Campaigns: QE2 sails into calmer waters - Media Relations

Client: Cunard
PR Team: Cunard in-house team/A&P in-house team/Lexis PR
Campaign: 1996 Refit of QE2
Timescale: October - December 1996
Budget: pounds 19,000

Client: Cunard

PR Team: Cunard in-house team/A&P in-house team/Lexis PR

Campaign: 1996 Refit of QE2

Timescale: October - December 1996

Budget: pounds 19,000

Luxury cruise operator Cunard’s last refit of the QE2 liner in 1994 will

go down as one of the PR disasters of the 1990s.

The press revelled in passengers’ tales of their ’cruise from hell’

(Daily Mirror) on an unfinished ship in which sharp edges snagged ball

gowns, toilets didn’t flush and cabins became paddling pools.

Cunard was subsequently criticised for reacting to, rather than

controlling, passenger complaints and the fiasco was extended over a

whole media month.

So, for the 1996 refit, Cunard was understandably keen to avoid another

drubbing. In the summer of 1996 it had appointed Robyn Griffith-Jones,

former head of marketing and PR for the V&A museum, to the new role of

head of communications, and it retained agency Lexis PR.


To minimise potential negative coverage and ensure the media’s treatment

of the refit was as positive and accurate as possible.


Cunard ensured that the PR implications of all activities were

understood internally and were part of the decision-making process at

the highest level. It made efforts to integrate its own communications

resources with those of A&P, the shipyard handling the refit, to create

a more tightly controlled team. Lexis was involved in regular meetings

to provide issues management support.

The agreed strategy was to be open and honest with the media, admitting

that it had got it wrong in 1994. The team organised briefings with the

Sunday Times and trade publication Lloyd’s List to explain the refit

process and create a broader public understanding should the refit

overrun. There was a deliberate attempt to focus media attention on the

activity of refit rather than Cunard itself.

No Cunard staff, crew or contractors were allowed to speak to

journalists without approval from the communications team and key

spokespeople were media-trained. Up-to-date footage of the ship was

given to TV crews with factual briefing packs.

The team organised a media briefing at the A&P shipyard on QE2’s

(slightly delayed) entry into dry dock, creating photographic

opportunities. A 24-hour PR presence was maintained during the refit to

liaise with inquisitive journalists. On completion of the refit, a press

conference was held on board.


National TV, radio and press covered the QE2 entering dry dock with

inevitable references to 1994, but this time with Cunard or A&P comment

about the preparations.

The main TV news programmes covered the completion of the refit and

featured Cunard spokespeople. News at Ten ran a nationalistic piece with

the famous Big Ben chimes replaced by the QE2 horn. Regional BBC and ITV

bulletins used live links with Cunard spokespeople. Although the press

wrote about the delay in going into dry dock, they wrote little about

the completion of the project.


A clear case of once bitten, twice shy. But it seems Cunard learned its

1994 lesson well. The preparation was thorough, the strategy to focus on

operational issues was sound and the hungry media were held largely at


Griffith Jones says: ’Until two days before she came out of dock we

didn’t know whether the refit was going to be a success, so we had to

plan for either eventuality.’ Fortunately for Cunard ’Plan B’ was never


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