Leadership in Ankara

Photo From: “Guard killed, journalist hurt in suicide bombing at U.S. Embassy in Turkey” By Ivan Watson and Greg Botelho, CNN

On February 1, what started as a normal day of business for US Ambassador to Turkey, Francis J. Ricciardone, swiftly changed into a nightmarish terror scenario when Ecevit Sanli, a deranged and angry 40-year-old Turkish man detonated a bomb at 1:15 pm outside the perimeter of the US Embassy in Ankara.

Ambassador Ricciardone immediately informed news sources that the guard killed was a Turkish national, later identified as Mustafa Akarsu – Kizilcahamam.  Another Turkish national, standing outside the embassy was also injured.

Beyond the horror of terror and the immediacy of a bombing crisis, both of which are profoundly increased when brave men and women lose their lives, this incident creates a well documented opportunity to observe effective leadership in the wake of terrorism and the crisis created.

Ambassador Ricciardone has an extensive background working in US Embassies in several different nations.  More importantly, prior to holding  his explicitly diplomatic roles he was the Director of the Department of Foreign Affairs’s Task Force on the Coalition Against Terrorism.  His leadership and response in the Ankara crisis display his expertise.

On three fronts Ambassador Ricciardone is successfully navigating the post-crisis opportunities and challenges that have emerged from the Ankara bombing.

First, he is working with local law enforcement in an attempt to identify, apprehend, and serve justice to whatever cell utilized Sanli as a suicide bomber.  Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has blamed the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, or DHKP-C, for planning the bombing.  The US Embassy website shows that Ambassador Ricciardone has met with the local and national Turkish authorities in order to better understand the ongoing investigation and to provide any needed assistance.

Second, Ambassador Ricciardone has been very visible and sympathetic to the central aspects of the tragedy, namely the death of the perimeter guard on duty.  Speaking at the Turkish national, Mustafa Akarsu‘s, funeral, Ambassador Ricciardone called him a ‘hero’ and mourned the loss of this ‘brave’ man and father with the late guard’s family and friends.

Third, the US Embassy website has been very open and clear concerning communication about the crisis.  It is not hard to find information about the crisis, the individuals affected, the ongoing steps to seek justice, the cooperation with local authorities, the leadership and sympathy, and the measures that will be taken to avoid such tragedy in the future.

In short, Ambassador Ricciardone is filling his leadership role in the wake of crisis exceptionally well.  He is an expert and a leader who is clearly capable of bringing order and vision to the table amongst the chaotic results of terror; it is a skill that he will hopefully not need to use again, but the type of skill imperative for an effective leader.


Cahill and the Carnival Crisis

Shortly after finally disembarking the Carnival Cruise liner Triumph, AP gathered the departing sentiments of survivor and Huston denizen, Kendall Jenkins, 24, who said “This is my first and last cruise.  So if anyone wants my free cruise, look me up.”

Carnival “Triumph”

After five days aboard the disabled Triumph passengers related experiences of their floating sojourn that ranged from very uncomfortable to outright disgusted and outraged.   Many of the more than 4,200 passengers created makeshift signs that they photographed and posted on social media sites.  Others simply tweeted, posted on facebook, texted, or made short calls to keep up to date their family and friends on every new development aboard the ship.

“We pride ourselves on providing our guests a great vacation experience,” said Gerald R. Cahill, the chief executive of Carnival, before boarding the ship on Thursday to apologize to passengers. “Clearly, we failed in this particular case.”

At 9:15pm central time on Feb 14, the Triumph docked at port in Mobile, Ala.  AP reports that all passengers were off the ship at 2:13am on Feb. 15.  Upon arrival Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill was on the scene to make a press statement and similar intercom statement to the disembarking passengers.

The NY Times reports that Cahill said “We pride ourselves on providing our guests a great vacation experience, clearly, we failed in this particular case.”  A video of Cahill’s earlier remarks during the Feb. 13 initial press conference can be seen on Carnival’s PR site.

According to an article posted on Advertising Age, CEO Cahill promised all passengers  “$500, a flight home, a full refund on their booking on the Triumph, a credit for a future cruise and reimbursement for most of their onboard purchases. The company has also secured hotel rooms in Mobile for family members of people stranded on the ship.”

The “Triumph” being towed into Mobile, Alabama

But is this enough?

Carnival’s PR team leadership seems to think so.  In a “A glance at Carnival’s decisions for disabled ship,” AP reports that “several crisis-management executives who spoke to The Associated Press said Carnival is being deliberately low-key because there is no ongoing safety threat to its other cruise ships — and because past experience has shown that these incidents don’t seem to stop people from taking cruises. ‘I think their PR is low-key because it’s appropriate, it’s worked in the past and incidents like this have not affected their business,’ said Bruce Rubin, a public relations executive in Miami. ‘I think it could cause some short-term bottom line issues because they are going to take the ship out of service. But long term, I really don’t think so.'”

Experts at Advertising Age, CNN, and other news outlets and PR firms are not so sure.  Per PR theorist W. Timothy Coombs expertise on crisis management, there still remains a third stage of management that must be completed.

Pre-crisis, plans must be put in place.  In the instance of the Triumph it is unclear whether or not there were clear plans in place.  As far as risk management is concerned, Carnival has been criticized in social media for not maintaining the ship.  Carnival accounts for nearly 49% of the cruise industry but their ships experience less than half of the engine fires (on average 4 per year) that the industry experiences on average.  According to Advertising Age, the National Transportation Safety Board will be conducting an investigation as to what was the cause of the Triumph’s engine fire, so the effectiveness of Carnival leadership’s pre-crisis planning will eventually be clarified.

Throughout the crisis experts have mixed opinions on how well Carnival dealt with the crisis.  Certainly, Carnival’s PR team was utilizing social media effectively: they have used their facebook page, used two twitter accounts, and fielded the numerous calls from more than 7,000 family members of those aboard.  Personally, reading through Twitter and Facebook, I am surprised by the transparency and openness demonstrated by Carnival throughout this Crisis.

On the other hand, Carnival’s owner, Mickey Arison, who also owns the Miami Heat, was ‘lambasted’ online, reported Advertising Age, for “sitting courtside at Tuesday night’s Miami Heat-Portland TrailBlazers basketball game as the crisis continued to unfold.”

Photo from Kalin Hill aboard the Carnival “Triumph”

Meanwhile, Kalin Hill from Houston texted AP to say that on the Triumph “the lower floors had it the worst, the floors

‘squish’ when you walk and lots of the lower rooms have flooding from above floors. Half the bachel

orette party was on two; the smell down there literally chokes you and hurts your eyes… there’s poop and urine all along the floor. The floor is

flooded with sewer water … and we had to poop in bags.”  The comparison is one that not many stakeholders missed.

So from the standpoint of leadership through this crisis, the critique boils down to this, there was some success and some failure due to blunders.

The kicker for whether Carnival successfully navigates this crisis will come during Post-crisis communication and leadership.  CEO Gerry Cahill and other board members have some difficult decisions to make.  They already have cancelled 12 future cruises, refunded those tickets, and as a result accrued great financial loss, but the coming weeks prove to be a great opportunity if Carnival leadership acts correctly.

David Bartlett, a PR expert, and CNN news opinion contributor, suggests that three things will determine whether Carnival founders or floats in this crisis in his article, “How Carnival can clean up the PR mess.

  1. “First the company must articulate real concern for passengers and clearly communicate what it is doing to make things right for customers.”
  2. “Second, the company must clearly communicate what it is doing to fix the problem and prevent anything like it from ever happening again.”
  3. “Third, Carnival must aggressively and clearly deliver these messages now, and for as long as it takes to restore the public’s trust.”

Some of these suggestions are already being worked out by Carnival leadership.  But, as Bartlett suggests, there is still a long ways to go.  It is likely that Carnival’s PR team who believes that this will simply blow over is outright wrong.  W. Timothy Coombs, preeminent expert in crisis communication certainly suggests that the post-crisis communication is what makes or breaks the change of crisis into opportunity.

Hopefully Carnival leadership can figure out its PR faux pas and baubles, and make clear communication decisions that will ensure that it is out of the hot water, sailing with many happy passengers into the beautiful blue sea.  Only its leadership can tell.

Gas and Hot Air

President Barack Obama clearly wants to encourage the increased production of green fuels and reduce the use of crude oil and fossil fuels.  According to Fox News he recently ignored a court ruling about the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2012 production standard for cellulosic biofuels, and stood by the ruling the EPA made just this month to increase the production standard.

From Yahoo News. A tractor dumps ethanol rich corn into a pile to be taken to a plant where it will be processed and refined, eventually to become cellulosic biofuel.

In 2012 the production standard was set at 8.7 million gallons. The US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia embarrassed Obama and the EPA by ruling against the requirement of this standard and reportedly reasoning that such a ruling was appropriate be the production standard set by the EPA was not based in sound reason but rather, on wishful thinking.

In response to this ruling, President Obama supports a new biofuel production standard of 14 million gallons for 2013.

Bob Greco, a director at the American Petroleum Institute is quoted as saying to Fox that the “”EPA needs a serious reality check,” [and] the mandate [is] a “stealth tax on gasoline” and an “egregious example of bad public policy.”

Greco has the facts on his side.  In 2012 no cellulosic biofuels were produced – none whatsoever.  This year there are a few plants going into cellulosic fuel production, and so spokespersons at the EPA believe that their estimate is conservative.

They responded to criticism, and the court ruling that was outright insulting and mocking, by saying that those in opposition to requiring such seemingly high production standards are simply afraid that the oil industry will be replaced.

Considering this situation from a stakeholder model of communication, there are clearly opposing interests from both groups concerning what should be executive policy.  In Effective Crisis Communicaiton, Ulmer et. al. clear and effective communication is important when stakeholders perceive that a certain policy or action is inappropriate.

Further, Ulmer et. al. would describe the method of communication being utilized by both the EPA and the White House as blame shifting.  There was clearly wrong policy endorsed by Obama’s administration according to the ruling of the US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia.  Instead of accepting this ruling, the Obama administration has chosen to move forward with federal mandates that ignore the ruling, and further to belittle those who have an opposing view of things.

Ulmer, Robert, Timothy Sellnow, and Matthew Seeger. Effective Crisis Communicaition. Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks, Ca. 2011.