20 April 2005

PR latency - the ones who get it right

This morning, as I was writing the blog entry about PR latency I ran into an example of good practise.

In this case it was P&O Cruises.

Transport companies are generally better at using their websites than most other types of business. This is largely because they have learned what a crucial tool they are for crisis communications - for example when a ship breaks down or a train comes off the rails, or there's an air disaster. Indeed most airlines have a web pages already prepared for instant deployment.

This morning, flicking through urls on my browser, I spotted P&O Cruises' ship Aurora out at sea on her bridgecam. She had to abandon her world cruise in Feb because of engine problems and has been at the shipyard ever since. In the last few days she has been sea-trialling the repairs, but now the caption on the picture said she was returning to her home port, Southampton.

It raised two obvious questions: Are they happy with the repairs, IE is she working properly? And, where is she in her sailing schedule, IE is she picking up where she would be be now, at the end of her world cruise, or does she have a new itinerary?

No press release on the media page - groan! - but somebody has stuck a little link on the Aurora info page with a pop-up answering exactly those points - hooray!

(In fact I called the press office thinking it wasn't there and by the time they got back to me I had found the pop-up, written the item, published it, and was able to tell them as much, if not more than they knew)

The info should have been on their media page, but at least it was on the website. Good for them!

Like I say, transport companies do tend to be better at this than most others. Last week it was Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL). One of their ships got beaten up off the Bahamas by a freak wave. Not only did a statement appear on their website within a few hours, but the latest news was updated two or three times a day as the story unfolded (she had to put into Charleston for quick repairs and a checkover). It's not the first time NCL have got it right. A few years ago one of their ships had part of her bow torn off in a collision in the English Channel. Again, within hours there was a rolling update service on their website.

It's not just press who want info in those crisis moments. Think of all the passengers' families who want to know if they are safe; all the passengers and their travel agents with bookings on the next cruise, and the cruise after that; and all the other interested parties (victuallers, suppliers, crew, etc) . When the phone lines get swamped, the website is a company's best communication tool. The companies who recognise that tend to be the ones who make the most effective day to day use of their website for PR.

There is one latency problem that is difficult for PRs to deal with, and that's the global effect. As all online journos know, if you want to find up-to-date releases, the bestplace to look is at the regional home of the company. IE if you looking for what's happening at Qantas, got to qantas.com.au not qantas.co.uk. Usually if you pick up a story on the net, particularly from the far East/Asia/Middle East, it's no good asking a PR in London about it because your question will be the first they've heard of it. I regularly get news items first thing in the morning from Asian newsfeeds, that I don't even bother to chase in the UK. It's very hard for UK PRs with clients or head offices in the Far East to be 'on the ball' and it's not fair to expect them to be. The plus side is that at least you can make long-distance calls early in the morning and know that there'll be somebody there to answer!

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