CAMPAIGN: Cunard ship launch passes 'acid test' - Travel PR

Campaign: Project Queen Mary Client: Cunard Line PR team: In-house Timescale: Nov 2000- January 2004 Budget: Understood to be c. £200,000

The Queen Mary 2 was the brainchild of cruise company Carnival chairman Micky Arison, who decided to build a new transatlantic liner during negotiations before the June 1998 takeover of Cunard. The idea was to build on the success of its sister ship the Queen Elizabeth 2, present it with some competition and, eventually, replace it.

When it first sailed, on 12 January this year, the QM2 was the first new transatlantic liner in the world since the QE2 was launched in 1967.


To ensure the QM2 was the most famous ship in the world before its maiden voyage. To establish the ship's credentials as the new flagship of the British merchant fleet. To build sales.

Strategy and Plan

The team decided to emphasise that the ship is the longest, widest, highest and most expensive (£550m) passenger liner ever built, stress its status as a transatlantic liner and highlight its British captain, officers and registration.

Cunard's PR team picked key points during construction, up to and including her arrival at Southampton on 26 December 2003. Each time, the team organised major press functions for 50 or more journalists from national and regional newspapers, broadcast media and trade press.

To coincide with these, Cunard released a stream of stories about the suppliers of the ship and her facilities.

Releases about the ship's health spa were targeted at health reporters on national dailies; those about its 90,000 pieces of Wedgwood crockery went to the hotel and catering press. A core group of contacts receieved all releases.

In summer 2003, the team contacted national broadcast media and news agencies to find out what they were interested in, then tailored their releases.

Selected journalists had been invited to join the ship as it entered home port Southampton on 26 December 2003, and helicopters were due to be laid on to facilitate the coverage. Although low cloud led to the helicopters being cancelled, pictures still made it into every national newspaper, onto terrestrial TV and on Sky News.

The editors of national and regional daily newspapers and magazines were invited to a press conference on 7 January 2004, the day before the naming ceremony. Cunard president Pamela Conover and Arison took questions, as well as QM2 captain Commodore Ron Warwick, son of the QE2's first captain.

The naming ceremony was attended by the Queen and 2,800 people. Every national newspaper editor was invited, as well as 200 other journalists.

The campaign was not without incident. When two women broke their legs on the ship's first 'shakedown' cruise, the team's immediate strategy was to confirm facts and correct errors.

The same strategy applied to the tragic accident involving a gantry at the dry dock, which collapsed on 15 November 2003 during a staff and family visit, killing 15 people and injuring 30. The gantry was built by the St Nazaire shipyard, but Cunard also fielded inquiries.

Measurement and Evaluation

The campaign generated massive media interest. In the week following the QM2's launch, 700 stories appeared in national and regional daily newspapers. The story gained around 800 mentions on radio and 250 on TV.

Most stories were positive. Some described the QM2's decor as 'tacky' or 'kitsch' and complained that the cabins were too small, but Cunard estimates that such negative opinions represented about ten per cent of the coverage. If events such as the accidents are also considered, about 30 per cent of the coverage was negative.


Berths for the maiden voyage sold out within 24 hours of going on sale on 27 June 2001, and are fully booked until May this year. Bookings per day for Cunard as a whole in the week the liner set sail were three times their level in the same week last year in the UK, and double that in the US. Sixty per cent of QM2 bookings are from people who have never sailed with Cunard before.

'Cunard's press team provided a reasonable amount of help and support,' says Mail on Sunday travel editor Frank Barrett. 'It got quite overloaded and had some bad luck with the gantry accident. There was some disgruntlement at the naming because it took longer than expected to get on the ship, but the ceremony was amazing.'

Southampton's Southern Daily Echo shipping editor Keith Hamilton disagrees.

'I think that's a bit nit-picking,' he says. 'I was able to follow the story from when the first piece of steel was cut to getting on and coming into port. We had access to people from the president down to the welders.

We were very happy with Cunard.'

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in