MARKET FOCUS TRAVEL & TOURISM: Cruise industry full steam ahead with PR. The cruise industry has learned the importance of PR, mostly for damage control in the face of a series of crises. Now it is effectively using PR in a more positive fashion to

Ship fires. On-board crimes (including rape). Allegations of dumping.

Ship fires. On-board crimes (including rape). Allegations of dumping.

Ship fires. On-board crimes (including rape). Allegations of


A blistering series against it in The New York Times.

With a series of terrible crises, it’s been rough sailing for the cruise

industry for the past year (see PRWeek, January 31, 2000). But according

to PR pros that handle top cruise accounts, the industry is navigating

itself out of danger thanks in large part to better crisis


And now it is using PR in a more positive fashion - and more targeted

than in the past - to promote its business.

’PR is very important now that the scrutiny has intensified,’ says Lynn

Martenstein, vice president of corporate communications for cruise giant

Royal Caribbean International. Martenstein and her department had a bona

fide PR nightmare to contend with in March of last year, when the

company pleaded guilty to criminal charges of making false statements to

Coast Guard inspectors in an effort to conceal discharges of oily waste

on three separate occasions in 1994. The company was forced to pay an

dollars 18 million fine (it had already been fined dollars 9 million for

dumping two years prior).

Lou Hammond, president of New York-based Lou Hammond & Associates, has

handled public relations campaigns for the cruise industry for 15 years

and currently represents several international cruise ship companies,

including Regal China Cruises and Swan Hellenic Cruises. Hammond says

that while none of these companies directly felt the heat of these

issues, they still had to deal with the fallout. ’Anytime anything

negative happens, it hurts the entire industry - there’s a domino

effect,’ she says.

But Hammond believes that for all the scandals that were uncovered

within the past year, business was pretty much unaffected. ’I don’t

think it hurt the business,’ she says. ’It was the PR people’s job to

put out other kind of positive stories about happy people having fun on

trips, on the phenomenal growth of the industry, on new destinations and

new activities aboard ship. There are a lot of different great stories

to tell.’

Changing the public’s mind

Getting the word out to brand-new pockets of clients seems to be where

the lion’s share of the PR effort is being spent within the industry


Many PR pros agree that the biggest PR challenge the industry faces

today is changing the public’s mind about the common (but increasingly

less so) misconception that cruising is for the mature (read: sedentary)

traveler and there’s nothing to do aboard ship except wait for the

midnight buffet.

According to Rene Mack, a principal at BSMG Worldwide, 85% of travelers

have never taken a cruise. ’PR needs to position ships as ’resorts at

sea’ - true destinations that cater to people’s lifestyle interest,’

Mack says. Those interests are being reflected in the cruises of the new

millennium and range from rock climbing to ice skating and everything in


’While we still want to be in the travel section, it’s not the only

important area for placements,’ Mack says. ’These days, cruising can be

featured in every area of a newspaper, from health to cyberspace.’

Because of the increased emphasis on family activities and ships’ spa

facilities, women - and the magazines they read - have become more

important than ever. ’Women make most of the travel decisions for

vacations in this country, so it’s important that we reach them,’ says


Hammond adds: ’Public relations is changing the viewpoint of the public.

The concept of cruises has changed dramatically in the last 10 years.

And the focus should be on cruises as family-friendly trips, the cuisine

on ships and the new emphasis on spas.’

BSMG is the agency of record for Royal Caribbean International and has

been handling special projects for the cruise line since 1996 (but did

not work on crisis management last year). The agency is currently

working on the campaign for the company’s new ship, Voyager of the Seas.

The ship, slated to launch later this year, is being billed as the

world’s largest cruise ship. The campaign highlights the new PR

approaches the cruise companies are taking.

One of BSMG’s goals with Voyager was to ’dispel myths about cruising

held by the national mass-market audience,’ Mack says, adding the two

biggest myths are: ’only mature travelers take cruises’ and ’you eat 12

times a day aboard ship.’ But the major goal of the agency was to ’slice

down the product so that innovations would generate more news and reach

a national audience,’ he says.

In order to accomplish those tasks, BSMG decided to develop individually

targeted campaigns directed to various media outlets through what the

agency and client call the aggressive qualified visiting journalist


Under the program, journalists take individual or group ’fam,’ or

familiarization, trips lasting anywhere from three days to one week.

’Instead of writing about the ship from brochures or press releases, we

are letting reporters experience the ship as any other guest would,’

Mack says.

The journalists invited are not limited to those only from consumer and

trade travel magazines. ’We’re constantly reading all the new

publications to keep up to date with new columns that might offer us

placement opportunities,’ Mack says. ’It’s making our media list huge,

but we’re finding it’s working.

We’ll target an editor at Shape and focus on the ship’s fitness

programs; someone from Parenting will be pitched on the ways in which we

can keep a nine-year-old busy and entertained. That editor might even be

invited to bring a child aboard ship to experience the cruise


For Voyager, the results have included placements on the NBC Nightly

News and the Today show. NBC News received an exclusive visit to the

company’s shipyard in Finland prior to the vessel’s completion. A Today

correspondent hosted a live segment from the ship’s rock-climbing wall

and ice-skating rink. B-roll of the ship with packages of footage from

its various activity sites, including its basketball court, was produced

and distributed to national news organizations.

Positive buzz works

Mack maintains that this newly focused ’hit list’ was so effective that

nothing remotely connected to Royal Carribean’s legal troubles ever came

up in the interviews. ’The media was really interested in the news about

the ship,’ he says. ’We are creating buzz and word-of-mouth on the ship

that makes it a true news story and creates a genuine need for it to be

covered in and of itself.’

One of the PR tools that had become obsolete is the ponderous general

press release about the company and its ships. ’We don’t send general

releases anymore,’ says Mack. ’We send shorter ’items’ (on particular

ship features and activities) that have been very effective. We’ve seen

some publications run them word-for-word as news items. I think the

editors appreciate not being inundated with lengthy releases.’

’There is no longer the idea of one story fits all,’ agrees Mary

Gendron, president of New York-based Middleton & Gendron. ’There is

definitely a greater focus on lifestyle media than ever before.’

Gendron’s agency, which has handled the publicity for Celebrity Cruises

since last year, has been directing the bulk of its PR efforts to

promote the launch of the company’s new Millennium ship.

’This is the company’s major news for 2000,’ Gendron says. ’We’re

targeting a cross-section of media that includes travel, health, food,

sports and women’s magazines. For example, we’ll go after Food & Wine

and Gourmet with a story about the ship’s cuisine and talk to the beauty

editors of women’s magazines about the ship’s aqua spa. There are more

stories for us to tell with the new Millennium ship, and we want to go

the best places for each of those individual stories. There’s plenty of

great opportunities for good PR placements today.’

While many in the cruise industry insist it has weathered the tidal wave

of bad publicity and come out stronger for it, Hammond maintains the

industry is ’still in crisis mode.’ She says, ’There have been questions

raised, and we have to answer them. But the best way is to keep putting

positive stories out there and we’re all certainly doing that.’

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