“Carnival CEO Lies Low After Crash” is the headline of yesterday morning’s story in the Wall Street Journal that asks, “Where is Micky Arison?”
The story points out how the CEO of the world’s largest cruise ship company “has largely kept himself and Carnival out of the spotlight” since the accident, permitting the CEO of Carnival’s Italian subsidiary Costa Crociere – the company that operated the doomed ship – to be the public spokesperson.
Arison, the story says, is in continuous contact with the Italian company’s executives, and has even Tweeted his personal condolences to victims and assurances that safety measures will be audited company-wide. Otherwise, notes someone identified by the WSJ as a longtime acquaintance, “He wants to distance Carnival from the disaster… If he talks, Carnival is speaking.”
Is this the right strategy? Absolutely! And if you look at the following guidelines for determining if a CEO is the right crisis spokesperson, you’ll agree:
- Is the parent company the target? In this case, the answer is no – it’s the subsidiary. If that changes, and the parent company’s reputation is threatened, the CEO should step into the fray.
- Is the suspected cause of the crisis a systemic problem or an isolated issue? Right now, it appears to be very isolated – perhaps a rogue captain who was distracted by a comely guest? On the other hand, if the cause were clearly a company-wide problem – say a failure to provide adequate training to any of its ship captains – then the CEO should speak up.
- Would having the CEO address the situation unnecessarily turn a minor incident into a larger crisis? This tragedy is already just about as worst-case for a cruise company as one could imagine – so there's no danger of escalating it.
- The flip side is this question: Does not having the CEO be the spokesperson seem like an effort to minimize a very serious crisis? Not in this case; the CEO of the operating company is the right call.
- Is the story staying in the news only because reporters are clamoring to hear from the parent company CEO? Or is the story likely to drag on for awhile on its own steam? Clearly, this story will continue regardless. On the other hand, if a statement from the CEO would stop the story in its tracks, it’s certainly worth considering.
- Finally, who is the right spokesperson? Who is the individual with the right image, attitude, interviewing skills and media training to a) best represent the organization and b) effectively handle the media? It’s hard to say in this case, but it doesn’t appear that the Italian company’s CEO is mishandling the situation, so it seems to be the right call.
I know there are differing viewpoints on if and when a CEO should be the spokesperson in a crisis. What's yours?