By Scott Sobel, MA, Media Psychology; President, Media & Communications Strategies
Members of the news media are accusing billionaire Micky Arison of having a split personality when it comes to which public face he shows as the respective leader of his two very different businesses.
Arison owns the Miami Heat basketball team and is known as a gregarious, visible, accessible and friendly sports CEO. You can see him at games and read his thoughts often on social media.
As CEO of the publicly traded Carnival Corporation, Arison’s public persona is a much smaller PR footprint, especially when the brand is suffering a reputation challenge as it is right now.
The lawsuits are starting to roll in like waves lapping against the side of the monster vacation ship Carnival Triumph, the apparent victim of an engine fire that resulted in more than 4,000 guests trapped on the disabled liner … food supplies were a problem and human waste disposal an even larger issue.
Forbes reported recently, “Carnival has not been on a lucky streak lately, to say the least. Last year one of the company’s luxury liners ran aground off the coast of Italy, killing 32 people. These two disasters taken together — last year’s being many times more awful — are the PR-equivalent of getting pantsed at the televised funeral of a patient that died on your operating table. Quite embarrassing indeed.”
Arison was also relatively quiet during the Concordia tragedy, and then again when another Carnival liner was left adrift by yet another fire two years ago.
Arison has taken a lot of heat (no basketball pun intended) from the news media accusing him of a disappearing act concerning the sometimes-volatile cruise line business. His Carnival Cruise Line CEO Gerry Cahill, however, has been put front and center in the media spotlight for the Carnival Triumph catastrophe, offering sympathy for guests and thanks for no one being injured, regardless of the lawsuits alleging the opposite … to be fair Arison did express the same sentiments on his own Tweets.
The news media did indeed take Arison to task for attending Heat games while his cruise ship Triumph floundered and the story led newscasts. Arguably, he could have waited and learned from other CEO’s and leaders who firmly planted their respective feet in their mouths by being flip during crisis. Remember the reaction to BP CEO Tony Hayward’s infamous quote about wanting “my life back” and going for a sail in 2010 while his rig Deepwater Horizon vomited oil into the Gulf of Mexico? Or, when former President George W. Bush ranted on a golf course about stopping “the terrorist killers” in 2002 and then blithely continued to play and asked reporters to watch his next drive?
Let’s look at the tale of the tape for bottom line results when the lights went out on the Carnival Triumph.
Carnival stock share value dropped a bit after the first reports of the Carnival Triumph’s power loss hit the media but things got much worse when the situation continued. The corporation’s $39 per share value dropped precipitously about two days later, falling off a cliff after Feb 12, coincidently the same timeframe when Arison attended a Heat game, probably not the best time for the CEO to be in the public eye.
The same Forbes article referenced earlier also makes another PR-related observation, “Most recently, Arison — along with Carnival Corp. Director Pier Luigi Foschini — donated a portion of his 2012 compensation to charities such as Robin Hood Relief Fund, Habitat for Humanity International, Save the Children and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Fund to Advance New York City, in support of Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. Arison, who also owns the Miami Heat basketball team, earned $6,497,785 last year, $906,400 of which came from his Carnival salary.”
Forbes continued to report: “That’s one of the ways people do try to improve their image after any kind of embarrassing situation,” said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Washington D.C.-based Chronicle of Philanthropy. Those already interested in philanthropy can use it as an image-scrubber, she added. Goldman Sachs was among banks that increased their giving following hard times.”
What are the takeaways?
A great business leader with diverse responsibilities needs to understand the differences in their businesses and game plan accordingly but recognize their personal brand reflects all of their endeavors. In Arison’s case, a pro sports team has different audiences and much less oversight than a publicly owned cruise line. The personalities and needs of their employees are also different.
Commonsensically, I don’t believe Arison’s reputation as CEO of the Heat will suffer and his association with the cruise line business won’t affect the team’s business. Sports fans are not going to boycott a LeBron James basketball game because an owner’s cruise ship may or may not be in crises, unless the CEO were to say or do something really, really callus. The Heat losing a playoff won’t keep a family from taking a Carnival cruise either.
Reporters will always want to get quotes from the leader at the very top of an organization. That leader may distance themselves from egregious circumstances to either lay blame at someone else’s feet -which generally is not well accepted by the news media, the general public and even shareholders — or to rightfully-so allow the manager closest to the situation be answerable. As witnessed by the media criticism leveled at Micky Arison, you have to be thick-skinned regardless of which visibility path you take because being out front when all is sunshine and light also raises the expectation of being equally accessible during darker times.
Scott Sobel is president of Media & Communications Strategies, Inc., a Washington, DC-based public relations firm that manages reputation and communications challenges of all kinds worldwide. He is also a former corporate public relations practitioner and major market and TV network investigative journalist. Scott has an MA In Media Psychology from Touro University Worldwide.