We have all been reading the tragic circumstances surrounding the accident involving the cruise liner Costa Concordia, and we at Supply Chain Matters posted our related commentary, Should We Be Concerned About Ship Safety?

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal printed edition published the article Carnival CEO Lies Low After Wreck.  (paid subscription required or free metered view) The article begins with the question: Where is Mickey Arison?  Mr. Arison is the chief executive and chairmen of Carnival Corp., which owns ten cruise lines, one of which is Costa Crociere, the designated operator of the Costa Concordia. According to the WSJ, it seems that as events continue to unfold, Mr. Arison is allowing Costa Crociere CEO Luigi Foschi to be the public face to corporate responsibility and to account for the on-scene response. Mr. Foschi has already blamed the ship’s captain for causing this tragedy.  The article notes a Carnival company statement that Mr. Arison is “in continuous contact” with Costa executives, but the CEO decided that the Costa team is best suited to handle the response.  A longtime acquaintance of Mr. Arison is quoted as stating: “He wants to distance Carnival from this disaster.” “If he talks, Carnival is Speaking.” Others are quoted as to Mr. Arison’s calming, behind the scenes influence.

All of this however, once again raises the question of corporate reach-out in times of crisis, especially considering this new era of enhanced social media profiles.  Although remaining out of public view, Mr. Arison has leveraged company news releases and has utilized Twitter to express condolences to the victims and families involved in the incident. He has also provided “personal assurance” that Carnival would “take care” of passengers, crew and victims. The WSJ notes that some have questioned the wisdom of Mr. Arison not taking a more public role in the wake of this tragedy, and one crisis communications consultancy executive notes that you cannot be invisible when the spotlight is shining.

To provide one example, my wife and I have been on previous cruises from rival Norwegian Cruise Lines and both just received a direct email message from that company’s CEO stating safety as the number one priority and further providing a listing of that company’s existing policies and measures directed at assuring safety and training of captains and crew.

Supply Chain Matters has provided previous commentary on the leveraged use of social media tools when corporate crisis occurs, specifically the early 2011 incident surrounding Rolls Royce PLC’s Trent 900 series aircraft engine was involved in a near tragic in-air uncontrolled blowout involving a Qantas Airways A380 super jumbo aircraft. During the events related to the actual incident, and later events tracing the cause and remediation, Rolls Royce executives were publically silent, choosing instead to allow airline senior executives such as the CEO of Qantas to be the public persona of the incident and its consequences to the aircraft’s safety.  The complete research report involving this particular incident can be downloaded free of charge in our Research Center.

Business and supply chain executives, like it or not, exist in a new and highly viral medium of communication fueled by social media and mobility.  In tragedy, those equipped with smartphones can beam live video of an incident in a matter of minutes, and victims can leverage social media applications such as Twitter and Facebook to express first-hand emotions. A corporate response and persona is becoming a mandatory component to these incidents, along with timely communication of what is being done.

In the specific case of Carnival, we believe that readers can and will form their own opinions relative to the public profile and subsequent actions of Mr. Arosin.  The fact that high profile business publications now openly question a senior executive’s presence in the social based narrative is the more important takeaway.

Travel counselors and future cruise consumers are savvy enough to know or to figure out which cruise lines are owned by which large operators, and as the post-accident investigation and consequences become more apparent, will easily connect the dots.  Consumers will henceforth add safety considerations to their cruise vacation selection process.

The lesson is that the right combination of personal and social media outreach during and after a crisis incident, along with a narrative of concern and active response, is becoming a key component to any risk disruption and mitigation plan.

Bob Ferrari

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