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The Case: Spree Cruise Lines
At 9:00 a.m. on Monday, Tara Hoopes, manager of corporate communications for Spree Cruise Lines, arrived at her office at Spree’s corporate headquarters to find several messages already in her inbox. The New Orleans city attorney, Mike Litke, had contacted several people at corporate headquarters, suggesting that the company may be liable for damages to two buildings close to where their latest cruise vessel had launched, and people in the company wanted to know how to approach discussing the situation with him and others.
Please call the investor relationsoffice at ext. 3620—need todiscuss the upcoming shareholdermeeting.
Please call the City Attorney in New Orleans—she’s claiming that several small, historic buildings incurred foundation and mortar damage yesterday. Thinks it might have been
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The 750-foot Sensation had set sail from New Orleans on Sunday afternoon, bound for a five-night cruise to Cozumel and Cancun. Tara checked the statistics on the vessel and its itinerary:
- Built in 1994, cruising speed 20 knots, gross tonnage 50,000, slated for dry-dock repairs in several months.
- Carrying 1,200 passengers on board, mostly U.S. Americans, about 35 percent under age 35, 40 percent between the ages of 35 and 55, and the remainder senior citizens.
- Staffed by Captain Hernan Galati, Chief Engineer Scotty Ferguson, and veteran Cruise Director Ned Carnahan. Additional staff on board: 650 crew members representing 20 countries.
- Cruising to Cozumel with a Sunday departure, followed by a day at sea on Monday and arrival in Cozumel on Tuesday morning. On Tuesday night, was scheduled to depart for Cancun, docking there all day Wednesday before returning to New Orleans on Friday
Tara reached for the phone just as it rang. Ned Carnahan and Captain Galati were on the line. Before she could tell them about the full situation in New Orleans, they presented her with some problems of their own.
Sunday Night Aboard the Sensation
Ron and Marilyn Nelson stood on the stern deck, enjoying the view. It had been an exciting day, watching the huge ship dwarf the buildings on shore as they departed New Orleans. They had already explored the ship, delighted to find an Internet café, a sushi bar, two pools, and the rock-climbing wall. They had listened carefully to the announcements over the ship’s public address system and had skimmed the Spree Fun, the ship’s newsletter, which listed a wide array of excursions to book before their arrival on shore. As they had waited in line to book their excursions, Marilyn noticed the weather maps hanging on the wall in the main deck lobby.
“Looks like a tropical storm over in the Bay of Campeche,” she noted.
“Don’t worry,” Ron said. “This is a huge vessel, and its engines are strong enough to outrun any storm!” Ron was an ocean engineer by trade, and he was an authority on anything that floated on or happened under water. He added, “We’re on vacation—let’s enjoy it!”
They booked a catamaran sail/snorkel trip and a horseback-riding excursionto visit the Mayan ruins at Tulum, leaving plenty of time for shopping inCozumel and Cancun.
Now, standing on the stern of the vessel, there was no evidence of a storm. Ron and Marilyn watched the two wakes made by the twin engines—frothy white foam that trailed from the ship into a moonlit sea. They went down the back staircase into a quiet, unused bar and lounge area. The glassware on the metal shelving was clinking together loudly, making an eerie echo across the room. Other parts of the ship were noisy with the voices of excited passengers, but as they passed into the quiet cigar lounge, they could clearly hear a loud, rhythmic bumping sound. Ron remarked, “There is something wrong here; it sounds like the dual engine props aren’t synchronized.”
Later that night, Marilyn could not sleep. It seemed that the vibration was getting worse and the plastic grids over the lighting system in the cabin were rattling loudly. Concerned, she got up and went to the Internet café to check information about cruise ships. Were they meant to make so much noise? She chatted with a couple of friends online, who told her that they hadn’t had noise like that on their cruises, which only worried her more. Finally, she posted to her Facebook status: “Listening to the loud vibration on the Sensation —been going on for hours. Should I be worried?” Responses began coming in quickly, and soon Marilyn’s network was re-posting the news in other places. The buzz had begun.
In the Captain’s Quarters
At 6:00 a.m. Monday morning, Scotty Ferguson, chief engineer, knocked at Captain Galati’s door. He said, “Sir, the propulsion unit running the left engine prop won’t hold up—we’ve got to shut it down. Running it could result in permanent damage, but we might have to restart if we need the full 20-knot engine speed to outrun the storm later in the cruise.”
“Scotty, are you sure?” asked the captain. “It will take us three days to reach Cozumel if we travel on half power. And we’ll have to skip Cancun and turn right around to get back to dock by Friday. The guests have already booked their on-shore excursions. Let’s get
Ned up here.” Ned, the cruise director, grumbled to himself as his stateroom phone rang. He thought to himself, Just one last cruise on this old ship; corporate promised I could move to a European route if I just finished this one last cruise. He spoke briefly with the captain and told him he would be right up.
On his way to the captain’s quarters, he thought about what Captain Galati had told him, and his mind worked quickly—I think we’d better call Tara at corporate, tell the passengers, refund or reschedule all the on-shore excursions, monitor the Internet café to see how many people have already contacted travel agents to disembark in Cozumel—and what about that storm?
Even though passenger tickets clearly stated that itinerary changes could occur and that Spree would reimburse only $30 per person, it was Ned’s job to keep the passengers happy—not to mention what this could mean for Sensation’s future marketing plans. He was already calculating the financial impact to the cruise line and he couldn’t help wondering if the minor engine troubles on the last cruise hadn’t been properly repaired.
Tara’s Phone Call
“Hello, Tara, we’ve got a delicate situation here,” Ned said.Captain Galati interrupted, “We have to shut down one engine immediately;I know the passengers will be upset, but the integrity of the ship is myfirst concern.”
“Of course, Captain,” Tara said. “Tell me what’s going on.” They reported the damage to the engine’s propulsion system and their decision to shut down one engine and reduce their cruising speed to 10 knots. The arrival into Cozumel would be delayed; rather than arriving at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, they would most likely arrive at 4:00 p.m. To ensure a timely return to New Orleans by Friday, they would have to depart Cozumel at 2:00 a.m. Wednesday, skipping the Cancun destination altogether and cruising straight through.
Tara’s cell buzzed; her boss had sent a text. “Check Twitter buzz on Sensation —we have a problem.” A quick search showed her that the passengers were aware of the potential problem already; they’d been buzzing about it all night. And then there was the city attorney.
Tara thought for a moment. “Ned, Captain Galati, we have a bigger problem than you might realize. Your passengers have already been talking to friends and family about the noise, and people on shore are getting worried. The city attorney here is also suggesting that our ship may have damaged some buildings as it left port. There’s a lot at stake for Spree here. I think we’d better talk about how best to approach the situation.”
- Identify all of the key audiences for the communication surrounding this incident. What do you know about each of them? Are there other audiences linked to this audience, either as secondary or “future” audiences?
- Answer the following questions about the audiences identified in question 1.
- What is the message you want to send to each key audience?
- What information does the audience already know and what information do they need or want to have about the situation?
- How does this audience feel at this point and how would you like them to feel at the conclusion of the situation or after receiving your communication?
- How will you motivate or persuade them to accept your messages?
- Develop a communication strategy considering the following questions:
- What are your key objectives for this communication? (Consider personal as well as departmental and corporate objectives.)
- Who is the best spokesperson to deliver this message and why? What other people could serve as spokespersons?
- What is the best channel, or medium, to use to communicate with this audience? Also consider the option of using several channels for these communications.
- When is the best time to communicate the information?
- Are there cultural or other contextual considerations you should keep in mind?
- How will you know if your communication has been successful?