“If something can go wrong, it will“, says one of Murphy’s laws. A crisis is a major occurrence with a potentially negative outcome affecting the organization, company, industry, publics, products, services or good name. A crisis interrupts normal business transactions and can sometimes threaten the existence of the organization.
Almost 100 years ago, in 1912, the British had to deal with one of the well known crisis: the sinking of the Titanic.
As everyone knows, Titanic was one of several ships of the White Star Line. In that time, the first competitor of White Star was the Cunard Line, which had two ships: the Luisitania and the Mauritania. White Star placed itself as the best ship-building company; the size, elegance, sumptuousness and safety were its main characteristics.
In 1910, White Star Line had three ships to launch – the Olympic, the Titanic and the Gigantic. Great publicity was made to promote these luxurious ships. Titanic was called “the largest moving object in the world”. A promotional brochure claimed the Olympic and the Titanic “designed to be unsinkable”.
Titanic personnel were chosen to appeal to a celebrated and wealthy clientele. The Captain, E.J.Smith, was the highest-paid captain on the seas.
With such a fully equipped ship and the best personnel, they didn’t find necessary to develop a crisis management plan (CMP) or a crisis communication plan (CCP). The ship couldn’t sink, as they said, and nothing could possibly happen. There were medical facilities, for a worst case scenario and if help needed, personnel could radio other ships.
What would have happened if it existed that time a CMP ?
A CMP would have detailed what would be done in the event of fire and other tragedies-how evacuation would take place, how to conduct practice drills for the crew and possibly passengers, who would lower the lifeboats, who would ensure that passengers were guided safely to the closest lifeboats and ships, who would contact persons ashore by radio, when crew members would save themselves, and so on. A CMP would also include making sure effective insurance policies were in place.
The CMP would include the crisis communication plan. This means it would include notification of the home office, where personnel acting as public relations professionals would in turn notify the press, White Star Line executives and employees and passenger’s relatives. The CCP would also include the details about who would be the spokesperson. In Titanic case, Capt. Smith could have been the best person if he had survived, but Smith went down with the ship. However, the managing director of White Star, J. Bruce Ismay, was abroad, survived, and was rescued from a lifeboat sent from the Carpathia.
As media communications, there were two persons involved from White Star. Harold Bride, a radio operator on the Titanic who worked for Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company, one of the survivors picked up by Carpathia. He wrote the first account of the tragedy that he sent to the New York Times by wire from the rescue ship. Phillip A.S. Franklin, who had been hired to head White Star’s New York office, called together a kind of crisis communication team.
Headlines after the tragedy
The morning before the sinking, New York Times ran a story announcing that the “The New Giantess Titanic” would soon arrive in New York, as part of a PR campaign of brand-awareness.
Other newspapers’ headline indicated that the editors were much less aware of accurate details of the story. Many newspapers assumed that the passengers were rescued, if not everyone, the majority. After the first press conference, the journalists were so amazed of the official news that the Titanic sank, that they all left to call the news and not hear the rest of the details.
Beyond the tragedy and the impressive amount of lives lost in the accident, after 100 years, the Titanic still remains an interesting subject to discuss, from many points of view.