Carnival Triumph Debacle: Let the Damage Control Begin!

Carnival Cruise Lines Triumph

Carnival Cruise Lines TriumphLast week’s Triumph fiasco was one of the larger customer service failures in recent memory and the biggest corporate PR challenge of the year to date–the photos released last Thursday and Friday only show us how big the problem really is. Now it’s PR’s time to shine as the Carnival Cruise Lines damage control campaign begins!

First, despite what seemed to be radio silence on the Carnival side, the company’s social media team was active throughout the incident, issuing updates and countering rumors–but we think you’ll agree that tweets like these probably didn’t improve public perceptions of the scandal:

We’re not sure whether the first one was a joke–and we’re surprised that it hasn’t been deleted.

Now let’s review the steps in Carnival’s damage control process and see where the company might go from here:

1. Get in front of (or at least beside) the story: Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill, quick to avoid accusations of inaction, made a statement as the boat reached land on Thursday night accepting responsibility and telling reporters “clearly we failed” before boarding the ship to apologize in person to the affected passengers.

2. Offer compensation: The next step after admitting that you did wrong: offering to pay for it! Carnival wisely came up with a plan to essentially pay off each individual with a $500 check for spending four days on a drifting ship that smelled “like a hot port-a-potty”. Will it work? Not when there’s the potential for a bigger payout…

3. Brace yourself for lawsuits: Multiple suits have predictably been filed since landfall early Friday morning. Some legal experts predict the suits failing due to the “no emotional distress or mental anguish damage” conditions in the fine print of each ticket sold. But a public airing of company failures is never a good thing. Expect some settlements.

4. Begin defending your reputation: Carnival already cancelled 14 future trips, but more is needed to protect its public standing (and its stock price). How should the company convince the public that its cruises are safe?

Cruise fans have already begun defending the brand on its Facebook page: this status update post, for example, inspired dozens of comments from satisfied Carnival customers claiming that the passengers on the Triumph exaggerated the “terrible” conditions in order to get more media attenti0n. Should Carnival leverage the testimony of these brand advocates when the media attention dies down a bit?

What do we think? How can Carnival minimize the damage from this huge PR debacle? Should it settle with defendants and move on, relying on the public’s short memory to save its reputation, or should it more aggressively seek our forgiveness?