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How Carnival Cruise Line Built an Unsinkable Brand After Crisis

When Carnival Cruise Line was faced with several crises back in 2012 and 2013, it was a deficit that many brand experts predicted would take at least four years to dig out of.

Negative perceptions, wary passengers and media ready to pounce at any sign of a ship problem plagued the brand and contributed to its highest volume of conversation about the company, but also its highest negative sentiment ever.

At the 2015 #PRSAICON conference, Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Roger Frizzell along with LDWWgroup partner Mike Flanagan shared the crisis management strategy that improved their brand reputation by 85 percent and increased purchases of Carnival cruises – all in only sixteen months with just earned media – no advertising, executed on behalf of a three-person team.

Carnival’s strategy centered on four key components: addressing the incident, showing how they are addressing the incident, adding financial commitment to the incident and showing the changes to the media so they could see for themselves.

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According to Frizzell, much of the work would go unnoticed without a solid foundation: in addition to having a practiced plan beforehand, he stresses cultivating media relationships in times of non-crisis and and keeping a “pillow of good news” – a regular, steady drumbeat of good news that makes the bad news seem softer.



Then, it’s time to get to work.

After carefully highlighting Carnival brand improvements, such as the industry first “Great Vacation Guarantee” and implementing a blue ribbon advisory board, Carnival brought in a dynamic change agent: a new CEO to tell the corporate story – Arnold Donald.

They leveraged Donald on various platforms, and highlighted his record of safe, well-run operations and innovative business strategies. Then, they placed him in front of the media – as many media as possible – to tell the story with transparency and tackle issues head-on to counter misperceptions.

“Most companies stop talking after the crisis,” Frizzell says. “That’s wrong. You need to invest and over-communicate.”

And over-communicate they did. They leveraged Donald to address voyage incidents, reinforce safety as the highest priority, discuss cruising as a great vacation and value, and discussed new business strategies to change how the world’s largest travel and leisure company operated.

Then, they began a storytelling model for “good news” – creating a wide range of topics from technology improvements to onboard enhancements to new ships, environmental and sustainability initiatives to increase positive sentiment.

Afterwards, they filled the pipeline with these good news stories and shared them with influential media outlets that they had cultivated good relationships with – a basic “blocking and tackling” tactic in PR.



The transparency, and positive pipeline worked – Carnival was able to reduce their negative share of voice by 75 percent and was declared YouGov’s “most-improved U.S. brand in consumer perception,” a feat which took half the time it has taken other crisis-stricken major brands.

And with positive perception came increased sales. Better perception meant rising purchase consideration, and Carnival grew revenue and earnings per share above projections.

The takeaways?

  1. Be prepared. Crisis preparation starts long before an incident.
  2. Implement R.A.C.E. in crisis communications: Research, Action, Communication and Evaluation.
  3. Keep a “pillow of good news.”
  4. Recognize defining moments. If you handle something wrong or don’t handle it at all, it will define the perception of your brand for years to come.
  5. Consider a change maker to help effectively tell your brand story.
  6. Be open and responsive to the media, now and forever.

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Image: El Coleccionista de Instantes Fotografía & VideoDamian GadalDale Nevin (Creative Commons)

About Cision Contributor

This post was written by a guest Cision contributor.

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