Cunard Lines is trawling for a PR firm to manage a new consumer,
corporate and crisis PR brief in an attempt to rescue its battered
Eric Flounders, PR manager for UK and Ireland at the Trafalgar House
subsidiary, has shortlisted six agencies to pitch at the end of June.
Cunard’s media relations and crisis management have been handled mainly
in-house by Flounders’ team of three.
The division has tackled a series of widely reported PR catastrophes
over the past two years, including the disastrous QE2 ‘building site
cruise’ after a refit in 1994.
In an bid to improve media relations, last August Cunard hired London-
based travel PR specialists Ann Scott Associates for a seven month
project to organise press tours of its ships. Flounders describes the
arrangement as a ‘partial success’.
‘The new brief will include escorting press groups,’ Flounders
explained. ‘But there is also a large volume of work and full blown
crises, although I’m not saying we are expecting more of those.’
The ill-fated refit cruise of the QE2, once the jewel in Cunard’s crown,
was widely described in the press as a ‘PR disaster’ with the company
paying out millions to disgruntled travellers.
In an article for PR Week, Flounders likened his team’s efforts to
tackle the crisis as ‘like trying to pee on the Great Fire of London’.
Following the refit, Cunard’s image has continued to suffer. In February
its liner Sagafjord was crippled by a fire in the South China Sea and
last month its ship the Royal Viking Sun struck a coral reef in the Gulf
Kvaerner, the Norwegian shipping giant which bought Trafalgar House in
March, has yet to find a buyer for Cunard, which is valued at around
pounds 230 million, although P&O is reported as being interested. ‘We
have had quite a few ripples on the pond in the last few months,’
Cunard is expected to announce the appointment of a senior PR executive
in the next few weeks.