Carnival Cruise Lines: The Practice of Public Relations

Public relations determine how a business engages with the outside world. Effective communication with the stakeholders ensures that the business maintains a good rapport with the people that drive it. In the absence of good public relations, a corporation will be deemed to be unresponsive to customer queries, a fact that may make it lose business (Seitel, 2013, p.21). Public relations are especially important in the event of a crisis. Any business entity must develop good public relations as a way of improving its public image or averting a major crisis.

Brief Description of the Case

Carnival Cruise Lines was a reputable company that owned a large fleet of cruise ships. On the night of January 13, 2012, the company suffered a major blow when one of the ships, Costa Concordia, struck a rock and water started seeping in. In contravention of established maritime rules, an order to evacuate the ship was not given, despite its close proximity to a nearby island. In the ill-fated event, about 32 passengers died, while a majority of others suffered great inconveniences (Seitel, 2013, p. 348). Unfortunately, the captain of the ship, one Francesco Schettino, who was supposed to aid the passengers, was the first to be evacuated. It is apparent that the Company valued its employees more than the customers it served.

In the unfortunate turn of events, the company did not offer any public statement until it was too late, suffering a backlash from the public. Much of the criticism was centered on the company’s apparent lack of concern to the general public it serves and preference to its employees. In any case, the company did not offer any meaningful apology over the incident. As a damage control mechanism, the company offered reparations amounting to $14,500 to all the affected passengers and discounted future fares.

Publics and Stakeholders

The company’s publics refer to anyone who may require the services of the corporation and the people living in or near the areas where the ship does its business. On the other hand, the stakeholders are the people likely to be affected by the ship’s actions. These include the passengers, their family members, the respective governments, and the shareholders in the company.

Tactics Used by the Company to Handle the Crisis

Carnival used escapism and diversionary tactics to handle the issue (Seitel, 2013, p.366). Instead of confronting the problem head on, the business chose to remain silent, in a bid to quell public tempers. It is expected that if the company had come out to make a public statement, it would have invited several uncomfortable questions from the outraged members of the public, family members, or the media personality. By keeping silent, the company maintained an aura of control over what information was immediately available to the public.

Carnival Cruse’s Objective in Handling the Crisis

Carnival desired to keep the public from tearing its reputation over the incident. The less information available over the incident meant that any objective person would not rush to make an opinion over the matter (Groom & Fritz, 2011, p.49). This way, the company will preserve its public image and retain its old clientele.

The Key Messages Conveyed by the Company and the Media

The only messages offered about the incident were about the cause of the collision, the number of causalities, and what actions the company was taking to avert the crisis. The rest of the information was left to media speculation or expert analysis on the incident.

The Result of the Crisis and the Adequacy of the Proposed Reparations

The crisis led to 32 deaths, mental anguish to the passengers and their families, a public outcry over the incident, a shattered public image for the company, and a level of dissatisfaction from the stakeholders. As a way of reparations, the company proposed to give about $14500 to each of the families that lost a member and a 30% discount for future voyages for each of the affected passengers.

The proposed reparations were only enough to cover for the funeral expenses and short-term relief. They were not adequate to compensate for lost earnings and emotional anguish to the affected persons. In addition, there ought to have been some form of compensation for the other passengers. The fare cuts were not adequate.

How Carnival Should Handle Future Crises

In any crisis, the key strategy is to communicate convincingly to public. The public needs to know that the situation is under control and that the company is doing all it can to avert the crisis (Coombs, 2007, p. 44). In the future, Carnival should improve on its public communication skills. Reparations are not adequate if they are not followed by a word of apology. The company should endeavor to preserve its public image by being responsive enough.

Evaluation of a Public Relations Effort

After a major crisis, a company must evaluate its public relations effort by conducting a survey that receives views from the public. Alternatively, the company can outsource the project to a public relations firm. The effective measures are on what perceptions the public have of the company after the incident. A positive response implies increased confidence. A negative response on the other hand implies that the strategy failed.


Any corporation must be wary of its public image. It thus must remain responsive in a crisis, as this is the defining moment and gauges how the public will react to it afterwards. As can be seen from the case of carnival, public communication is important is restoring public confidence. Reparations too are good, but not an adequate measure.


Coombs, T. (2007). Protecting organization reputations during a crisis: The development and

application of situational crisis communication theory. Corporate Reputation Review, Vol. 10, Issue 3.

Groom, S. & Fritz, H. (2011). Communication ethics and crisis: Negotiating differences in

public and private spheres. Madison, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickson University Press.

Seitel, F. (2013). The practice of public relations (12th ed.). Harlow: Prentice Hall.