High profile incidents in 2012 and 2013, including the sinking of the Costa Concordia resulting in the deaths of 32 passengers and the infamous Carnival “poop cruise,” shook consumer confidence in Carnival Corporation and its nine cruise line brands, including Carnival Cruise Lines and Costa. While the entire cruise industry had a rocky year, much of the negative publicity targeted Carnival. Not surprisingly, bookings dropped, revenue sagged and the reputation of the corporation and its brands suffered – with brand perception dropping by as much as 50 points at its lowest point (YouGov BrandIndex). Hindering recovery was the organization’s autonomous structure – all brands operated independently (even competing with each other), so they did not collaborate, cooperate or communicate as a global entity. In fact, Carnival Corporation did not have a corporate communications function (it only had brand-specific demand-generation-focused communicators within each operating company). In the midst of the turmoil, Carnival Corporation’s CEO stepped down and was replaced by board member Arnold Donald, who had not run a travel company previously. A new leadership team was put in place and the corporation brought in Chief Communications Officer to help tackle head on the recovery of the company’s reputation. According to an ongoing YouGov BrandIndex study, Carnival’s consumer brand reputation fell by as much as 50 points by In a comprehensive news and social media analysis comparing Carnival, its brands and competitive cruise brands, Carnival had a higher Share of Voice than competitors, but predictably a significant portion of that (24%) reflected a negative sentiment (openly critical of the company and issues management). It was imperative to change the conversation about Carnival and improve the reputation of the company. Coverage analysis from early 2013 determined a small group of media – approximately 30 general news/business and trade media – were driving the negative news agenda.
The communications team moved quickly to establish a four-point communications strategy. 1. For the first time ever, define the corporate story around key pillars that matter to stakeholders, passengers and crew 2. Launch a “good news” storytelling campaign to improve perceptions of Carnival, change the conversation about the company, support cruise purchase consideration and ultimately create a “pillow” of good news to help soften the blow of any additional negative news coverage 3. Understanding they were driving the majority of the negative Carnival news coverage, cultivate relationships with the most influential media by discussing the issues – tackling them head-on – and communicating the positive things the company was doing to improve 4. Position the new CEO as a dynamic leader, change agent and collaborator and use his first year at the helm as a platform to broadly communicate his strategy to leverage Carnival’s scale as the largest cruise operator in the world to improve guest experiences The communications team built a storyline around the CEO's turnaround plan to “leverage scale across brands (global growth);” “technology;” “sustainability;” and “community.” From there, the team: • Instituted a storytelling model for “good news” stories not previously told by the company • Carefully cultivated relationships with the 30 global media outlets identified as “most influential” to fill the pipeline with good news that could influence other media stories • Used the good news stories as a platform for quarterly CEO media calls to discuss the company’s progress and underscore efforts to leverage scale to improve guest experiences • Built on the changing media conversation about Carnival Corporation by directing media focus toward the company’s global growth story, including massive expansion in China and Australia • Developed a new corporate website to serve as a central hub for advanced storytelling (launching soon) and engagement
1. Mitigate negative news coverage and increase “good news” storytelling to change conversation about Carnival & its brands o GOAL: Improve brand reputation by 50%; RESULT: 85.6% improvement in brand reputation o GOAL: Reduce negative Share of Voice by 50%; RESULT: 75% reduction in negative Share of Voice By mid-2014, YouGov's BrandIndex declared Carnival “the most-improved U.S. brand in consumer perception,” writing that, “for Carnival to recover to its previous perception levels (took) half the amount it took both BP and Toyota with their respective problems.” The communications team drove the volume of negative Share of Voice down to 6% (a 75% decrease). Some highlights: • More than 50 news stories about new CEO Donald, dubbed by Associated Press as “The Man Charged with Fixing Cruise Giant Carnival,” reached 135 million people • An environmental story had 344 placements, audience of 336 million, 173 social mentions • Feature stories about Carnival’s “good news” in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Washington Post, HuffingtonPost.com, CNBC, MSN.com, ABC News, CBS News, Bloomberg Businessweek, USA Today and Yahoo! News, to name a few 2. Support business demand-generation efforts by repositioning Carnival and its brands as safe, well-run operations to bring back loyal cruisers and attract first-time cruisers o GOAL: Contribute to 10-point increase in purchase consideration; RESULT: 16-point increase in purchase consideration (60% above goal) YouGov BrandIndex wrote, “While Carnival’s perception comeback is impressive, it is accompanied with rising purchase consideration levels,” even noting that “(Carnival’s) sales potential with consumers has rebounded above the rest of the cruise sector.” As evidence of these findings, business results, the most critical metric in determining consumer sentiment, have been exceptional: o Net income of $1.2 billion 3Q 2014 vs. $1.1 billion 3Q 2013 o Revenue of $4.9 billion 3Q 2014 vs. $4.7 billion 3Q 2013