SeaWorld Behaved Badly

Seaworld-main-imageReaders of BizCom in the News know I have a keen interest in SeaWorld, particularly after the documentary Blackfish revealed poor treatment of orcas, which has caused trainer injuries and deaths. I wrote a short case, "SeaWorld's Response to Blackfish" (and corresponding assignment), and have had Samantha Berg, a former SeaWorld trainer profiled in the movie (and a Cornell Veterinary College graduate) guest speak in my Corporate Communication class. As a crisis communication situation, the entertainment company did horribly, offering little response as criticism on social media was mounting.

Now SeaWorld executives admit to having employees pose as animal rights activists to understand their strategy. Desperate times lead to desperate measures. The company has suffered financially and, last week, announced changes at the executive level. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said, "The tawdry orca sideshows and despicable spying tactics are sinking SeaWorld's ship." 

On its website, SeaWorld admitted the deception under a broader statement about security and risk management:

During its earnings call today, SeaWorld announced that its Board of Directors is taking steps to strengthen the company's security and risk management policies and controls. Following the completion of an investigation conducted by independent outside counsel, the Board has directed that the company's management team end a practice in which certain employees posed as animal rights activists in connection with efforts to maintain the safety and security of company employees, customers, and animals in the face of credible threats that the company had received. The Board also has directed the company's management team to strengthen oversight and controls to guide operations and security practices. SeaWorld has retained Freeh Group International Solutions, LLC to evaluate current controls and develop new policies and standards to ensure best practices company-wide.

All personnel matters pertaining to those involved have been handled internally. That said, Mr. McComb remains an employee of SeaWorld, has returned to work at SeaWorld in a different department and is no longer on administrative leave.

"We recognize the need to ensure that all of our security and other activities align with our core values and ethical standards. As always, the security and well-being of our employees, customers and animals remain at the forefront of our business practices," said Joel Manby, President and Chief Executive Officer of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc.

The report contains confidential business information related to the company's security practices. The company will not comment beyond this statement.

Image source.

Discussion Starters:

  • What should SeaWorld do now to try to protect what's left of its brand image?
  • Assess the statement above. How well does the company handle the admission?