Should PR pros be storytellers? with Carnival Cruise Line’s Chris Chiames | On Top of PR podcastBy On Top of PR
February 23, 2021
Learn why the word “storytellers” can have a negative connotation for PR pros with our guest Chris Chiames of Carnival Cruise Line.
Our episode guest is Chris Chiames, chief communications officer at Carnival Cruise Line.
The one with Chris Chiames of Carnival Cruise Line on PR pros as storytellers vs. conversationalists
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Five things you’ll learn from this episode:
Why Chris Chiames thinks PR pros shouldn’t be storytellers
Why measurement is just one important factor in demonstrating PR effectiveness
The value of observation before making suggestions
The importance of asking “why” as communicators
How the travel industry plans to recover from the pandemic
“Smart companies hire smart people.” — @ChrisChiames
“Great writing is the key for public relations.” — @ChrisChiames
“Storytelling is certainly important, as part of what public relations does effectively. But we’re ultimately more than storytellers. We’re conversationalists, and we are listening, hopefully, as much as we are telling stories.” — @ChrisChiames
“There’s a lot more pressure on communicators to make sure they’re delivering messages and content that people are engaging with.” — @ChrisChiames
“The more thoughtful questions you ask, the more people like and trust you.” — @jasonmudd9
“It really is a privilege to be able to sit in the middle of your organization and be responsible for its reputation and success in multiple ways.” — @ChrisChiames
If you enjoyed this episode, would you please share it with others and leave us a review?
About Chris Chiames:
Chris Chiames is the chief communications officer for Carnival Cruise Line, the most popular cruise operator in the world. After starting his career in politics, he has spent most of the past 25 years in travel, including executive roles at American Airlines, US Airways, Orbitz, Sabre, and leading the travel and tourism practice at Burson-Marsteller.
Chris’ contact info and resources:
Chris’s podcast: Airlines Confidential
On Top of PR is produced by Axia Public Relations, named by Forbes as one of America’s Best PR Agencies. Axia is an expert PR firm for national brands.
On Top of PR is sponsored by ReviewMaxer, the platform for monitoring, improving, and promoting online customer reviews.
About your host Jason Mudd
On Top of PR host, Jason Mudd, is a trusted adviser and dynamic strategist for some of America’s most admired brands and fastest-growing companies. Since 1994, he’s worked with American Airlines, Budweiser, Dave & Buster’s, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Southern Comfort, and Verizon. He founded Axia Public Relations in July 2002. Forbes named Axia as one of America’s Best PR Agencies.
Find more On Top of PR episodes on:
- Hello, and welcome to On Top of PR. In this episode, we're talking to Chris Chiames. Chris is with Carnival Cruise Lines. This is a great episode. He's gonna share some of his insights from working in the travel and tourism business, and why he thinks that PR people should not be storytellers. This is gonna be an interesting episode. You'll be glad you're here. I'm glad you're here. Let's get started.
- [Narrator] Welcome to On Top of PR with Jason Mudd. Presented by ReviewMaxer.
- Hello and welcome to On Top of PR. I'm your host, Jason Mudd. And I'm joined today by Chris Chiames. Chris is the Chief Communications Officer for Carnival Cruise Lines, the most popular cruise operator in the world. What a great introduction, Chris welcome to the show. Glad you're here.
- Hey, Jason, thanks for having me. It's good to be here.
- We're glad you're here too. And very excited about our conversation today. Chris, why don't you introduce us briefly to introduce yourself briefly to our audience?
- I am venturing onto my third anniversary with Carnival Cruise Line. I joined in February of 2018 as the Chief Communications Officer, I've spent about 35 years in public relations starting in politics, but mostly in the travel and technology sectors. So I feel like I certainly don't know it all, but I feel like I've seen it all and some sometimes experienced it all.
- Well, I'm very impressed, Chris is we're starting to get to know each other a little bit that you have worked at American Airlines, US Airways, Orbitz, and other great companies. So congratulations on your success having executive roles with those organizations and really being an important influencer in the travel and tourism corporate communication space.
- I feel like I've been lucky in that I've worked for a number of big brands, brands that both consumers and in the media know. And I often tell young people is they're looking to start their career, You know, you wanna find a great opportunity but you also wanna find a brand or an organization that people know because it just makes it so much easier to explain what you've been doing as you look for the next opportunity versus working for Acme Inc, to be able to kinda attach yourself to a well-known brand in a highly regarded brand, cause people know that smart companies hire smart people.
- Yeah, that makes complete sense. And you know, I've also mentored, you know, rising stars or students, and I've also said, if you're not really sure what you want to specialize in and you're a little hesitant to, you know, take a job where all you're doing is social media. All you're doing is, you know, writing for a newsletter or some specialty, you know, maybe that's when you spend some time at a smaller company where you're gonna have to do everything and start to, you know, kinda find your niche. So that's the one thing I've prefaced that similar recommendation you're sharing with that, if you're not sure what you wanna keep doing, then you know, maybe you need to land somewhere where you're gonna be able to spread your wings across multiple experiences.
- Exactly. Being a specialist, nowadays is probably not the best way to manage your career, cause you got to zig and zag and be adaptable. When I started my career, you know, nobody wanted to do employee communications. And now that is the place to be. That's where companies are investing. And as they work to build their culture and build their success from inside out. Employee communications just plays such a big part of that, which like I said, 30 years ago was not where you want it to be.
- Yeah. It's not where I wanted to be either. So Chris, let's a couple warmup questions. Walk me through your typical day. Do you have a routine and what does that look like?
- Well, right now I'm living in Texas at home. I usually commute to Florida every week where Carnival's headquartered, but I haven't been doing that obviously, since last April. Carnival has not been operating with any guests since last March of 2020, and so the day starts early. I've kind of disciplined myself to start with a 6:00 a.m. walk because I know that nobody can bother me at 6:00 a.m. But at four o'clock or five o'clock in the afternoon, the day might've been rivaled so I start with an early morning walk to kinda clear my head and get ready for the day. I actually use that to make phone calls as well cause people are at work early in the morning on Eastern time. And then the day starts pretty quickly. I typically have multiple check-ins with my team and they're all still working from home. We have a flexible work schedule right now. So the office is open but most people are working from home. And then during the course of the day, there are multiple, like, so many of us, multiple video calls and meetings. But overall, we're trying to one keep our guests informed and keep them enthused about the business, knowing that we don't know when we're gonna cruise again. And then just as importantly, keeping our employees informed and enthusiastic because there's still a lot of uncertainty about when we're gonna get back on the water so that they can take a number of turns with a full plate. But we're very, you'd never think with no operations, we wouldn't be so busy, but we're extremely busy.
- That's fascinating that you find yourself extremely busy. Even though, you know, as you said, no ships are sailing with guests on them. For sure. As I think about what you just described, right? You've got, you wanna keep customer engagement, you wanna keep employee engagement. Meanwhile, there's a lot of fatigue in the marketplace. You know, I for one would love to be able to go on a cruise right now, but you know, you can't and you know, and in some cases, you know, there's good reason for that, but, you know, you're making me think of a recent episode we did with Ken Jacobs. And I'm not sure if you know him, but he's a very experienced in the PR industry are very well connected. And he's a coach in the PR industry. And I found his topics to be very encouraging and you're reminding me of that episode, if you and our audience would like to check that out, I highly recommend it. Talk to me for a minute, Chris, what is your biggest professional achievement? What are you most proud of in your career so far?
- Well, certainly this past year has been the most challenging in my career. I've worked through a number of crises and situations 911 and airline accidents and labor strikes and all kinds of things like that. But no one could have imagined what this global pandemic has been like. I'm very proud of what we've been able to accomplish as a team and as a company and maintaining a strong level of support from our guests and our employees throughout this pause so that that's certainly a highlight. Up until this past year, I've always said that my work on the restructuring of US airways back in. Right after 911, I joined US Airways as a part of a new management team that really we were brought in to execute a restructuring. We ended up filing for bankruptcy two different times and then eventually merging with America West airlines. But we started that process with most of Wall Street saying this company will be liquidated by the end of the year, there's no reason for US Airways to exist. And while we had to do some really tough things and terminate pensions and lay some people off and things that nobody wants to do. We ended up preserving 30,000 plus jobs. And eventually as US Airways merged with America West, and then took on the US Airways name, and then eventually merged with American Airlines. That small nugget of what was then US Airways morphed into the biggest airline in the world. And a lot of people, some jobs are preserved in the process. And, again, we took that on thinking no one could get it done. And so as a management team and as a communicator, I'm very proud of that as well.
- Sounds like it. I mean, that is an accomplishment, for sure. And certainly, you've seen some turmoil in the world as you've navigated the waters of corporate communications. So I'm really pleased to have you here on the show and glad you're sharing that. So before we hit the record button, you and I were were talking a little bit, and I'm certainly intrigued and wanna share more with our audience but you were saying how, you know, and I don't wanna misquote you, but maybe when communicators talk about storytelling, it might be a little bit of your pet peeve because you think that good storytelling or good PR is about building and having conversations. Talk to us a little bit about that, and let's set it up by explaining why it irks you when people say talk focus on storytelling, Chris?
- Well, I know I'm an outlier on this. So I tread carefully. It's become kind of a hot way of talking about public relations. And I get the importance of being able to tell a story effectively. And I am very grounded in great writing, is the key for public relations. Because again, you're able to articulate a story. But I'm also a student going back to years ago, I was a student of Jim and Lloyd Krunic, at the University of Maryland. And they had developed these four models of community public relations, where the prize was an effective two-way communications model where you were in constant conversation with your stakeholders and adapting the organization to the interests of the stakeholders and being able to solve problems and meet the needs of stakeholders. And so I believe that great public relations is a conversation, not a one way story. And I also kind of joke too, I'm old enough where we used to call people who were storytellers were kind of liars. You know, there was always a great storyteller at a party, but they also didn't pay a lot of attention to what other people had to say. And they were busy telling stories. So I just want us to be grounded in the fact that storytelling is certainly important, as part of what public relations does effectively. But we're ultimately more than storytellers, we're conversationalists and we are listening, hopefully, as much as we are telling stories.
- Chris, I absolutely agree with you. And I think you're right, I'm old enough to remember story, you know, someone being called a storyteller was not a compliment. And I think, you know, I can't imagine any great relationship comes from a one-way conversation, right? It's not, it's no longer a one way storytelling, if you will, or one way conversation, because it's not a relationship at that point. In fact, I was on a webinar on Tuesday. And I don't remember the name of those names. So I hate to not give credit where credit is due. But he said, you know, it's about time we put the public back into public relations and his comment was, you know, for decades media relations has been the focus of public relations. And I couldn't agree more. And I think that he's exactly right. And I've always said, you know, when people talk about man, I bet social media has just completely changed the PR industry. I've said, no, actually it's just another tool in the toolbox of a talented communicator, great PR people have always been able to reach their audience directly and use the tools that they had. Social media just gives you a bigger platform and more instantaneous ability to communicate with those folks.
- Exactly. I think the pitfall of social media, though, also is everybody can see when you fail, everybody can see that that post only got 1400 likes or a video didn't get very many views. And that was never out there before. So there's a lot more pressure on communicators to make sure they're delivering messages and content that people are engaging with. Last year, I was at a conference and we were having a little sidebar conversation and it was, you know, not people in our industry, you know, just PR professionals. It was like an industry conference. And somebody said to me, and Chris, and this little light bulb went off and I thought it was great. He said to me, you know, the problem is like old school people like me, we know what PR is, you said, but it seems like the new generation, when they thought talk about PR, they call it thought leadership and they call it content marketing. And I was like, you are exactly right. That's what, you know, there's this big confusion now. I mean, there are people have always been confused what PR is. I've had many lead business leaders say, "I don't know what PR is, but I know our company needs it." And now it seems like the trendier term is to call it thought leadership or content marketing. Those are new terms, but it just seems like, you know, when we're talking to clients or companies, they're saying, "Well, we need thought leadership, not PR, "we need content, but not PR." And kind of like well, it. That's just what people are calling it now.
- I was listening to your podcast, I think from last week about measurement, which again, I think is very important. But at the end of the day, we're not a science. And while it's important for us to be able to demonstrate our effectiveness for an organization or for a client, a lot of our value is based on being smart in offering good advice and being quick and responsive and solving problems. And so if we tilt too much towards just focusing on the numbers, I'm not sure that that is putting our best foot forward with regard to what we're really valuable for and why we need to be in the C-suite and why we need to be at the table. It goes beyond just showing the effectiveness of the numbers. But being smart about the business, being able to talk talk about the business and being able to help the business or the organization succeed. And it's not always based on evaluations.
- Right? Yeah, that's interesting. So, you know, I can go from one guest to another where one feels very strongly about measurement and others feel like, you know, that measurement may not be, you know, exactly what the company should focus on versus, you know, other measures and KPIs. And so, yeah, it's interesting, you know, it's the same thing as, you know, I feel like if you have a technician or an expert come over to your house and look at a project, a home improvement project they might say, well, they did this, this and this. And I wouldn't have done it that way. And it's like, yeah, but I bet that guy could come in to one of your projects and go, oh I would've done this this way too. And the same thing is true for public relations and corporate communications. So
- Right. I mean, we, my wife and I have ridden four houses and we there's a steady stream of contractors we brought through over the years and no contractor ever agrees that what the guy before him did was the right way to do it. Right. So I mean, you know, again, I think that measurement is very important cause you wanna be able to watch the effectiveness. But I think it needs to be a balance, along with the other kind of immeasurable things that you can bring to the table. And certainly having the trust of a CEO is a very important. And that has to go beyond the numbers.
- Absolutely. All right, Chris, we have to take a quick break here but I'm gonna come back with a really good question to ask you. So standby.
- [Narrator] You listening to On Top of PR with your host, Jason Mudd. Jason is a trusted advisor to some of America's most admired and fastest growing brands. He is the managing partner at Axia Public Relations, a PR agency that guides news, social and web strategies for national companies. And now back to the show.
- Okay, welcome back to On Top of PR, we are joined by Chris Chiames and having a really good conversation. Before we get back into it, I wanna say thank you to our sponsor, ReviewMaxer. And their support of On Top of PR. By the way, if you go to reviewmaxer.com/on top of PR, they have a special offer for our fans. So please check that out. Thank you ReviewMaxer for your sponsorship. If you're enjoying this episode, please take a moment to like and subscribe, maybe even share this episode with one of your colleagues, we would appreciate it and so would they. And now let's get back to the show. Chris, thank you for being on show, again. We were just talking about craftsmanship and how a good craftsman has their own unique opinion. So let me ask you this. If you were to leave your position today, what advice would you give to your successor and why?
- I would make sure that they understand the business that they find some people within the organization or who are gonna be mentors about the business, especially if, like me, if they're brand new to an industry, understanding the business is critical. Second, again, this is sometimes style. But I have tended to come in rather quietly and observe quite a while before I open my mouth and offer suggestions. I think that's the best way to build trust with the team you're managing. They don't wanna hear what you used to do at the last company or wherever you were before. They want to be asked their opinions. And so I think that's very important as far as the transition as well.
- Cool. And so I think that's good advice. Again, I think some of that has to do with just personal preference. Like you said, some people come in, they don't wanna be quiet. They wanna be, you know, a bull in the China shop or they were hired to be reformer and make big changes. And then you're right, I think it's good to kind of yield and learn and listen, I've learned more by listening obviously, in my career. And you know, as you mentioned earlier, sometimes you fail publicly and certainly those are times where you also learn. So going back to the question, let's say, you know, for whatever reason, somebody succeeded you in your position, you got promoted, et cetera. What do you think that person coming in with a fresh set of eyes, a fresh perspective, what do you think they might do differently than what your you and your team are doing today?
- You know, I heard interesting keynote speaker a couple of years ago and he his whole thing was. Every organization and certainly communications leaders should kind of have an act like a five-year-old day, maybe once a year, right? And ask why. Think about, you know, when, you know, my kids are grown, but think about those conversations. Why, why, why, and not to be afraid of asking why or not be afraid of people who ask why. And so, you know, I think it's fair for anybody, again, as they're coming into an organization or into a new role as part of their learning process, they should be asking why, not in an accusatory way, and people shouldn't view it in a defensive way. But the why is ultimately what we're all about. You know, I just spent time with my team yesterday as we were trying work on a project and roll something out and I said we're missing the why I don't understand the why. And that's, again, what we're trying to do here. Why does somebody wanna buy this? Why does someone wanna come work here? Why does somebody wanna invest in this company? And so the why is a natural question for communicators and we should be willing to ask it and we should be encouraging people to ask it, because that just makes us better in developing our story, using that storyteller analogy, you know, that I said I didn't like, but developing the messaging and developing the story. Ultimately, it's much more impactful when you can answer the why.
- Chris, I can't agree more. In fact, I'm a big fan of asking why I think root cause analysis tells you you have to ask why seven times to get to the true issue at hand. And I've also read that the best strategist or to be perceived as being a strategist, is just to come in and ask questions. So, you know, a trusted advisor is one who just asks questions. And through their question, probing people are able to reflect a little bit and have introspection. And ultimately, what I've heard and what I've experienced is, the more questions you ask, that are thoughtful, the more people like and trust you and they think you're just brilliant, even though all you did was ask questions.
- Yeah, know exactly. So my team knows that the worst thing I could say, when I've reviewed something is like, I'm bored. You know, act like, make this more, you know, I'm bored. I couldn't even finish reading this.
- Try again. But again, give me the why. Why should I care? And I'll keep going.
- Absolutely. I'm the same. In fact, I think twice this week, I've told someone I got bored and stopped reading this at this point here. So figure out a way to make it more interesting, before you send it back to me. And certainly before we share it with anybody else. So--
- Right, right.
- Okay, so we know we're in the midst of, you know, we're recording this just for our audience in early February. I'm sure this will air several weeks later but this is where we are today in the world. And, you know, I like to ask many of our guests, you know, the idea of kind of, you know, hey it's three years from today, Chris, and we're talking, we're going out for dinner, and you're super happy with your progress in the last three years, what has happened in those three years to make you so happy. But obviously, you know, it's we're at a very interesting starting point, right? Of where you are and your company is right now. But go ahead kind of give us some insight into, you know, where you sense the industry is gonna be, your company is gonna be and where you would like to be both professionally and in leading your organization three years from now.
- I hope that I will never be using the word unprecedented again. Obviously, as a company for with Carnival Cruise Line, I hope that all of our ships are back on the water full, our guests are happy, no one's wearing a mask, all those things that are still gonna be part of society for a while. You know, we're gonna see those on our ships as well. And then finally, you know, we were a successful profitable cruise line before this started, and I would expect us to be again at the top of the list with regard to being successful, profitable and popular with our guests. So when people ask me about my transition into the cruise industry, I said, I have never worked in a sector, where your guests or your customers and your employees are equally and highly loyal to the organization. That is a great place to start. Those are attributes you can't go out and create unless you've invested in those for years and years and years. And so that loyalty is gonna pull us through this. And so I wanna be proven correct in that regard with regard to how I view how we're gonna manage our success.
- That's a great answer, Chris, I really liked that. And I look forward to seeing that happen too. So that, you know, it's not only good, obviously for your company, but it's gonna be good for us and our nation to have the freedom to travel and do the things that we really enjoy doing and creating memories, which, you know, is so important. And certainly, that's an important part of what your company offers.
- Yeah, I was on a call last week on with some travel industry executives and, you know, I said, look, we need to define back to normal and psychologically as people traveling again, right? I mean, I think, you know, we all wanna go out to dinner, We all wanna do the little things. But you know, when will we feel like life is back to normal? You know, it's when we see crowds at Disney World, and people on cruise ships and arenas full and Broadway theaters full, that's when we're gonna psychologically feel like, it's back to normal and hopefully that'll happen. But for the travel industry, at least, I think that's for us to help define.
- So Chris, is we're starting to run out of time quickly. I know we could keep talking for a long time. I do wanna ask you, you mentioned some of the things you're working on right now but what are you working on right now that has you really excited?
- Well, we are continuing to plan our return to operations. So that has me excited because we all wanna get back to business. But the company has been spending a lot of time during this pause, really digging in on diversity and the like, and by nature, we are a very diverse and inclusive organization in that we have employees from almost 120 countries around the world. So we're used to working with people from different cultures, and consequently, that spills over into our guests. And so I think we have a system in which everybody feels welcome but I think we also can't take that for granted. And so as we continue to build out our diversity and inclusion practices and the like, that's got a lot of people excited because I think that we can bring that to life in different ways. And we're dedicated to doing that.
- I can see why that's exciting times. So good, good for you. I'm glad to hear that. Chris. Sorry, Chris, before we end, I have to ask I think our audience is very curious. So your commute from Texas to Florida, you know, what does that look like? How do you pull that off? I have typically flown in Sunday night and to Florida. Just because if I try to do it on Monday morning--
- Everything can go wrong.
- You know, that the days shot by the time I get to the office, so I have an apartment in, you know, near the office in Doral, Florida. I get in Sunday night to get organized for the week. And I hit the ground running. And then typically try to get back either Thursday night and work from home on Friday or sometimes Friday. It's really just depends. I've been in the airline business for years. And so we travel a lot. And so it that part doesn't really faze me that much. Sometimes being on a plane gives me three or four hours of quiet time to read a book or watch a movie or even just get caught up on emails. So you know, it's a little easier, my kids are grown. So I don't have that pressure as much with regard to kinda being away. But certainly this has been great not having to commute these past 10 months. I wish it wasn't for the circumstances it is. But you know, people have to do what they have to do. You know, at one point during the I had a job where I was driving my daughter to school and going from Virginia where we lived up to Maryland and then downtown Washington for my job. And I was driving about two hours every morning. So, you know, a three hour plane ride twice a week ain't that bad. So.
- Yeah, my friend Sean he commutes from Florida to Boston in a very similar way. And he gets one week a month before the pandemic where he would work from home. And he hasn't been back to Boston in quite some time. So yeah, I can relate to that. And certainly there's a lot of people who, you know, do this every week sometimes to a completely different city as part of their job. So it's not that unusual, but I just wondered how you pulled it up.
- Yeah, no, it could be a challenge if you wanted to make it one. But look, people have worse commutes, or they could be on the road to a different city every week, you know, marketing or sales. So you do what you have to do when you make it work and you have the community, your family to make it work. And it does.
- Yeah, absolutely. That's right. Well, Chris, it's been a real pleasure having on the show, thank you. If our audience wants to reach out to you and get to know you or connect with you, what's your preferred way for them to reach you?
- They can find me on LinkedIn. I also just started as a new co-host of a podcast dedicated to the aviation business called Airlines Confidential. So people are finding me off that website as well. But I'm not hiding so I can be found.
- Okay, great, wonderful. Chris, any closing word of wisdom before we wrap up?
- Other than the fact that for those of you who have chosen a career in public relations, it really is a privilege to be able to sit in the middle of your organization, and be responsible for its reputation and for success in multiple ways. And so cherish that, invest in that and make sure that you continue to kind of manager your own career knowing that there are lots of opportunities. But you gotta dig in and you gotta pay attention to what's going on around you because this industry moves very quickly. And our jobs are often the focus of a change. When there's a change in management. Sometimes the PR folks get changed too and you shouldn't take that personally but all the more reason to make sure you understand how important it is to communicate effectively and support your colleagues.
- That's great words of wisdom. Thank you for sharing Chris. This has been another great episode of On Top of PR, Chris, it's been a pleasure to have you here. We're glad you joined us and look forward to staying in touch with you. And again, I wish you much success and looking forward to getting cruising again my friend.
- Exactly. We want to see everybody on board as soon as possible.
- That sounds great. We'll do just that. Thanks again.
- Thanks Jason.
- Well, that's another episode of On Top of PR is pleasure having Chris Chiames on the show with us. And again, many thanks to our sponsor ReviewMaxer. If you enjoyed this episode please take a moment to like it, share it and subscribe. We'd love to have your subscription to On Top of PR new episodes drop every Tuesday.
- [Narrator] This has been On Top of PR with Jason Mudd presented by ReviewMaxer.
Topics: PR tips, On Top of PR, story telling
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