I took a class titled “Public Relations Case Studies” during my time at Auburn University. This class is designed to enhance students' understanding of both effective and ineffective methods of PR through studying actual cases from the field. During my Public Relations Case Studies course, I, along with three other group members, completed a case study on SeaWorld’s attempt to combat the ‘Blackfish’ controversy. We used strategies learned from public relations courses and research to develop an in-depth analysis of the communication plan utilized by SeaWorld. We discussed the failures and the successes of SeaWorld’s campaigns.
In 1964, the first SeaWorld opened in San Diego, California. SeaWorld was founded by George Millay, Milt Shedd, Ken Norris and David DeMott and was originally intended to be an underwater restaurant. The idea quickly expanded and eventually became a marine zoological park along the shore of Mission Bay, California (SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc., 2015). Today, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Inc. is actively trying to save the face of its company’s infamous reputation ever since the release of the controversial documentary, ‘Blackfish.’ Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, ‘Blackfish’ focuses on the death of former SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, whose life was taken by an orca named Tilikum. The film suggests that whale captivity is inhumane, and is critical of the physical and mental impact that captivity has on orcas. However, Broncheau’s family released a statement claiming that the film was inaccurate and misleading. Since the showing of the film in 2013, SeaWorld’s attendance has fallen by four percent and the price of its share decreased by 50 percent. Taking an aggressive approach, SeaWorld has launched numerous campaigns and social media sweeps in hopes of reputation recovery and reconciliation with the public. However, for SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Inc., the ‘Blackfish’ controversy was just the beginning of the years of criticism the theme park would face surrounding the strategies and tactics used while trying to tell their side of the story.
For more information and to read the full case study analysis, "Whale, What Now?" click here or the image above.