In what was caged as an “exclusive” Reuters is reporting that SeaWorld Chairman David D’Alessandro will not be re-elected. D’Alessandro has helmed the theme park giant through what has been, without a doubt, the company’s most difficult seasons.
After the “documentary” Blackfish hit, millions turned against SeaWorld almost overnight. The content and opinion in the movie, as well as the accuracy of that content, didn’t matter to a world that was suddenly enraged at an attraction that has wowed and inspired millions for decades.
As public relations continued to live at crisis levels, SeaWorld was slow to properly respond. First, they tried to ignore the uproar, then they tried to counter it with a series of canned infomercials using employees to praise their employer. Both of those strategies failed miserably. SeaWorld then tried acquiescing to their enemies, closing a series of shows and programs. That just made their opponents attack even harder.
Now, as attendance continues to fall, shareholders have voted to “withhold” current Chairman D’Allessandro from re-election. Now he has to formally submit his resignation … though neither SeaWorld nor D’Alessandro has released a statement on the decision.
While scuttlebutt coming out of the company is that shareholders are more concerned with executive pay than they are about public opinion, there’s no way the dropping popularity of the parks isn’t playing a role in shareholder discontent.
Whatever happens next, whether D’Alessandro is allowed to stay on the board, or if he leaves the company altogether, the next person who fills his chair will have to do things much differently if they want to regain public trust and help the park begin to drag itself out of this prolonged negative dive.
SeaWorld still has a lot to offer audiences. They can see things they can’t see anywhere else, all in the same place. Kids and adults can both learn new and interesting things and still be inspired by amazing aquatic creatures. But the parks are going to have to go straight to the people, not only directly countering all the negative information in Blackfish but also filling the web with positive and proactive information about the parks.
The key here is counteracting the angry, visceral reaction, so many people had to the video and the accusations of abuse at the parks. It’s a scenario that already killed the Ringling Brothers circus, and SeaWorld, to date, has been making some of the same mistakes. If they want to succeed, they can’t capitulate to propaganda, they need to supplant it with a new, better, stronger narrative. Otherwise, it won’t really matter who’s in the Chairman’s seat.