, their reputation has been damaged, but they still need to figure out a way to fix it.

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  24. Amanda Daley

    I have never been on a cruise and I have to say that after this incident, I don’t see myself going on a Carnival cruise anytime soon. In today’s world, it is impossible for large companies to keep things hidden from the public. I think it was very irresponsible of Carnival to not do everything they could to make the passengers and their family feel as if they were doing everything in their power to make it up to these passengers.

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  25. Lauren Ciuzio

    I love how relevant this is to what we have been discussing in class. With social media today, it is mandatory that any business/cause keeps their audience in the know immediately. The fact that communication between Carnival and the public was so poor during this freak event really shocks me. I’m surprised Carnival, being the huge corporation that it is, didn’t have a PR representative that knew how to properly represent the company. Carnival should have responded to this crisis RIGHT away, apologized, and continued to update the public as often as new knowledge was learned. I think if they would have done this, their representation would not have been as damaged as it is now. I’ve been on one cruise, and wasn’t really a fan, and all of the cruise horror stories that circulate the news really don’t have me wanting to go on another one. Trust is important to me, and i’m not quite sure if I can trust Carnival after this unless they do a complete company makeover and improve their staff.

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  26. AndreaRebello

    One of the main things that I remember learning about in PR 100, is that handling a PR crisis correctly is crucial in the PR world; it can essentially make or break the reputation of a company. If I remember correctly, a company involved in a crisis should never have a delayed response, and should always offer an apology to the public when necessary, which is where the PR professionals at Carnival went terribly wrong. Clearly, the fire that occurred on board was accidental, and it should have been handled properly; with a public apology. I’ve never been a fan of cruises, and don’t ever see myself going on one. However, if I were to ever suck up my fears and actually go on one, a Carnival cruise would definitely be out of the question after this incident.

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  27. Jeremy Beck

    I agree with David Bartlett, who says the emphasis is on how the company handles it, more so then that they got into the problem to begin with. I think it isn’t too late for Carnival to avert even more damage to be done by addressing the issues head on. Whether that means the fares are less or crediting those who had to experience such a disaster. However, if this is Carnivals status quo and they don’t try to continue to put out good performance with a rigorous pr strategy, they might forever be known as the “crappy cruise line”. Pun intended.

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  28. Sasha Mirpuri

    When it comes to a PR crisis, in PR 100, we were taught that it is of utmost importance to “feed the beast”. In other words, to quickly respond by apologizing, constantly updating the public on what is happening, and what is being done to solve the problem. It is a shame that Carnival’s CEO failed to do this because although I think Carnival’s reputation might be fixed eventually, it could have been fixed sooner rather than later. I myself am a Royal Caribbean fan, but I have friends that have talked wonders of Carnival and I wouldn’t have opposed being in a Carnival cruise in the future. Now, however, I’m not really sure whether I would trust Carnival or not. I hope the people that were on the ship during that horrible time are being compensated for what they went through.

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  29. Brenna Harran

    I most definitely would not sail on a Carnival ship now or anytime soon. I do think what happened on the ship with the fire was obviously an accident. There was nothing Carnival could do about it, especially being in the middle of the ocean. They should not have delayed releasing a comment and just posted updates on their social media feeds. Carnival should have quickly put out a sincere apology or had a better plan to deal with what was happening. I think Carnival still has time to fix its reputation. Many people’s positive opinions for the cruise line may still be tarnished but if Carnival takes full responsibility with what happened and is involved with a solution to fix it, in time they could save themselves.

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  30. kerrischreiber

    I am terrified of being on cruise ships so no, I don’t think that Carnival would be my first choice. With a situation like this, they’ve already reacted too late and at this point the only thing they can do is apologize and find a solution to the problem. Once they find the solution and come up with a solution so that this will never happen again, they need to publicly speak out and inform the people that “this happened and it will never happen again.” If you think about the devastating attacks on 9/11, the government and national security responded with more security EVERYWHERE. This is what made people safe so that airplanes, public transportation, NYC, Washington DC and other places didn’t decline in business. We as a society want to know that we are protected, and that is what the CEO of Carnival needs to do. He needs to make his customers feel like they can trust him.

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  31. amandaltorres

    I would have never imagined that Carnival’s CEO would handle such a crisis so terribly. I have been on a Carnival cruise before, and it was an amazing experience; however, I’ve always been more fascinated with Royal Caribbean. Now that this is happening, I have a feeling my next cruise will NOT be Carnival..

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  32. Steve

    My guess is that eventually Carnival will recover from this. The public forgets after a while unless it’s a virtually unforgivable John Edwards-type situation (as in sleeping with another woman when your wife has terminal cancer and getting the other woman pregnant). Consumers will forget, especially if the price is right and you get all the food and drink you’d ever want. I worked with Royal Caribbean when they dumped waste intentionally into the ocean and got fined a huge sum, promised never to do it again, and then got caught doing it again. Their bookings never suffered and actually increased. Let’s see what happens here when it is customers that are abused and not marine life.

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  33. Ian Poulos

    What makes the Triumph’s situation interesting is that it is not a single, isolated incident. According to the Wall Street Journal, the company that operated the Costa Concordia was a subsidiary of Carnival. The Costa Concordia shipwreck was the result of a miscalculation from its captain, so one could argue that these two events are not part of a larger correlation. Unfortunately for Carnival, this is not the first time it has experienced such a mishap, the Costa Allegra was also hobbled by an engine room fire – just like the Triumph.

    If this was an isolated incident, I believe that Carnival could use its established reputation to minimize any negative public sentiments. However, when coupling the company’s inadequate response time with its ties to similar situations by its subsidiary, I think that it may take a large-scale PR effort and a substantial amount of time to regain public trust.

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  34. ejm1059

    This has just been one big disaster. They should have issued a sincere apology from the moment things started to unravel and promise to do whatever it took to make it up to those passengers. Now, the damage has already been done and people are starting to sue. I agree, I think if they can put together a good PR team and acknowledge their mistakes (I even said in class, that the public likes when problems are acknowledged) and show the public that they are doing everything they can to prevent something like this to ever happen again then I think they can come out of this with somewhat sturdy legs.

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  35. Claire T.

    This entire situation has blown my mind. To be honest, I don’t really know to much of the logistics of the story. The most “footage” I saw of the news story was the opening sketch on SNL last evening where Cecily Strong and Jason Sudeikis acted as members of the crew who had the unfortunate task of entertaining the guests with little to no information. I suppose I just don’t understand how a company as large as Carnival, with such a reputable image, could make such a splash (pun intended). I could sit here and talk about all the things they should have done differently, but I think that this recent crisis is the perfect topic to use for our assignment due on Thursday. That being said, I have never been interested in a Carnival cruise and I most definitely will never be interested in one in the future.

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  36. kristintellsall

    I’m not one for cruises and after this mess I definitely don’t want to. The only good thing that came out of this disaster was a decent SNL skit which hasn’t happened in a while. But back to the subject, from what I hear on the news outlets they should have acted sincerely, swiftly, and significantly. Sincerely: if they were the people stuck on a boat, how would have they wanted to be apologized to? Swiftly: instead of dragging their feet there should have been a plan of action already put in order. If you’re in crisis PR you have to think of the worst BEFORE the event and if not be able to think on your feet. Finally, significantly: there should have been significance in every action. If it didn’t better the situation why bother doing it and make things worse?

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  37. gmcillo

    It is so unfortunate when companies delay a comment. It hurts their reputation and gives the public an impression that they basically just don’t care. As this point the damage is already done and no PR strategy can get them out of this one. We stress so much in our PR classes about handling crisis situations and clearly the PR staff at Carnival was never taught what to do. Unfortunately due to Carnivals delayed reaction to the issue they are going to loose even more potential costumers. I know for a fact there is no way this company could ever get me to go on one of their cruises.

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  38. Sarah Caruso

    The damage is already done and no amount of PR strategy can save them now. I heard that the guy who owned this ship was the same guy who owned that Italian cruise ship that hit an iceberg(?) a few years ago. I am against cruises anyway, but after all of this I will NEVER go on a cruise.

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  39. ccorte6

    What I have read and heard in every PR class that I have taken is this: always be prepared for the worst. I think people understand that not everything goes to plan and are even willing to let big mistakes be rectified. What changes that norm is when you do not handle the situations in the right way. I am shocked that as a major cruise line, they did not think that this kind of situation was important enough to plan ahead for. I have never wanted to go on a cruise, and I think from this situation I probably still won’t and most certainly not with Carnival.

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  40. janabanana12

    Carnival should have apologized right away; with poor crisis management and only social media updates, the public was unable to feel protected by the cruiseline. Despite the days of disgusting living conditions, it wouldn’t be the malfunction that would make me not want to ride another Carnival cruise. I think Carnival did a terrible job of handling this and I, like many other people, would not ride another Carnival cruise. Can they dig their way out of this mess? Maybe, but it’s going to take a long time and a really good PR plan. A simple apology from the beginning wouldn’t have fixed the problem, but could have helped big time. Now it’s too late to apologize; the damage is already done.

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  41. alexis gionesi

    For the most part I think people are understanding when something goes wrong, sometimes things just happen; however responding to it appropriately is what matters and could really sway public opinion. If I were planning on booking a trip somewhere, Carnival would probably not be my first choice. Clearly they had no plan of action even in case something were to happen, and now fixing their reputation will be even harder to do. For me to ever plan a cruise with Carnival it would greatly depend on what they do to repair their situation and how they treat the passengers that were on the cruise.

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  42. Kneekiki

    When a crisis occurs there should always be a plan that has been set for situations such as the Carnival disaster. I think that if there was a plan drawn up before hand they would know how to handle this crisis and do so in a timely fashion. Even when there is no crisis there is one and that is how big corporations need to think. Now we have to ask why they weren’t prepped to do things in a timely fashion. Automatically these passengers should have been refunded for their trip. I agree with Annik, when an apology is due it needs to be done immediately. Constant updates would have benefited the situation. I cruised on the Norwegian cruise line and I loved it. I do not love cruises but they are fun. I do not know if I would cruise with Carnival right away but if I were to cruise with them I would be keeping track of what they are doing.

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  43. aspenc6

    I really don’t understand why recently it seems that so many big corporations have been handling PR crises so terribly (another famous example of this is obviously BP). What gives? One of the first rules new PR students are taught is to always respond to a crisis, and to respond fast. Also, give an apology when an apology is due. Carnival should have responded, apologized, and continued with updates from the very beginning. I honestly think that now a well-executed PR strategy might be somewhat helpful, but it will definitely not totally repair the damage. Would I ever take a Carnival cruise after this? I’m not a huge cruise fan myself (although I must admit I have never been on one). But if I were to pick a cruise ship to take my first cruise on, it would definitely not be Carnival. For me at least, their reputation has been flawed.

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