Aborted Maiden Cruise of P&O Cruises Superliner
The maiden voyage on 1 May this year of the P&O superliner Aurora was to be the company's showcase event to launch it into the new century.
But just 16 hours into her voyage, the P&O PR team at Shandwick was alerted to a crisis of potentially titanic proportions.
Aurora suffered an overheated propeller shaft bearing and was forced to limp back to Southampton.
Shandwick's first objective was to protect the reputation of P&O as the UK's leading cruise operator, and ensure inevitable negative media coverage was minimised.
The longstanding crisis communications plan swung into action. One of the key elements was to ensure proactiveness with the media by making the cruise company's senior staff available for press interviews, which were instructed to be open and frank about the ship's problem. Another objective was to offer sympathy to those 1,600 disappointed passengers, all of whom were to be publicly offered alternative holiday plans.
As soon as Aurora arrived back in port on 3 May, a news conference was held and the media were given access to disembarking passengers and details of compensation packages. When Aurora left Hamburg on 13 May after repairs, update bulletins were issued, and another news conference was held in Southampton before the ship resumed her cruise programme, on schedule, on 15 May.
From 1-16 May, over 500 national and international news bulletins detailed Aurora's problems. The words 'breakdown' and 'embarrassment' figured highly.
However, evaluation showed the rapid response and admission of the ship's problem, and a willingness to discuss the situation frankly and honestly, had paid off, and coverage was in the main sympathetic to the situation.
The passenger's compensation packages figured highly in media coverage, showing P&O was viewed as a caring holiday provider committed to customer satisfaction.
There were no cancellations after the crisis, and bookings for the Aurora's 2000 cruise season are at 90 per cent, suggesting the reputation of the ship and the company have emerged unscathed.