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Seaworld vs. Blackfish PR Crisis

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anissa leverett

on 10 April 2014

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Transcript of Seaworld vs. Blackfish PR Crisis

Branding and crisis management must be completely transparent.
Do not attack the news source. By attacking the source, it never turns out well for an organization. Attacking them is not a good strategy. You do
misinformation, but you don’t
a source, because that makes things escalate.
Importance of
crisis management
and the repercussions of failing to properly react to crises
You can never underestimate the power of the media

(Discovery Cove)
Background photo by t.shigesa
Crisis Management
By: Anissa Leverett
COMM 4344
Tilikum & Dawn Brancheau
SeaWorld’s crisis began with the airing of the film, Blackfish on CNN. Blackfish exposed practices at the aquatic park, including an exposé about whales in captivity and the orca-related death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. Blackfish has brought increased scrutiny on Sea World for their treatment of Orcas, and the general safety of their trainers.

LA Times
NY Times
Daily Finance
Business Week
Channel News 9 Orlando
Bay News 9
Central Florida News
Huffington Post
LA Times
Went viral on social media

Does it Matter?
Sea World's
profits shrunk
the year of Dawn's death (But only from $1.4 billion to $1.2)
OSHA has
fined Sea World
for multiple infractions (But the fines range from 38,000-75,000)
After a year off,
Tilikum began performing again
and is still today.
Sea World has spent millions of dollars to
fight OSHA
restrictions which would prohibit trainers from being dangerously close to orcas.

Created a web page to address the movie. A 1,700-word analysis – titled “Why ‘Blackfish’ is Propaganda, not a Documentary” – plays prominently there.
At first, SeaWorld remained silent except for one brief announcement early on
Pre-emptive PR Strike
SeaWorld sends out a detailed critique of the movie
"Dear Film Critic Letter"
SeaWorld issues a statement to CNN
Killer Whale Treadmill, quick rising pool floors, and "spare air systems"
What They Did Right
What they did wrong:
Aggressive Approach
Minimized the seriousness of the problem
Attacked News Sources
Lack of Transparency
Social Media
Lack of communication
Lack of top executive involvement
By taking an aggressive stance against the documentary, SeaWorld may spark the interest of people who might not otherwise see the film. And people whose curiosity is piqued by the passion of the responses.

Rigged Poll on Orlando Business Journal Website
On December 31, the Orlando Business Journal posted an unscientific poll asking, "Has CNN's 'Blackfish' documentary changed your perception of SeaWorld?"
By midday Thursday, the paper reported, an overwhelming 99% of respondents said "no," their opinion of the beloved park had not changed.
What the Journal discovered upon a closer look was that 54% of those 328 votes had been cast from a single Internet Protocol (IP) address. The address belonged to SeaWorld.

What They Did
The company launched an aggressive media campaign of persistent anti-”Blackfish”
social media posts,
featuring SeaWorld employees and
full-page ads
in some of the nation’s largest newspapers

Distributed a detailed critique of the movie to about 50 film critics, calling it “dishonest, deliberately misleading, and scientifically inaccurate.”
Celebrities Cancel Shows at SeaWorld
Positive Aspects
I believe that any opportunity to learn from a mistake can be considered a positive outcome although I do not think that SeaWorld believes they made any mistakes. With that being said, I was not able to identify any truly positive aspects of the crisis unless you believe that even in this case, any publicity is good publicity, seeing as how their official statement was the most quoted in online news.
Consumers began contacting musical acts that were scheduled to perform at SeaWorld’s “Bands, Brew & BBQ” series, one of the park’s biggest events.

Social media petitions began with one getting over 12,000 members urging the acts to cancel. The musicians took notice. Barenaked Ladies, Heart, Willie Nelson and others cancelled their scheduled appearances. Singer Joan Jett asked the park to stop using her song “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” during its “Shamu Rocks”.

SeaWorld’s response was to criticize the musical acts, attack the people using
social media
to protest their policies and state that park attendance was not being affected.

Negative Aspects
Lessons Learned
The lessons learned through this crisis is that now more than ever, when developing a crisis plan, the social media element must be incorporated into the plan, which needs to include a risk analysis so they can think about future risks and how to handle them.
What They Did
After the film was aired, viewers turned to the Internet and social media to start online protests in reaction to what the film depicted. Facebook pages were made calling for a boycott against SeaWorld until they changed their policies. People who posted on SeaWorld’s Facebook page who expressed their opinions about SeaWorld’s policies noticed that their posts were being
. SeaWorld wouldn’t even address their concerns. As a part of their crisis strategy they began highlighting the good work they have done for animal rescues (which was never disputed). Consumers who saw their posts deleted were outraged-causing further social media commentary of Blackfish and SeaWorld to go viral.
Ultimately, all of the incorrect moves made by SeaWorld can be blamed on their obsession with Blackfish. Instead of channeling their passion and problem solving techniques towards SeaWorld as a company they aimed all of their aggression at Blackfish and everyone can tell. Something smells fishy there and its not Shamu.
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