What led to the PR debacle around Jumbo capsizing?

What led to the PR debacle around Jumbo capsizing?

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Jumbo Floating Restaurant has dominated headlines in recent times with confusion arising on whether or not the iconic restaurant has sunk. Local news reports claimed that the restaurant sank while being dragged away from the city leading to many locals in Hong Kong mourning for the iconic restaurant on social media.

However, Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises, Jumbo Floating Restaurant’s owner, said in a statement on 20 June 2022, that the boat while the departed Hong Kong on 14 June 2022, when passing Xisha Islands in the South China Sea, the vessel encountered adverse conditions and soon water entered the vessel causing it to tip.

“Despite the efforts of the towing company responsible for the trip to rescue the vessel, unfortunately it capsized on 19 June 2022” the company said in the statement.

It also confirmed that fortunately no crew members were injured during the incident. The company also added in the statement that as the water depth at the scene is over 1,000 metres, it was “extremely difficult to carry out salvage works.”

Upon the release of the statement however, several local media in Hong Kong reported that Jumbo Floating Restaurant had sunk in the South China Sea.

Not long after, a statement published by the Hong Kong’s Marine Department on 23 June 2022, said that it had not received any notification regarding the sinking prior to media reporting.

The statement from Hong Kong’s Marine Department added that after learning about the media reports, the department immediately requested Jumbo's owner to submit a written report and then received the written report from the agent appointed by Jumbo's owner. It added that, according to the information provided by Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises, on the night of 18 June 2022, when Jumbo was being towed by ocean-going tugboat "JAEWON 9" in the vicinity of Xisha Islands in the South China Sea, Jumbo capsized due to adverse weather. “At present, both Jumbo and the tugboat are still in the waters off Xisha Islands. The ship owner will continue to follow up on the incident.” the Hong Kong’s Marine Department added in the statement.

All of these reports, according to media monitoring company CARMA, saw a huge spike (with 9.9k a day at its peak) of mentions on 21 June 2022.

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“Many netizens found the incident ‘full of mystery’, with some criticising Jumbo’s operator for the lack of transparency and linked the incident to a conspiracy,” CARMA’s general manager Charles Cheung said.  

PR agency behind Jumbo Restaurant shares point of view

In a conversation with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, a spokesperson from Brunswick Group, an agency that represents Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises, said that the company had always used the word "capsized" instead of "sank”.

While there are still headlines with the word "sinking", MARKETING-INTERACTIVE understands that the agency has stood by the use of the correct wording. Nonetheless, the spokesperson added that the agency apologises for any confusion or misunderstanding caused.

Most recently, Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises has released another statement providing further accurate facts, including that the Company will not receive any insurance payout for the loss of Jumbo, as the vessel is covered by a “Protection and Indemnity Cover for Third Parties Liability” in accordance with maritime regulations, which covers third party losses instead of losses to the company.

The recent statement also stressed that the company’s response to the vessel’s incident has been consistent, “Our statement on 20 June 2022 stated that water had entered into the hull of the vessel, and the vessel began to tip when passing the Xisha Islands in the South China Seas. Despite the efforts of the tugboat responsible to rescue the vessel, it capsized. This is consistent with our report to the Marine Department on 23 June 2022, which stated that the vessel capsized due to adverse conditions.”

A better PR strategy?

As the mystery over the boat’s fate deepened over the past weeks, the incident was exacerbated by unclear communication, said David Ko, managing director at RFI Asia. Ko said a poor choice of words when reporting the incident meant that the public misunderstood the iconic restaurant had sunk, instead of capsized and led to unnecessary speculation and accusations of foul play, including insurance fraud.

Ko also said that the resulting PR dust-up could have been prevented by clearer communication from the start, “but the simple fact is, this distressed vessel’s marine was always going to invite a ruckus, because of all the publicity surrounding its closing down in the first place.” Ko also shared that it is the job of the PR agency to correct erroneous reporting at the earliest possible instant.

Agreeing with him was Ruby Wan, director at Wasabi Creation. While some of the media outlets have misinterpreted the fact that the boat has "sunk" instead of "capsized", the corresponding PR agency should proactively reach out to those news organisations and ask them to correct the wrong information. Wan added” 

Message confusion is one of the biggest PR crisis in my knowledge, PR agencies should always verify and double check the facts before publishing a press statement.

Wan said that the incident has triggered public outcry as Jumbo Seafood Restaurant is a collective memory for HongKongers. "The restaurant is one of the public interest and a PR agency should always deal with negative news with extra care," she added. Wan also suggested that bilingual press releases should be provided to avoid translation errors or misunderstandings from media, "after all Jumbo is from Hong Kong."

Meanwhile, Desmond Ku, founder and director of The Bridge Agency said that in any crisis, it is unforgivable to convey the wrong message to the public. Like Wan, he too suggested delivering press statements in bilingual forms to avoid misuse of terms and wordings. He added:

Agencies should always understand their audiences in order to deliver information that is easily comprehensible.

On the other hand, digital agency KREW DIGITAL's co-founder Ken Cheung said he believed the PR representatives had already made endeavors to describe the situation of the incident, "However, there must be lots of distortion when PR representatives tried to get the real situation of Jumbo as they may not have chances to witness how it happened."

From my perspective, the mention of 'the water depth at the scene is over 1,000m' might lead journalists and netizens to imagine that JUMBO sunk to underwater at 1,000m. The sentence of mentioning salvage would further contribute to the misunderstandings.

He suggested that in order to better deliver messages to avoid misunderstandings, PR agencies could present the message in “present continuous tense” and state strongly the parties are following up on the incident; avoid showing a pessimistic approach to a crisis; double checking the messages whether it would have any misleading or easy to be distorted if short phrases to be quoted.

Related articles:

Sinking Jumbo Floating Restaurant sees many in HK upset over loss of city icon

Jumbo floating restaurant exits Hong Kong due to cost crunch



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