SeaWorld Still Struggling to Move Beyond Blackfish

2015-08-10 by Ronn Torossian

Seaworld Public Relaitons

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.

Seaworld Documentary Stats Seaworld Revenue Stats

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.

Ronn Torossian: Insights from a Native New Yorker and CEO of 5WPR

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 250 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider, and a recipient of Crain’s New York 2021 Most Notable in Marketing & PR. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and has authored two editions of his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations," which is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities