Ever since the documentary Blackfish was released to the masses, SeaWorld has been faced with a major international Public Relations crisis. Despite an aggressive PR campaign of their own, recent attendance numbers illustrate this problem is far from over. The company experienced yet another decline in attendance in the most recent quarter. Smelling blood in the water, animal rights activists have redoubled their efforts to further pressure the theme park brand.
Worse, the results of the recent quarter fell well beneath revenue and profit projections SeaWorld expected. Either the company underestimated the impact the continued anti-SeaWorld PR efforts would have, or they overestimated the impact of their response. Either way, fewer people are coming through the turnstiles at the parks … and SeaWorld needs to figure out what went wrong.
Seaworld’s Blackfish Crisis
Critics say the Public Relations response by the parks bears part of the blame. Like the GOP in the 2012 election, the parks command structure drastically underestimated the reach and impact of social media. While their PR people pushed out canned promotional spots and cut entrance prices, their target market was inundated by a constant stream of negative reviews and diatribes by “friends of friends” on Facebook and Twitter. Those third and fourth hand negative testimonials had far more impact than 30-second spots of SeaWorld employees talking about how much they love the animals (and their jobs).
Whoever greenlit that idea missed the point. Of course the employees say the park is awesome. Most people who like their jobs will tell people they like their jobs … and that they are good at them. Contrasted against a constant barrage of pissed off “regular folks,” the cronies never had a chance to make a difference. And SeaWorld should have known this from the very beginning.
Instead of spots showing grinning animal trainers, the parks would be much better served to show regular folks having a blast at SeaWorld. Kids and Grandparents getting soaked in the splash zone and high-fiving Flipper. That’s the kind of thing that drew people to the parks in the first place – the fun of it all.
But, instead of fun, SeaWorld served up a handful of people who looked awkward in front of the camera, reading from prepared remarks. They’re not actors, but they were being asked to perform like actors, to deliver emotion and conversation that was not their own.
And the public is just not buying it.