Sea World’s Public Relations 180

For the past two weeks, my empty nest has been filled with college students on spring break.  I have mixed feelings about them returning home.  Schedules change, there’s more housework, dishes, cooking, etc.  That’s the part that I’m not thrilled about.

But, I love the times that my two intelligent 20-somethings sit and talk with me about important issues.  For the first time, they’re both very interested in the upcoming presidential election, and they have varying opinions about nearly everything.  Sometimes we agree; other times, not so much. Regardless, the conversation is lively and sometimes loud, which is normal for us.  My husband is full Italian and I’m mostly French, which makes for an interesting combination in our kids.

Anyway, one of the topics we discussed was Sea World‘s recent decision to stop breeding orca whales and phase out theatrical shows featuring the mammals.

This is something we’ve been talking about since they both watched the documentary Blackfish.  To be honest, I haven’t seen it, nor do I intend to.  I know I just couldn’t bear it, the same way I change the channel every time one of those abused animal commercials comes on television.  Knowing this, both kids have repeatedly told me “Mom, you can’t watch Blackfish.”

So when Sea World’s announcement was made that they were now partnering with the Humane Society of America we talked about it some more.

We’re both for the decision for the sake of the whales.  But I stressed that I don’t understand animal activists who would prefer the whales be released into the wild.  “They just won’t survive,” I said.  They agreed, and that was the end of the conversation.

But then, yesterday, I saw the new Sea World commercial and the above video, and I really started to look at the situation from a PR perspective.  (I’m trying to get a shareable version of the commercial to share for next time).

For years, Sea World has been dodging criticism from animal rights organizations. In addition to Blackfish, there was Free Willy and the three other Free Willy films, as well as tons of bad, bad press.

As of last year, Sea World seemed to be oblivious to the criticism and took an interesting PR approach.

This is Sea World’s 2015 commercial.

The commercial wasn’t your normal “come to Sea World” commercial. Instead, it was more like a video PR message and it was unsuccessful.

Additionally, the commercial was release in conjunction with the #AskSeaWorld Twitter campaign, that failed miserably on all accounts.  Instead of generating questions about Sea World and it’s mammal and sea charges, Twitter users took the opportunity to lash out about animal rights.

According to CNN Money, Sea World’s stocks dropped drastically after the release of the commercial and launching the Twitter campaign.

So what has happened in the past year to make Sea World do a 180 degree turn-around?

Well, for one, Sea World’s long-time VP of corporate communications Fred Jacobs left Sea World in December 2015.

We’ll pick up this story next time, so be sure to check back.  But for now, discuss this:

Up for discussion

  1. What do you think was the primary reason that the 2015 commercial and Twitter campaign failed Sea World?  Was it the message itself, was it the wrong approach after Blackfish, or was it something else?

As usual, all respectful and constructive dialogue is welcome and needed.

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