Evaluation: sometimes forgotten but always necessary

I have been doing research for a PR ethics case study. After my research, I realized how important evaluation is in a communication plan. Although the assignment was to analyze ethical issues surrounding the case; I kept thinking about how different the results would have been if they had just analyzed the evaluation of their communication efforts. I feel like evaluation is a step often downplayed until things go really wrong or have adverse effects.

For my case study I chose to research Carnival Cruise Lines and if you don’t know already, they have not done well thus far during a crisis. When the first crisis occurred off the shores in Italy, where the Costa Concordia partially sank resulting in deaths, Carnival had very little communication with outside publics about the situation at hand.

Nearly one year later, another ship the Triumph was left stranded in the middle of the ocean for four days. Passengers were forced from their rooms due to the heat and the fact that raw sewage was overflowing out into the hallways. They were reduced to using biohazard bags instead of the bathrooms and eat a lame excuse for a sandwiches consisting of mustard and tiny pieces of ham.

The PR team responded very fast this time with a web page, Facebook page and Twitter responses dedicated to the crisis. Like in Concordia’s case they also offered compensation, but people were still outraged. After passengers were returned safely, Carnival quit responding and closed communication. Their communication efforts during the crisis were almost meaningless at this point.

It goes to show you that even when you follow a PR crisis communication plan you can still receive backlash. It also shows you to evaluate and re-evaluate your communication plan. Carnival didn’t think about what to do after people were returned. The crisis turned from getting the people back safely to making them happy after going through a “cruise from hell.”

It’s hard to please 3,000 people, but Carnival could at the very least communicate with the media or through their own media their reasoning for their actions. Everyone was left with questions where the only answer they were given was that Carnival offered more than what they were legally obligated. As you can imagine this left a bitter taste in their mouths and it wasn’t the raw sewage they lived in for four days.

After evaluation of their crisis communication effort I realized that Carnival basically cut their efforts short. They should have carried out the plan until all questions and problems were resolved. From first glance Carnival appears to be doing the right things, but in reality they dropped the ball in the end and lost the game.

Though the cruise line suffered minimally it caused other people to doubt not just the safety of Carnival Cruise Liners but cruise liners everywhere. If they would have evaluated their effort immediately they would have been able to fix the problem before the crisis became an even bigger crisis. Instead they fueled the crisis monster by shutting off communication and referring them to a lawyer.

Bottom line: Evaluation always matters, even when efforts are successful. In life a crisis is impossible to predict and every scenario will be different. However, you are obviously not evaluating your efforts if a similar crisis continues to occur. Things don’t always go right the first time. In fact I would bet money that they rarely do. 

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