Why SeaWorld PR is doing *Everything* Wrong with the #BlackFish Scandal

In case you haven’t heard, CNN’s documentary Blackfish uncovers atrocious treatment of the orcas at SeaWorld. I can’t even describe what you’ll see and what was uncovered. The film focuses around the 2010 death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau by an orca named Tilikum and what happened. These animals have suffered so much and the documentary digs deep to describe the horrors of what is going on. It is extremely emotional. It is available for viewing online, DVD, digital download and on Netflix.

Trailer on YouTube

CNN Blackfish Website

Blackfish Website

There have been very few statements put out about the documentary from SeaWorld and all requests for SeaWorld’s “side of the story” have been consistently declined, rejected and ignored. They don’t have any answers or any reasons or any real responses. No kind of apology has been released at all.

blackfish-thumb-630xauto-36453

They are ignoring the situation and not addressing anything. This is the worst PR strategy I’ve seen since the BP oil spill when they lied about the oil not spilling into the ocean when they had “solved the problem.” Ignoring the problem never makes it go away.

I commented on one of their Facebook posts and was banned from the page within a day. They delete all negative comments and ban anyone who mentions Blackfish on their page. I watched as any posts mentioning their mishandling of the situation or anything to do with Blackfish were deleted within about 20 minutes on the page, disappearing and hiding the truth.

They are literally lying about everything and are in extreme denial. Last month, they posted financial results for the summer quarter saying attendance fell 3.6% year-over-year. Blackfish was never mentioned in its earnings release or earnings conference call. SeaWorld blamed the decline on rain and higher admission prices. Bad weather is a popular scapegoat in the amusement park industry, according to Daily Finance.

Over eight artists, like Willie Nelson, Heart, Martina McBride, Barenaked Ladies and others, have canceled because of the film and fans asking them to cancel. Joan Jett has requested her anthem “I Love Rock & Roll” stop being used in the park’s flagship “Shamu Rocks” show. SeaWorld statement in response to petitions for artists and bands to withdraw their performances at the SeaWorld venue:

“This is a coordinated campaign of digital harassment and does not in any sense represent the opinions of the American public. A far better measure is the number of people actually coming to SeaWorld. “

SeaWorld spokesperson Nick Gollattscheck emailed TIME a statement saying:

“While we’re disappointed a small group of misinformed individuals was able to deny fans what would have been great concerts at SeaWorld by Heart, Barenaked Ladies and Willie Nelson, we respect the bands’ decisions. The bands and artists have a standing invitation to visit any of our parks to see firsthand or to speak to any of our animal experts to learn for themselves how we care for animals and how little truth there is to the allegations made by animal extremist groups opposed to the zoological display of marine mammals. “

Another lie: SeaWorld initially said Willie Nelson canceled his show because of “scheduling conflicts. Nelson revealed the real reason:

“I don’t agree with the way they treat their animals. … What they do at SeaWorld is not OK,” Willie Nelson said in an interview with CNN.

David Kirby, author of the book “Death at SeaWorld,” said:

“I think the ripple effect is even greater. Only so many people are going to see a documentary or read a book. But everybody knows who Willie Nelson is.”

 

I encourage you to talk to your friends and family about this film, watch it yourself and draw your own conclusions. Overall, I’m extremely disappointed with SeaWorld, how cruel they are to the animals and how this situation reflects on the PR industry. We don’t have a great rep in PR and situations like this only make it worse.

Never in the world does it help to lie, deny and ignore. The problem will continue and it will only get worse. I don’t know how SeaWorld will get out of this, but they will never get my business again.

I am NOT a small, misinformed individual. I WILL stand up to things like this.

30 thoughts on “Why SeaWorld PR is doing *Everything* Wrong with the #BlackFish Scandal

  1. This is like community management 101. In general, deleting negative comments will make a situation 10x worse. It just adds fuel to the fire of an already angry individual.

    Somehow, I don’t think you would be writing this post if SeaWorld had replied to your post with even a semi-apology. Most times, people just want to be heard. Even if you can’t fix the problem, if people know that you are listening it can do wonders for the brand’s overall reputation and sentiment.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! I agree that its CM 101 and it never helps a situation at all. Every company who has done this receives even more backlash.

      I would still be writing it because I think the truth needs to be uncovered, but I may not have been as harsh and would have called out what they’re actually doing to address this issue. Right now, they’re not doing anything. I don’t appreciate them lying, ignoring and covering up what’s going on. That’s where my real issue is. I’m also VERY concerned for the poor animals there! Who knows what else they’re doing to all the animals!

      – Lauren

  2. This is like community management 101. In general, deleting negative comments will make a situation 10x worse. It just adds fuel to the fire of an already angry individual.
    Somehow, I don’t think you would be writing this post if SeaWorld had replied to your post with even a semi-apology. Most times, people just want to be heard. Even if you can’t fix the problem, if people know that you are listening it can do wonders for the brand’s overall reputation and sentiment.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! I agree that its CM 101 and it never helps a situation at all. Every company who has done this receives even more backlash.
      I would still be writing it because I think the truth needs to be uncovered, but I may not have been as harsh and would have called out what they’re actually doing to address this issue. Right now, they’re not doing anything. I don’t appreciate them lying, ignoring and covering up what’s going on. That’s where my real issue is. I’m also VERY concerned for the poor animals there! Who knows what else they’re doing to all the animals!
      – Lauren

  3. Lauren your insights are amazing! As a new professional in public relations, I completely agree with the fact that ignoring something, does NOT make it go away. At my agency we deal with competitors and other issues of products failing or not performing as we expected, and we never just ignore it or “hope it goes away.”
    I was actually going to plan a visit to Sea World this month, but after hearing about this horrible situation and their horrible PR efforts, just like you, I will never give them my business again!

    Thank you for this insightful blog post! 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading! I really appreciate you taking up issue with this too and appreciate that you will not give them your business. Spread the word!

      We’re both right in the fact that ignoring a situation never helps and definitely doesn’t make the issue go away. They should have come out straight on and apologized and put out their side. We haven’t heard ANYTHING from them except calling the public foul things. They are terrible and deserve to be exposed.

      – Lauren

  4. Lauren your insights are amazing! As a new professional in public relations, I completely agree with the fact that ignoring something, does NOT make it go away. At my agency we deal with competitors and other issues of products failing or not performing as we expected, and we never just ignore it or “hope it goes away.”I was actually going to plan a visit to Sea World this month, but after hearing about this horrible situation and their horrible PR efforts, just like you, I will never give them my business again!
    Thank you for this insightful blog post! 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading! I really appreciate you taking up issue with this too and appreciate that you will not give them your business. Spread the word!
      We’re both right in the fact that ignoring a situation never helps and definitely doesn’t make the issue go away. They should have come out straight on and apologized and put out their side. We haven’t heard ANYTHING from them except calling the public foul things. They are terrible and deserve to be exposed.
      – Lauren

    1. We shouldn’t love that they’re doing this wrong because it makes the whole industry look bad. We can take this and learn from it, definitely. This should be a case study of everything NOT to do in PR 101.

      – Lauren

  5. Good article. And I agree with Jessica’s comments. When seaworld deleted my very polite comments and questions on Facebook I became angry. I also assumed they couldn’t answer my points. Indeed they couldn’t even put up a good opposition in its statement on the key issues in blackfish.

    It has fueled my desire to fight this cause for as long as it takes because it is clear they won’t make changes unless they have no choice. We need to educate ourselves and others about the amazing capabilities and intelligence of cetaceans and our movement will then continue to grow. It might take a long time but it won’t go backwards now, too many people care.

    Are you aware that the Florida attractions association are tweeting and facebooking bullish endorsement of seaworld and have labeled all who oppose as “radical extremists”. If you comment on their Facebook page they also delete it. This again has fueled my passion further. I would urge people to try and spread as much awareness as possible to residents and tourists to marine park areas (because it’s not just seaworld, the others are even worse – marineland, Miami seaquarium etc..). This can be done with educational tweets using hashtags that the tourism dept would use for that area #loveFL #Florida etc… for Florida

  6. Good article. And I agree with Jessica’s comments. When seaworld deleted my very polite comments and questions on Facebook I became angry. I also assumed they couldn’t answer my points. Indeed they couldn’t even put up a good opposition in its statement on the key issues in blackfish.
    It has fueled my desire to fight this cause for as long as it takes because it is clear they won’t make changes unless they have no choice. We need to educate ourselves and others about the amazing capabilities and intelligence of cetaceans and our movement will then continue to grow. It might take a long time but it won’t go backwards now, too many people care.
    Are you aware that the Florida attractions association are tweeting and facebooking bullish endorsement of seaworld and have labeled all who oppose as “radical extremists”. If you comment on their Facebook page they also delete it. This again has fueled my passion further. I would urge people to try and spread as much awareness as possible to residents and tourists to marine park areas (because it’s not just seaworld, the others are even worse – marineland, Miami seaquarium etc..). This can be done with educational tweets using hashtags that the tourism dept would use for that area #loveFL #Florida etc… for Florida

  7. Reblogged this on Simon Oh and commented:
    I haven’t seen “Blackfish” myself yet. However, judging by how SeaWorld is handling this scandal, it is pretty troubling. Read more on this from Lauren Gray.

  8. Thanks so much for writing about this! I totally agree with you. I think it shows such weakness on their part by refusing to acknowledge the film. PR wise, like you said, it’s very dumb. I wonder though, in terms of PR, what is the wisest strategy for them at a time like this?

  9. Thanks so much for writing about this! I totally agree with you. I think it shows such weakness on their part by refusing to acknowledge the film. PR wise, like you said, it’s very dumb. I wonder though, in terms of PR, what is the wisest strategy for them at a time like this?

  10. […] Why SeaWorld PR is Doing *Everything* Wrong with the #Blackfish Scandal – Lauren Gray details how SeaWorld is poorly handling the backlash against its brand after a CNN documentary exposed how the company mistreats its whales. SeaWorld even went as far as deleting negative comments from critics and blocking them on its Facebook page, which is a terribly bad strategy for any brand facing negative publicity. […]

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