Friday, 13 April 2012

A PR disaster


The media has inevitably been buzzing this week with features and coverage of the Centenary of the sinking of the Titanic. At the risk of jumping on the bandwagon, it’s a story that has caught the interest of the MCC International office (not least because we are based only a few miles from Southampton Docks where the ill-fated liner sailed into history and infamy) - we could scarcely ignore the press buzz around both the sinking and the Centenary activities. Because of its place in history and the surprisingly well developed media of 1912, Titanic has often cropped up as a case study in PR nightmares. Owner White Star Line never truly recovered its image from the sinking with public attention drawn to the lack of lifeboats, the disarray over safety protocols and the very well-publicised escape in a lifeboat by the company Chairman J. Bruce Ismay, (ahead of many other passengers including women and children) as one of only 710 people who survived out of the 2,224 passengers who set sail. If the disaster happened today the fallout from the sinking (and probable corporate manslaughter case) would leave the press dining on the news for years. White Star Lines had already courted media attention on the other end of the scale to raise the prestige of the Titanic (and its sister ship the Olympic) for their luxury and speedy Atlantic crossings. But the sad truth is a disaster makes bigger news headlines (look at the recent Costa Condoria disaster to see that shipping tragedies still make worldwide headlines) and it’s a reminder that public relations aren’t something any organisation can ignore – we can all be subject to public scrutiny in the right circumstances. Looking at how the media has diversified in the last 100 years (along with print media there is radio, TV and of course the vast online world) it’s not hard to see that dealing with the PR fallout from a disaster has become even more of a challenge today, which is why we encourage our clients to have plans in place if the worst happens.

Sticking with the Titanic theme for a moment, but from a technology point of view, we were intrigued to see a BBC News story this week on the amount of telegraph message traffic that was active during the fateful hours during and following the sinking. Undoubtedly the Titanic and her sister ships were at the forefront of cruise ship design and cutting-edge technology at the time, shining examples of man’s supposed mastery over the sea, enveloping all the luxuries and technology available at the time. Guglielmo Marconi had only sent the first wireless radio signal in 1896 and yet shipping was extensively using the system to make contact with the land and other ships in 1912. It would have been as exciting then as speaking to people in space now, seemingly limitless communications anywhere to the outside world. The nature of the telegraph messages on that fateful night are intriguing too, ordinary, remarkable, ordered, desperate – very much the kind of message people would send now in just the same position (probably as a Tweet or Facebook update) and an eye opener that these were just normal people like us living (and dying) in an extraordinary situation.

Moving forward a hundred years, at MCC International we’re always interested (and sometimes amused!) to discover the latest technology ‘buzzwords’ and this week Marketing Week has published an article looking at the phrases it believes will be prominent this year. We normally suggest our clients steer clear of jargon as the press often suspects it may be a smokescreen for weak products or services, but surely there has to be a place in any piece of PR or Marketing copy for ‘Likeonomics’ and ‘Tradigital’?!
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