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Need Inspiration to Finish That Crisis Communications Plan? NOLA and Ohio Have Some for You!

Bill Geist, whose Zeitgeist Consulting website ( – sign up for his free newsletter) is always a source of interesting information on “Tourism. Trends. Tactics.Technology.,” has also created, packed with useful links and posts.

And if you need a good example of a crisis communications plan, two are available, from New Orleans and Ohio, right here:

At 64 pages, Ohio’s is far longer than NOLA’s 16, but includes helpful tips on handling interviews, and serving as a spokesperson. Though it’s dated 2003, much is still relevant today.

Download them both, read them over, review my Four Steps to preparing yours, and – get going!

Boston: Strong(er) in the Face of Terror

“Boston Strong” has become a rallying cry since the devastating bombings near the finish line of last week’s Marathon, which grievously wounded more than 170 spectators and – ironically for a running event – left so many losing legs or feet.

“Boston Strong” merchandise was being sold to benefit the victims almost immediately, with groups and individuals establishing a variety of initiatives to help mitigate the towering medical bills that many are sure to face. Just a few examples, among the nearly 7 million citations on a web search for the phrase:

The Los Angeles Times used the expression in a major story about the bombing, titled

‘Boston Strong’: A proud city shines through its pain:

The outpouring of support from the running community around the world has been heartwarming, as shown in this gallery of running events that will now honor Boston:

No races have been canceled, though last Sunday’s London Marathon added extra security. And even FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski tweeted about Boston Red Sox’ David “Big Papi” Ortiz’ on-air f-bomb: “I stand with Big Papi and the people of Boston.”

Reminiscent of the support of the nation for New York City (and Boston, too, to a lesser degree) after the 9/11 attacks, the worldwide show of solidarity is likely to produce the opposite effect the bombers apparently sought: a desire to stand with the victims – which include the City of Boston for this iconic race of Patriots’ Day – not to cower in fear; and a renewed spirit, nationwide, of defiance of the attempt to instill fear.

The proud spirit of Bostonians was shared by many of us, helping mitigate the loss of life and terrible injuries, and remind us of the price we must sometimes unwillingly pay for freedom.

Almost Done: Your Crisis Communications Plan, Step Four

Actually, that headline is a bit of a tease: you’re NEVER “done!”

Step Four, in some ways the most important, is simple: Update your plan frequently.

Notice that the first field on that contact form I discussed last week is “Date Completed.” There’s nothing less useful than a database that’s out of date; that’s doubly true with your crisis contacts!

At least once a year, review your “what-ifs” scenarios.  Many things may have changed.  There may be new organizations or facilities in your community, or concerns that didn’t exist last year.  That means there may be new individuals you need to add to your Crisis Communications Contact Roster.

Be sure to reconsider the members of your core Crisis Communications Team at this point, too.  People leave, move on to other jobs, new people are hired, and new skills are needed. 

Perhaps there’s an intern with a particular skill that would be useful ― often, this is their facility and expertise with social media.  During their internship, you may want to assign them to be a member of your communications team.  They’ll be supervised with someone with more seniority and perspective, of course. But it can be a great opportunity to tap into knowledge that might not have been available internally when you pulled your plan together. 

On the other end of the spectrum, you might add a senior staffer with experience that could enhance your

existing team, such as a crisis they have encountered and surmounted, or expertise in an operations area where a crisis could occur.

At least twice a year, update your contact list and distribute it to all team members.  Put a reminder in your calendar for January and July ― and don’t “snooze” it for more than a day!

E-blast everyone on your list, attaching an editable copy of their latest form, and ask them to update it within a week.  If they’ve moved, been promoted, taken another job, and/or changed their home email-address in the past six months, they might not have thought to tell you, as well as their friends and family.

You may find that someone is no longer appropriate as a contact because of they’ve been promoted or reassigned. If their organization is still important to you, ask for a replacement and contact that person directly to confirm their status and gather details.

NOW you can relax – knowing you’ve planned ahead, and have added alerts for future updates to your calendar!Image


How’s Your Crisis Communications Plan Coming Along? Step Three, Right Here!

If you were faced with a crisis tomorrow, who would you call, beyond your newly-selected Crisis Communications team?

Your staff? Your Board? Your lawyer? the police/fire/health departments?

Who do you need to know, and who needs to know you? (Remember, in a natural disaster, fire or explosion, the authorities may be contacting you.)

Step #3:  Determine who you will need to contact in various crises, and gather their contact details – NOW!

Where do you find the people you need to find when you need to find them?

Crises rarely happen during business hours: nine to five, Monday through Friday.  They happen on holiday weekends.  They happen at two o’clock in the morning.  They happen when your key people are halfway around the world.

Therefore, the most important element of any plan is your contact list:

  • Who does what?
  • How and where do I find them (even if the power is out, and it’s Sunday on a holiday weekend)?
  • This list needn’t be 500 pages.  The size will depend on the extent of the team you need to pull together, and the people and organizations you need to notify.

It’s often helpful to establish a “telephone tree” for members of the crisis communications team, too,  specifying who will call who, to inform and gather the team as swiftly as possible.

When you’ve developed your contact list, don’t assume that you can rely on ― or even access ― data residing on your home or office computer.

What if the power is out? What if a tornado or a tsunami has destroyed your office and/or home?

Once we’ve prepared a Crisis Communications Plan for a client, it’s emailed to every member of the team.  A hard copy sits in a slim red binder on their desk, and they will also have a soft-bound copy at home, which accompanies them when they travel.

For a sample Crisis Contact Information Sheet, please email me: Add, but DON’T eliminate any of the fields already there!

…And the World’s Unfriendliest Country Is…Bolivia?

How friendly does a country need to be to attract travelers? According to the latest Travel and Tourism Competitiveness 2013 from the World Economic Forum, friendlier than Bolivia –

And while Iceland’s landscape may be intimidating to some, the Icelandic people are welcoming enough to visitors to land them in the top spot for “Most Friendly Destination.”


When such a list is as high-profile and widely reported as this, does it become a crisis, if you are designated among the “Unfriendly”?

Of course, it easily can, if it is major news in your target markets: you’ll want to monitor the coverage carefully and compare it with inquiries to your website, comments on Facebook and other social media, anecdotal reports form your marketing partners, including tour operators  and travel agents.

It’s an issue other countries have dealt with in the past: some years back, I recall that France launched a “be friendly to tourists” campaign, and in 2010, The Irish Times reported that when the World Expo was held in Shanghai, locals were asked “…not to walk the streets in their pyjamas, to stop spitting and to be nice to visitors.”

Here’s the “Top 10 Most” and “…Least” friendly countries, as reported by CNN


Attitude of population toward foreign visitors
(1 = very unwelcome; 7 = very welcome)


1. Iceland  6.8
2. New Zealand  6.8
3. Morocco  6.7
4. Macedonia, FYR  6.7
5. Austria  6.7
6. Senegal  6.7
7. Portugal  6.6
8. Bosnia and Herzegovina  6.6
9. Ireland  6.6
10. Burkina Faso  6.6


1. Bolivia  4.1
2. Venezuela  4.5
3. Russian Federation  5.0
4. Kuwait  5.2
5. Latvia  5.2
6. Iran  5.2
7. Pakistan  5.3
8. Slovak Republic  5.5
9. Bulgaria  5.5
10. Mongolia  5.5

What do you think? Have you visited countries on this list, and do you agree with the rankings?

Your Crisis Communications Plan, Step Two: Brainstorm “What Ifs?”

But first, kudos to Carnival Cruises, which experienced yet another (potential) crisis yesterday, when reports circulated widely about power problems and non-functioning toilets on the Carnival Dream (how easy is it to see the headlines saying “Carnival DREAM become a Nightmare!”?).

And, to make life more interesting, there was a television reporter on board:

Kris Anderson, a reporter for Memphis TV station WREG and a passenger on the Dream, told CNN his friends had chided him for booking a Carnival cruise.

“I said, ‘What are the odds of it happening to two ships in such a short period of time?'” he told CNN. “Look what happened now.”

And cruise expert Carolyn Spencer Brown, in an interview with ABC-TV (, noted:

“It’s mind boggling,” said Cruise Critic Editor in Chief Carolyn Spencer Brown. “Accidents happen but this isn’t an accident anymore. Three times is something to be concerned about,” she said, referring to the Dream, the Triumph and a 2010 engine room fire on the Splendor that left the ship without power.

Just days before at the annual Cruise Shipping Miami conference, Carnival President Gerry Cahill had outlined the four-point plan they had devised to investigate the causes of the Carnival Triumph’s difficulties, and take steps to avoid future issues. When the DREAM developed issues while in port in St. Maarten, Carnival swiftly arranged for charter planes to transport everyone home, and offered refunds and a discount on a future cruise(more at

Well done this time, Carnival!

And now, what are the most formidable crises YOU could face? This is the time to gather the crisis communications team you assembled last week – perhaps off-site, to avoid the distractions of your office – for a half-day brainstorming session.

Be creative – and pessimistic.

Explore every aspect of your product or services that might precipitate a crisis, including:

  • The geographic areas in which you operate
  • Political climate
  • Security issues
  • Financial concerns
  • Complaints from staff or guests
  • Weather
  • Logistical issues (e.g. a tour operator might look at everything from their phone and Internet service to the airlines that carry their guests)
  • Health considerations (food poisoning, epidemic, etc.)
  • Employee satisfaction ― or dissatisfaction.

You can undoubtedly add to this list: be sure you do.

Consider including your Board of Directors and perhaps other stakeholders in the brainstorming session ― especially if they might contribute experience or a perspective that would otherwise be missing.

Let your exploration be wide and deep: nothing’s “too crazy” or “can’t happen to us.” It’s helpful to ask everyone to share good – and bad – crisis experiences they’ve had, and to share what they learned from it.

Here are five essential questions to ask:

  1. What are the five worst crises that could befall our business or organization?
  2. Which are the most likely to occur?
  3. Which have the greatest potential to threaten our continued existence?
  4. How would we deal with each?
  5. How can we prepare NOW?

Remember that the Tragedy of 9/11 has been referred to as a “failure of imagination.” At the time, no one in authority could conceive of such acts happening anywhere, let alone in Manhattan. However, in retrospect, the signs were there to be seen, and acted upon.

Happy brainstorming!

Got a crisis communications plan? Here’s a simple four-step process!

All too often, the answer is “No – but we know we need one.”

Every Thursday for the next four weeks, I’ll explore one of the steps I’ve outlined in my book It’s a crisis! NOW what? Though written with the tourism and hospitality industry in mind, this process applies to any business; and while it is simple, you’ll have to do a little work to put it in place (but you’ll sleep better once it’s done).

Let’s get started!

Step #1:  Designate the key members of your Crisis Communications Team ― and their back-ups.

There are four basic roles for your team, each of which may require more than one person, depending on the size and geographic reach of your company, as well as the extent of the crisis:

  1. Primary spokesperson: normally your CEO, this person will make the initial statement on behalf of your company, but may need to step back from the spokesperson role in order to keep the company running;
  2. Secondary spokesperson:  a top executive, often introduced by the CEO as the day-to-day contact during the crisis.
  3. Technical experts: depending on the crisis, this could be a health and safety officer, the CFO, CMO, CIO or others. Their role is to explain any necessary details about the specifics, but NOT to be the official spokesperson.
  4. Chief Communications or Public Relations officer: rarely, if ever, seen on camera or in a spokesperson role, this person is the primary coordinator of the company’s public response, advising the CEO and others on how best to express their position in a way that never obscures the truth, while assuring the company’s point of view is clearly communicated.

Every member of the team must have a back-up – or two – who are familiar with the responsibilities they might have to assume.

Your spokespersons and their back-up(s) MUST have on-camera videotaped media coaching.  It’s essential they practice delivering a variety of key messages, structured as 5- to 30-second sound bites, about your company or destination, and do so on camera, even if it’s a simple handheld one. Three “takes” will do it: I guarantee dramatic improvement and a sense of confidence that will be invaluable in a real crisis.

Next week: What crises might you face? Explore them now!

“All Publicity Is Good Publicity?” Not if You’re Carnival Cruises!

It’s rarely a good thing when Saturday Night Live features a skit about you – and it’s covered by the UK’s Daily Mail, among 87,000+ others:

Or when Travel Market Report interviews travel agents with clients aboard Carnival Cruises’ ironically-named Triumph (which made headlines for nearly a week in the aftermath of an engine fire that left the troubled ship without air-conditioning, sufficient food and sanitation). One agent noted her clients would probably be ready to swim to shore, once the ship was in sight of land!

And it’s never a good thing when a simple Google search on the words “Carnival Triumph” produces 20,900,000 results featuring the terms “nightmare,” “raw sewage,” “floating toilet” and “grotesque conditions.”

Carnival was generous in its compensation, beyond what they were legally required to do, which will certainly mollify some passengers.

But days without comment from the company lead to a barrage of bad press, and could have been short-circuited by the same statement of Carnival Cruises’ President and CEO Gerry Cahill finally released  – in a near-masterpiece of understatement! – as the ship approached shore in Mobile, AL, where 200 Carnival employes waited to assist the 4,000+ passengers and crew:

“We know it has been a longer journey back than we anticipated at the beginning of the week under very challenging circumstances,” said Carnival Cruise Lines president and CEO Gerry Cahill in a statement. “We are very sorry for what our guests have had to endure.”


From a crisis communications perspective, no official communications from Carnival for too long – and the sighting of Carnival’s owner Micky Arison enjoying a Miami Heat basketball game during the ordeal – were strategic missteps.

As CNNMoney headlined, Carnival’s CEO is loud about his NBA team, quiet about his company, noting that neither Arison nor Carnival responded to questions sent by CNNMoney, and that Arison has been silent during prior Carnival disasters, including the grounding of the Costa Concordia last year, and when an engine fire in 2010 left 4,500 people drifting in the Pacific for three days on another of their ships.

Reaching out to passengers and the media when trouble began could have forestalled some of the negative coverage, which is predicted to affect other cruise lines. Reports that the ironically-named Triumph experienced mechanical problems on other recent cruises added to the perception that Carnival had been slipshod in its maintenance.

To be continued…likely for many months!

The Continuing Crisis of the Costa Concordia

The one-year anniversary of the grounding of the Costa Concordia was marked last month (January 13) – and the ship is still there, a vivid reminder to residents and visitors to Isola del Giglio of the miscalculation of its captain, and the loss of 32 lives.

From a crisis communications perspective, it’s “the crisis that never ends.” this month’s Smithsonian magazine’s “Fast Forward” section features the salvage operation now underway as “one of the largest ever,” and a multi-image slide show on their website illustrates the challenge:

And the tragedy’s Wikipedia entry is highlighted by the dramatic image in this post.

In none of the many articles I’ve read in the travel trades, business and general media has there been much sympathy for Costa, or its parent Carnival. The reprehensible behavior of the Captain – who left the ship before all passengers were evacuated, was ordered back by Italian maritime authorities, but refused – certainly did not paint the cruise line in a good light, in addition to the 32 confirmed deaths.

What if a Costa official had gone promptly to Isola del Giglio, to meet with and console the passengers, as well as to help in any way possible? Though not directly involved myself, I’ve heard from several journalist colleagues that they received no official word from Costa about the accident for nearly 24 hours, violating one of the primary principles of crisis communications. By that time, the story was reported worldwide, and the survivors and marine authorities were the spokespeople, not Costa or Carnival, who seemed to try to distance themselves, judging from their non-appearance.

Would these steps have mitigated the damage done to Costa – and its then-President, who subsequently lost his job – and to the cruise industry as a whole, as questions were raised about safety in general?

We’ll never know – but I believe they would have, though they may have been rejected by Costa’s legal counsel.



PR Crises of 2012 When You DON’T Want to be in the News

Catching up on my reading, I noted that Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s 12/13/12 issue featured a colorful wrap-up of the year in crisis PR, including just one tourism-related crisis: the JetBlue pilot meltdown last February, with a note about American Airline’s slide into bankruptcy ( Hey, BusinessWeek, remember the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that grounded  at Isola del Giglio last January (on Friday the 13th, to boot), with the loss of 32 lives – and is still sitting there? Guaranteed neither Costa Cruises nor its parent Carnival wanted to be in the news any more than JetBlue or American.