Profile: Bill Spears, Cunard Line; Coming out of dry dock

‘I’d always been interested in travel and there was something romantic about ships,’ says Bill Spears, recalling his decision to go to sea aged 16. Now almost 20 years later, maritime matters will once again figure large in his new job as Cunard Line’s first public relations director.

‘I’d always been interested in travel and there was something romantic

about ships,’ says Bill Spears, recalling his decision to go to sea aged

16. Now almost 20 years later, maritime matters will once again figure

large in his new job as Cunard Line’s first public relations director.



The position may test his romance with the ocean wave to the full, for

while Cunard’s image hasn’t exactly been scuttled, it has certainly been

holed. The controversy surrounding the ‘nightmare’ voyage of its

flagship the QE2 last Christmas has been a persistent irritant to Cunard

and its owner Trafalgar House throughout the past year.



The luxury cruise liner, you will recall, set sail with hundreds of

passengers on board before a major refit had been completed. Instead of

the pleasurable ‘voyage of a lifetime’ the passengers had been promised,

their trips were ruined by faulty plumbing, foul smells and debris from

building work littering the ship.



Many passengers complained vociferously to the media, which was only too

delighted to report on the fiasco, and Cunard eventually had to settle a

multi-million pound compensation claim brought by some of those on the

voyage who suffered injury or illness because of the on-board

conditions. Cunard’s response to its passengers’ initial complaints was

widely seen as high-handed and unsympathetic, only serving to stoke up

more discontent. As the negative coverage continued, Spears approached

Cunard’s owner, suggesting they should create the position of PR

director and that he was the man for the job.



‘All the furore about the refit was the trigger that prompted me to

write to Trafalgar House and take the initiative,’ says Spears.



Most of Cunard’s passengers come from the US. As a consequence its head

office is located on Manhattan’s glamorous Fifth Avenue. Spears will

relocate there in the next few months, where he will report direct to

chairman and CEO Peter Ward. One of his objectives is to see ‘PR

integrated into business decisions’. His main task will be to co-

ordinate PR on an international level.



There will also be a thorough communications review. ‘There are no

sacred cows,’ says Spears. ‘And if things aren’t delivering what they

should be, they won’t be pursued.’ Words that will chill the hearts of

under-performers as surely as an iceberg ahead of a cruise liner.



Although Spears is exhilarated at the prospect of his move to New York,

the impending change in his lifestyle will be a wrench - his parting

from these shores has occasioned the sale of his beloved 1000cc Honda

superbike. Spears is also a tennis fanatic who, for each of the last six

years, has taken two weeks of his annual leave to coincide with

Wimbledon fortnight. One hopes he will enjoy the US Open as much.



After a stint in IR at what is now drinks group Allied Domecq, Spears’

career took off as head of press relations at Guinness. The company was

still reeling from the financial scandal that engulfed it in the mid-

1980s, and Spears must take some of the credit for restoring City faith

in the company’s management. ‘In a couple of years we managed to get

from being one of the lowest rated companies to the top in terms of the

MORI rating of City opinion.’



From corporate headquarters he moved to Guinness Brewing Worldwide -

which brews in 50 countries and sells its products in 150 - where he set

up and ran its public affairs department. Rona Cameron, one-time

Guinness Brewing UK press relations manager, who has worked on ‘special

projects’ for Spears since setting up as a freelance PR consultant says:

‘He has an ability to look at every angle and take a new approach. And

he can defuse a tense situation with awful, corny jokes.’



One suspects, however, that he won’t be cracking the one that begins:

have you heard about the ship that left port before its refit was

finished?



‘Nothing ever prepares you for the first time you take control of a

ship,’ says Spears, recalling the thrill of navigating through the

Straits of Gibraltar. Does the same apply to the person taking control

of Cunard’s reputation?



HIGHLIGHTS



1977 Navigating officer, P&O

1981 Shipbroker, FT Everard

1987 Surety underwriter, Sun Alliance

1987 Corporate affairs manager, Allied Domecq

1989 Head of press relations, Guinness plc

1991 Director of public affairs, Guinness Brewing Worldwide

1995 PR director, Cunard Line



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