Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

That's a famous philosophical conundrum posed in the 18th century by Irish bishop George Berkeley. But it was more than a philosophical problem for the cruising in the early 1980s when the industry's growth noises went largely unheard by the business community at large.

One of the men responsible for changing that situation, public relations maestro Stuart Newman, died last week at age 96, and it left me thinking about the contribution of folks like Newman to the industry's advancement.

There wasn't a lot of recognition 30 years ago for the cruise industry as a business. It was seen, if at all, through the soft-focus lens of "The Love Boat" television series. Cruise lines had a good story to tell about a new kind of vacation, but without Stuart Newman Associates, and other agencies like it, the media -- and the traveling public -- might not have known.

It was more important to cruising than to the average widget maker that the public get a good understanding of how cruises work. Misconceptions about a lack of things to do, cramped cabins, motion sickness and the like were a barrier to expanding the market.

Public relations folks helped the media see the reality behind the myths and introduce reporters to some of the glamour of the new generation of ships.

One of the first pictures I have of myself on a cruise ship is me seated at a table in the dining room of Holland America Line's Maasdam with Newman and NBC News correspondent Kerry Sanders, then a reporter at the local NBC affiliate.

Newman was a friendly, upbeat source of information, and he always was more than willing to connect journalists to cruise executives or to find the answer to a question that we'd pose. His agency was the only one I know of that represented three different cruise lines: Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America and Costa Cruises.

Stuart Newman, center, flanked by former state representative Ron Saunders and Florida Keys businessman Ed Swift, on the 30th anniversary of the declaration of a Conch Republic in Key West. In addition to cruise lines, Newman’s agency has represented the Keys for decades.
Stuart Newman, center, flanked by former state representative Ron Saunders and Florida Keys businessman Ed Swift, on the 30th anniversary of the declaration of a Conch Republic in Key West. In addition to cruise lines, Newman’s agency has represented the Keys for decades.

Along the way, Newman hired talented people at his agency to expand his ability to reach members of the media.

Other public relations people of that era were also instrumental in telling the industry's story, including Rich Steck at Royal Caribbean International, Tim Gallagher at Carnival, Fran Sevcik at Norwegian Cruise Line and Julie Benson at Princess Cruises.

But Newman was sort of the dean of the cruise industry's PR team. His passing marks the end of an era.

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