CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE CCO, Chris Chiames, on Weathering a Brand Through the Rough Waters of COVID-19 [Episode 29]
Chris Chiames is the Chief Communications Officer of Carnival Cruises.
As CCO, Chris reports directly to Carnival Cruise Line’s President, Christine Duffy. He oversees the company’s internal and external communications, reputation and issues management, and executive communications. Before joining Carnival in 2018, he worked as a senior communications executive mostly for major travel industry organizations including, among others, Sabre Corporation and Orbitz Worldwide. He has a master’s degree in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School as well as a master’s in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor of arts in journalism from Fresno State University.
In the interview, Chris describes some innovative ways Carnival kept in touch with its legions of devoted customers when the company was unable to run cruises for three-quarters of a full year. And he advises that the best way to be ready to communicate during an emergency is to act as though every day is a crisis along with thoughts on best practices for D&I.
Here are some key takeaways from this conversation with Chris
It’s fine to pitch yourself as a storyteller as long as your stories are relatable to financial people. In business, success is measured in financial terms and odds are good that HR, marketing, and other senior executives you are answering to and working with have financial backgrounds. That means comms people have to be comfortable with the numbers as well as the words.
Sometimes making culture more welcoming to people of different ethnicities, genders, and backgrounds are as simple as changing a word. For example, after suggesting Carnival edit the description of the onboard job position for “Hostess” to something more gender-neutral, Chris was told there weren’t any male hosts anyway. Of course, no one is likely to apply for a job with a title that excludes them.
Communicating effectively during a crisis has to start long before the emergency arrives. Every comms worker knows that advance planning is essential if you are to navigate troubled times successfully. Chris takes that a lot farther, arguing that every day is a crisis dress rehearsal. That means making sure you’re always grooming your brand’s reputation as assiduously as you would if you were actually in a crisis. A crisis is no time to try to fix a bad reputation, so do the work as far upstream as possible.
Difficult times can enable bonding among teams. Counter-intuitive? It sure sounds like it. But it’s less counter-intuitive when you consider that survivors of tumultuous times can develop a bond -- Chris describes it as a foxhole mentality – that gets its adhesive qualities from everyone doing unfamiliar jobs, having to rely on one another like never before – and not having to struggle against as much bureaucratic obstruction. Try to find time and perspective to observe the positive effects of this difficult time period on your teams’ dynamics as there may be major lessons there for less chaotic times.
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