Last week in our public relations writing course, we were assigned teams and simulated crisis press briefings to implement for our classmates. One of the teams was assigned to develop a crisis plan and execute a briefing for the Costa Concordia crash last January. Their plan included a comprehensive response outline, including responses for social media and the company’s website. Overall, I was very impressed with their professionalism and key talking points for this simulation!
However, one suggestion for improvement would be to avoid labeling this accident as an “isolated incident.” The faux CEOs of Costa and Carnival both used this term occasionally in an attempt to reassure their stakeholders that an accident of this nature would likely not repeat itself. While I see the value of that reassurance, I believe the wording of “isolated incident” has the side effect of connoting minimization of the event’s severity. That effect was obviously not their intention, and the words “isolated incident” are used quite often in crisis responses by organizations. However, I would advise CEOs and spokespeople to avoid the use of that phrase.
I thought that the group’s stress on their cooperation with the Italian authorities lent a significant amount of strength to their presentation. Also, they kept a serious yet positive tone throughout the briefing, which conveyed their wholehearted commitment to remedying the situation. For example, when the customer service representative (played by Jen Zink) was talking about the reparations being made to the passengers and families affected, she began by saying that “what was lost can never truly be replaced.” This validates the emotions felt by the affected customers, showing that the company understands and sympathizes with their plight.
Overall, the Costa/Carnival group’s press briefing was an effective communication of the company’s commitment to fixing the situation and taking responsibility for the events that transpired. It is difficult, if not impossible, for an organization to predict 100% of the possible crises that may arise due to human error or technical failures. However, if organizations respond as this group did in their simulation, they will likely survive such a crisis.