SeaWorld already doubled down on its killer whale captivity model by pledging to invest tens of millions of dollars in bigger tanks. And now it is doubling down on the idea that better PR can defuse growing doubts about using killer whales for entertainment:
SeaWorld is working aggressively on improving its image as it continues to fend off criticism over its whales in captivity.
The company is disputing animal-rights activists online, soliciting fan support and trying to call more attention to its work with animals — such as rescuing underweight orphan manatees.
SeaWorld is making these efforts amid declining attendance and lingering controversy intensified by last year’s anti-captivity “Blackfish” documentary. The company said in an earnings report last week that negative publicity contributed to an overall third-quarter attendance decline.
“I think we’ve just realized we have to do a better job of telling our story, sharing the good work we do,” company spokeswoman Aimee Jeansonne Becka said, reiterating the thoughts expressed by Chief Executive Officer Jim Atchison earlier this year.
“You’re going to see a PR offensive coming here,” Wells Fargo analyst Tim Conder told CNBC last week. “You’re going to see SeaWorld being more open about who they are, educating people [about] who they are, with other organizations.”
Best of luck. Sometimes the apparent problem is an actual problem, and not just a failure to “tell your story.” SeaWorld, in fact, has done a brilliant job over the past 50 years of telling exactly the story it wants to tell. That’s why many viewers found the story told in Blackfish–which was VERY different–so shocking.
Changing the story to emphasize conservation (especially if it is backed up by real investments in conservation, which would be a nice) might help at the margins. But promoting conservation still does not address the fundamental reality that increasing numbers of people find killer whale circus shows anachronistic and cruel. The only way to address that problem is to change the business model and start transitioning away from the product that fewer and fewer people want to buy.
Despite the brutal beating SeaWorld is taking in the markets, and the steady decline in paying customers, it doesn’t look like SeaWorld is quite there yet.