Friday, December 27, 2013

SeaWorld “Protests Too Much, Methinks”

The next several weeks and months will undoubtedly be interesting thanks to SeaWorld’s fateful choice to enter the “Blackfish” debate. Another organization might have chosen to be silent and wait for the furor to subside, but SeaWorld has chosen an alternative disposition.

When entering a debate, one of the fundamental tenants is to focus on the position or argument presented by the opposition, but SeaWorld has not followed this core principle. As part of their current public relations campaign, SeaWorld prefers to provide information that in no way addresses the issues raised in “Blackfish”. In the world of organized debate, SeaWorld would receive a failing grade.

To understand the reasons for their current choices, one does not need to look any further than the bottom line. Money makes the world go around and financial gain is probably a key driver behind the current campaign, but it this case, one of the sources of the greed could be external to SeaWorld.

If SeaWorld engaged consultants to provide advice regarding how to manage their current predicament, and these consultants advised SeaWorld to do nothing, it would be difficult to submit a large, annotated invoice for hours of consulting time. “Doing nothing” does not generate commission on the costs of newspapers advertisements or on the fees paid to supposedly neutral third parties who have been engaged to extoll the virtues of SeaWorld.

An article published today in the Orlando Sentinel by the President of the Central Florida Partnership, Jacob Stuart, My Word: SeaWorld helps enrich lives in Central Fla.” is one of the latest efforts to defend SeaWorld. Stuart uses the hollow platitude that SeaWorld is a “trusted name” and he arrives at the crux of his argument went he states, “SeaWorld has 11 parks in five states, and recently chose Central Florida as the permanent home for its corporate headquarters. Between Orlando and Tampa, SeaWorld has five parks that provide more than 10,000 full-time and part-time positions.”

The number of employees is not at issue, nor is the choice of location for the corporate headquarters. It is interesting that Stuart’s article does not mention “Blackfish” by name. Perhaps the writer was following a “style guide” drafted by a public relations consultant who suggested that “Blackfish” not be specifically identified, but anyone who was not aware of the documentary might be curious as to the name of the “speculative and one-sided documentary”.

One of the biggest news stories this year in Canada was the antics of Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor, Rob Ford. He has a colourful history and his mouth continues to move; providing an endless supply of sound bites for late night talk shows hosts.   

“Blackfish” will be talked about for years to come not only because of how it shone a bright light on the issue of killer whales in captivity, but as a study in media relations. SeaWorld’s response to this documentary could prove to be one of the most disastrous public relations campaigns in recent history. Perhaps business students will detail the various mistakes made by SeaWorld, but SeaWorld’s first and fundamental communication error was simple. They entered a debate when they had no credible defense.

To the well-informed, articles such as the above mentioned by Jacob Stuart are amusing and for those who have not questioned killer whale captivity, SeaWorld’s defense serves to raise curiosity and opens the dialogue about “Blackfish” and the issues it presents.

SeaWorld, you really do protest too much but a question must be asked. Were you also reading Hamlet? Perhaps you were, and as a mantra for your current creative media campaign, you selected, “to thine own self be true”.

For the Oceans,