Swift, decisive responses avert PR crises for Royal Caribbean and Papa John’s

While there are numerous examples of companies handling issues and crises poorly (read some of our blog posts about them here, here and here), we also like to recognize those companies that respond swiftly and appropriately to a potential PR catastrophe. Recently there have been two such instances, one involving Royal Caribbean and the other Papa John’s.

Early on Memorial Day, a fire broke out on Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas as it sailed near the Bahamas. Although the fire did not cause extensive damage or disable the ship, the incident could have been another in a growing list of bad press events for the cruise industry. Instead, a passenger email to the AP shortly after the fire had nothing but praise for the ship’s crew.

Mark Ormesher, on what was his first cruise, described the Grandeur of the Seas crew as keeping passengers calm and well-informed, distributing water bottles and even holding infants so their parents could use the restroom. But the company’s response went beyond managing the initial emergency situation competently. Royal Caribbean CEO Adam Goldstein flew to Freeport in the Bahamas, where the ship was diverted, and personally apologized to passengers. The company also arranged charter flights for passengers back to Baltimore, where the voyage originated, and arranged alternate transportation for those who did not wish to fly.  Updates were constant on the cruise line’s Twitter feed and Facebook page.

Closer to home, Papa John’s was also recently the subject of a potential PR scandal, for a racially-charged voicemail one of its delivery drivers inadvertently left for an African American customer to whom he had just delivered a pizza. Speaking to a coworker, the driver ridiculed the size of the tip the customer gave him (although it was more than 20 percent) while using the n-word several times.

Papa John’s response was swift and decisive: the driver and his coworker were both fired, and the company acknowledged and apologized for the incident on its Facebook page and Twitter. Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter also called the customer personally to apologize.

There are perhaps two lessons to be learned from these incidents and how they were handled. The first is that a swift and confident response goes a long way toward mitigating any potential fallout from a bad situation. It’s equally important to note that in both cases the company CEO was personally involved in the response – demonstrating that each company’s commitment to customer service extends all the way to the top.

Second, and perhaps more important, these incidents illustrate what we – and every competent PR practitioner – tell our clients all the time: it is not a matter of if you’ll be faced with a crisis, but when.

Both of these cases show that a crisis can occur any time, without warning, during the course of normal every day operations. Both could have turned into PR nightmares, doing lasting damage to the respective brands. Certainly, Royal Caribbean and Papa John’s may both take a black eye, but a black eye heals. Their swift response also helps ensure that competitors – who are always looking for an opening – will have a harder time exploiting these crises to gain a competitive advantage.

Now the question for you is, will you be ready when your company is faced with a crisis? And will your response help minimize the damage – or will it result in something much worse than a black eye?



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