Damage limited by slick handling of media

Arguments in favour of cross-Channel ferry travel do not come much less compelling than Stena Challenger's 24-hour paddle off Bleriot beach.

Increasing competition from rival operators such as Eurotunnel and, in the aftermath of the Estonia disaster, doubts about safety mean the incident could not have come at a worse time for the ferry company.

However, the public relations industry view is that, in terms of damage limitation, Stena Sealink performed with consummate skill. The contrast with Cunard's handling of its QE2 "cruise from hell" last Christmas - when the company allowed the ship to set sail on a transatlantic cruise before a re-fit had been completed - could not have been more complete.

According to Trevor Morris, managing director of the PR firm Quentin Bell Organisation, Stena Sealink were "upfront and open" about their problems. "They showed concern for their passengers and were honest. No more than that can they do. They clearly spared no expense in making their customers as comfortable as possible. They flew in a vet to look after a horse, or was it a chicken? Either way, it was a nice story and the media picked up on it."

Stena also provided free food and drink, as well as handing out mobile phones for passengers to call relatives. On arrival at Calais, the company offered the 172 passengers full refunds, free return trips, a night's free hotel accommodation and the prospect of compensation. Mr Morris added: "In three months' time, when people hear the name Stena Sealink, they will have a positive reaction rather than thinking that's the company that ran aground."

The happy outcome was greatly helped by the fact that no one was hurt. But it was also the result of slick media management.

Jim Hannah, Stena's director of communications, said that moments after the boat ran aground, an emergency plan swung into action. A chain of command was immediately established, with a list of who in the media should be contacted and in what order. Chris Laming, Mr Hannah's deputy, set up a media relations centre in Calais, while Mr Hannah and another of his team manned a support unit at Stena's HQ in Ashford providing back- up information and research.

The key difference with Cunard's handling of its crisis was the access journalists enjoyed and the ease with which they could tap into passenger woe. In contrast to the QE2 fiasco, journalists were unable to call the Stena Challenger's passengers direct. The regular means for making shore- to-ship calls, either by a BT freephone number or through the coastguard, were blocked at Stena's request.

Mr Hannah insisted there was "nothing Machiavellian" about the control of information from on-board. "It was really to make the rescue as efficient as possible. The ship was in a critical situation - all lines of communication had to be left open for the emergency services."

In helping the public forget this episode, Stena Sealink can also thank some of its rival operators. A spokeswoman for Eurotunnel said yesterday that the company would not be making any advertising capital out of the stranded passengers' beach holiday.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people

Harry Potter actor suffered 'severe flu-like symptoms' on a flight from London to Orlando

Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
News
news

Rap music mogul accused of running two men over in his truck

News
Gywneth Paltrow proposed that women seek out a special herbal steam-treatment service
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Toronto tops the charts across a range of indexes
news

World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Arts and Entertainment
tv

First full-length look is finally here

Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
Tax now accounts for ‘nearly 80%’ of the price of a bottle of whisky
news

Arts and Entertainment
Peppa Pig wearing her golden boots
film

"Oink! Oink! Hee hee hee!" First interview with the big-screen star

Life and Style
tech

Biohacking group hopes technology will lead people to think about even more dystopian uses

Arts and Entertainment
film
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Film director Martin Scorsese
film
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Data Entry Administrator

£10670 - £16640 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: Regional Gas Installation Manager - South East England

£36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Regional Gas Installation Manager is r...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service and Breakdown Engineer - South East

£29000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Service and Brea...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee