After the horrors of January’s Costa Concordia disaster (possibly the worst ‘public relations’ gaffe in history) and the fire scare affecting sister ship Costa Allegra a few weeks later, the cruising industry is fighting back with some interesting PR. And this has useful lessons for many other companies.
Although it did generate considerable exposure, I’m discounting the Titanic memorial cruise aboard Fred.Olsen’s Balmoral, which suffered rough seas and then had to turn back so a suspected heart attack victim could be airlifted to Ireland.
What did strike me as clever was Cunard’s ability to cap the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee weekend by bringing its three current queens – Victoria, Mary 2 and Elizabeth – into and out of Southampton on the same day. This ‘first’ gave Cunard some great media exposure, something for the merchant marine enthusiasts to marvel over – and, no doubt, a few more grey hairs for those working behind the scenes on board and on the dockside. And now there are more grey hairs to come.
I see that P&O Cruises plans to mark the 175th anniversary of the ‘P’ in P&O next month by going not one better than Cunard, but four better. The aptly named Grand Event on 3 July will see its entire fleet of seven cruise ships steaming down Southampton Water in line astern before dispersing to various destinations. Adonia and Ventura are bound for the central Mediterranean, Aurora for the Baltic, Oceana for the Fjords, Arcadia for Norway and Iceland, Azura for the Canary Islands and Oriana for Amsterdam.
I have to confess a preference for marine architecture of an era that predates these vessels, but the prospect of seven big passenger ships of any age in the same colours heading out to sea simultaneously is pretty hard to beat. I suspect it will be shoulder-to-shoulder on the beaches that evening.
The pre-publicity includes the inevitable disclaimers, but if P&O Cruises can carry this one off not only will they provide an amazing public spectacle but they should also secure great media coverage and, of course, obtain fantastic images and footage for their future marketing campaigns.
If the event is to succeed, it will have required many months’ careful planning – which, I am sure, the P&O team (like their Cunard counterparts) will have done – to ensure that every detail is taken care of. It’s not just a case of synchronising seven ships’ schedules – it also means ensuring thousands of passengers arrive in Southampton ready to board the right ship at the right time, and that vast supplies of food, beverages and other consumables are delivered to the quayside at the right moment.
Will P&O’s Grand Event help to bolster the cruise industry’s bookings? That’s unlikely in the short term, because pressures on not-so-rich pockets probably have more impact right now. But PR events of this magnitude – plus spin-off marketing – work slowly and I would expect that P&O should see a substantial payback in the longer term.
So what can Cunard and P&O teach companies of all sizes in other sectors of the economy? Simply this: If you want to be noticed, do something positive that really grabs the public’s attention. But first, put every effort into detailed planning to minimise the risk of anything going wrong. Then, make sure every angle is covered by cameras so you have a full record of the event for subsequent marketing. Tell the relevant media and all your target audiences in plenty of time. Finally, sit back and enjoy the event: big ones like this simply cannot happen very often.
Oh, and steer clear of submerged rocks!
David Goddin was born in the UK and educated in South Africa. He began his career on daily newspapers and trade journals, before moving into public relations consulting. He produced award-winning writing and became an Accredited PR Practitioner, the highest qualification of the Public Relations Institute of South Africa. Since his return to the UK 16 years ago he has also contributed to a number of highly successful PR and marketing communications campaigns for major national and multinational clients. He is currently also President of the Haslemere & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce.