P&O Cruises, Launch of Iona

A new cruise ship launched 15 months into the Covid-19 pandemic and an extremely busy news agenda. The naming of P&O Cruises latest ship Iona had been delayed by a year on account of coronavirus.  That was just one of the challenges for this broadcast PR campaign.  But the glitz and glamour of the occasion translated magnificently into positive television and radio coverage.

The Project

The ship arrived into her home port of Southampton for the first time at dawn on May 16th 2021, the day before the lifting of many lockdown travel restrictions.   A virtual ceremony, later that evening, was live streamed to 25-thousand people.   They witnessed the launching of the ship by godmother, Dame Irene Lucas-Hays, owner of Hays travel.  The virtual audience also enjoyed a private performance by singer, song-writer and television presenter Gary Barlow.   The pop icon is now the musical director for the cruise company, overseeing Iona’s music venue, the 710 Club, and curating new talent to perform on board.

For the first time ever, for a P&O Cruises’ ship launch, there was no specially invited audience because of coronavirus.

What We Did

Our role as broadcast PR specialists was to secure as much positive coverage as possible on national and regional, television and radio.    On the day of the launch we collated video footage from helicopter and drone filming that had captured the ship’s arrival.  We interviewed key players such as Dame Irene, Gary Barlow and Iona’s captain.  This content was offered to national and regional media.

The naming ceremony, hosted by Jo Whiley, was a mix of video and live events.   Capturing the iconic bottle smash is key.  That is always the “money” shot”.  However turning  an image shot at 2100 into edited B-roll  (click link here) that could be used for late night television news is crucial.

The day after the launch, Monday 17th May, was the date many UK coronavirus restrictions, for the leisure and hospitality industries, were lifted.   This was an opportunity  but  it also made for a very competitive news agenda with hotels, restaurant, airlines and other cruise companies all vying for the same news spots.

We also identified and pitched stories with regional interest.  For example, we promoted the jewellery company on the Scottish island of Iona who produced the hand-made bracelet presented to the godmother.


Of course, coronavirus, and the many restrictions it brought with it, was always going to be the biggest challenge for a live event. Throughout the pause in operations, the protection of the crew’s health and wellbeing was a priority for P&O Cruises.  As a result, we had to adhere to a framework of protocols and there were several restrictions for media on board.

As the footage could potentially be used again in the long term we avoided filming anyone with masks on.  The reality of this meant all interviews had to be filmed on the upper decks outside. And yes, the British weather, WASN’T smiling on us. It might have been May, but there was wind and rain to contend with too.

The ship came in on a Sunday.  The challenge of this for broadcast is that news bulletins are much shorter than they are in the week.  Some programmes aren’t even on-air. Our strategy was to offer the best visuals to make the story as compelling as possible.

Unlike other ship launches, but arguably more in keeping with the times, the godmother was a businesswoman.  More typically the godmother is a celebrity, who can appeal more to broadcasters.


Despite everything we achieved national, international and regional coverage. International opportunities included APTN and CBS. The majority of the opportunities were national, including multiple reports on Sky News TV and Times radio.  There was also solid radio and television coverage in the North East and East, using the godmother and the captain as local hooks.

Roll on the next launch for P&O Cruises which is fast approaching in 2022.

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