Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Whale of a PR Challenge

By: Beth Kneisler, Account Assistant, Leonard & Finco Public Relations

In the business world, we know a crisis can happen to any company no matter the size or location. We also know that facing the crisis head on when one does happen is crucial in making sure a company can overcome and survive whatever the crisis may have been.

Recently, Sea World officials found themselves in this very situation when Dawn Brancheau, one of Sea World’s trainers, died from multiple traumatic injuries and drowning after being pulled into the water by a 12,000 pound killer whale named Tilikum.

Almost immediately, all upcoming whale shows were cancelled at all Sea World parks (not just in Orlando) while officials could digest what had happened and figure out how to respond to the public (this was probably one of the best things officials could have done at this point). In just the short time before the press conference was held, opinions across the nation were being formed about the park.

Sea World officials were in the midst of having to prepare for what could very well be some of the toughest questions they have or would ever be asked. Everyone wanted to know why such a well-known, nationally loved park would allow trainers to work with this whale, especially after he had already been involved in the death of two others in the past? They also wanted to know why the whale was not being released into the wild and, if as a spectator of a future show, they could be hurt as well.

When the news conference was held, Sea World officials faced the questions head on. They explained what had happened, why they thought it may have happened, as well as what they were going to do to make sure it didn’t happen again. Fortunately for Sea World, it has a solid reputation and people, for the most part, do understand that there is always some risk when working with wild animals, especially ones of this size.

However, despite all of this, officials are going to have to continue doing “damage control.” The debate of keeping wild animals in captivity is going to continue for a very long time and, when it does, there is a good chance Sea World’s name is going to be within the conversation. It will be really interesting to watch the next few weeks and months unfold to see what Sea World does to continue regaining the public’s trust and support.

But all this is just my personal opinion, so I want to hear what you think about the incident at Sea World? Do you think their officials did a good job at minimizing impact to their brand? What do you think they’ll do to regain support?

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