The capsizing of the cruise ship Costa Concordia on Friday night off the coast of Italy is a human tragedy and a public relations crisis writ large. So far, we have seen the death toll rise to eleven passengers, with many more injured and the threat of an ecological disaster. The reaction by the cruise liner in its communications has caused a stir due to its (very quick) decision to release unsubstantiated information.

Crises, by their nature, are very unpredictable. There’s no knowing when they will strike, and no amount of preparation is a guarantee against further surprises. Based on our own experiences of helping clients through crises, they can be a daunting challenge for even the coolest head and the steadiest hand.

Having read through the reports of what happened, the most surprising part of the communications is how quick Costa was to point the finger. In a statement issued on its website, the company said, “While the investigation is on-going, preliminary indications are that there may have been significant human error on the part of the ship’s Master, Captain Francesco Schettino, which resulted in these grave consequences.”  Not giving a statement is a disaster in itself, but jumping the gun could prove to be much worse.

The public spat between the captain and the cruise line operator will be seen as insensitive and ill-timed, having occurred before any official investigation was carried out to determine what actually happened. This does nothing for the survivors, the families of those still missing, not to mention Costa’s overall reputation.

Hindsight is 20/20 and it’s easy, from a comfortable distance, to critique how a company handled a PR crisis. But some things on the Costa Corcondia update page, reading in chronological order, may have resulted in more questions than answers. For example, there was a four-hour gap between their first official statement and the acknowledgment of a tragedy. That said, “victims” are referred to in the second statement without any prior mention of fatalities. In addition, the emergency contact details for families were not issued until (an agonising) eleven hours after the accident. There was also no human face stepping forward early on, to express the compassion and grief that was only referenced in their press statements.

Our best advice for companies in this situation is to be in possession of the full facts. For any company who unfortunately finds itself in the midst of a crisis, it’s about knowing exactly what has happened. Ensure the chief executive is available (a spokesperson of this level of seniority is the most appropriate in such cases) and provides regular updates. Make sure that only information that is factual and accurate is relayed. The company should do all it can to help the people affected, putting lives first over commercial interests.

The blame game is a dangerous route to take. It creates the impression that a company will jump to conclusions before all the facts are known. In Costa’s case, the cruise ship’s black box has still not been released and investigators haven’t reached a definitive conclusion. In addition, what if investigations conclude that the captain was not to blame and lack of training or an engine failure was the reason?

Crisis comms is often judged on the quality of the information, timeliness of response, the channels of communications used, and the (promised) actions taken. Only time will tell whether Costa got the first part right.

It’s getting so close to Christmas that here at Firefly, we’re straining our ears for Santa and in true, highly- organised fashion, we’ve made a list of the top 12 gifts that should be on every well-behaved PR boy and PR girl’s list this year.

1. Emergency Phone Charger: you’re at a conference and pick up your phone, only to realise that you forgot to charge it. Panic hits, the sweats start. “What if (insert name of your most elusive, top tier journo here) is finally returning my call??” Never fear: this little helper means you’re just a fully-charged battery away from total PR world domination.

2. The iPad: multi-tasking is the ultimate PR skill, enabling you to email a colleague, phone your client, finish a press release, or Tweet (work-related, of course), whilst drinking your body weight in caffeine. The iPad helps you do nearly all this, from one device; and they’re probably working on a coffee barista app, already.

3. Lie Detector Kit: to be used on clients to make sure they will stick to deadlines, or on journos to ensure the (good) story will run when they say it will. Also handy for cheating partners.

4. Cross Townsend Rollerball Pen: iPads are all very well, but you can’t use them to deface your client’s no. 1 competitor’s glowing coverage in the Metro on your commute to work.

5 The iPhone 4S: because it’s top of the range, darling.

6. An iPhone Cover: would you turn up naked to a client meeting? Didn’t think so. Hence, imbue your iPhone with modesty via a classy cover-up. It also comes with a handy notepad for those brilliant ideas you’re constantly coming up with.

7. Vivienne Westwood Derby Laptop Holder: you’ve covered your iPhone, so why should your laptop not be draped in luxury, too?

8. USB Computer Laptop Vacuum Keyboard Cleaner: for hoovering up crumbs from all those Tesco  sandwiches you inevitably end up eating whilst sat in front of your computer for lunch…and dinner…and breakfast.

9. Oxygen Instant Energizing Eye Mask: working all day and partying all night really do take their toll. On your face. Pop a couple of these on and no one will ever know you slept under your desk all week.

10. An iTunes Gift Card: ever wanted a motivational coach right in your pocket? (Not literally, of course.) Rehearsal 2, the iPad or iPhone application, will make sure you are pitch-perfect for that new biz presentation.

11. Massage Chair: dreading that conference call? Recline on this and provide counsel in pure pleasure…just make sure you’re on mute if using one of the noisier settings.

12. Hangover Kit: team drinks, client drinks, Christmas parties, networking dos: life’s hard for a PR pro. But this kit will erase the tell-tale signs of too many nights propping up the bar. But then again, how would you know?

Following on from our recent post on PR top tips, “how to reach Screenagers”, we were intrigued to learn about how fast digital maturity is catching on around the world for this group of savvy young communicators.

According to a Digital Diaries survey, by the time most kids in the west turn 11, they have already moved onto mainstream social networks like Facebook and Twitter. In Italy and Spain, digital maturity starts as young as 10 (wow), a time when many of us Fireflies remember playing ‘I Spy’ or ‘Hopscotch’!

This young and very unique generation represents a new consumer force, with their buying, spending, trendspotting and trendsetting prowess. They are the first to be fully ‘wired’, meaning they cannot be ignored anymore and need to be fully understood in order to be reached. PR consultants need to ensure that any campaigns are tailored to, and suitable for, this audience.

Young people definitely have much greater awareness of what’s going on around them now, than they did eight years ago. They’re seeing the news on their computers and cell phones. They also have the latest products, the trendiest fashions (you only had to look at the number of teenagers queuing outside H&M stores for the Versace launch recently); and now, the must-have Christmas present is the iPad.

Marketing to this generation is something to be handled with care. For one, brands need to ensure that any campaigns adhere to CIPR guidelines regarding direct communication with children. However, with this age group being as digitally savvy as they are, there is certain inevitability in them being touched by many large-scale PR or marketing campaigns. So bearing this in mind, here are our tips on how to do it properly:

Are you trying to reach Generation Y? Make sure you talk to us about how we can help with understanding and reaching this audience.

Is it time to shape your reputation?

We operate in London, Paris and Munich, and have a network of like-minded partners across the globe.

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