After decades of cultivating a corporate image around one of the ocean's greatest predators, SeaWorld managers must reassure visitors that a killer whale's fatal mauling of its trainer doesn't mean the parks aren't safe.
Marketing and public relations experts say what the company does in coming days will be key to preserving its image.
Glenn Bunting, managing director for the Los Angeles-based crisis management firm Sitrick and Co. said SeaWorld needs to respond promptly and proactively.
"They need to review every safety precaution," he said. "They need to explain how it happened, why it happened and make sure it doesn't happen again to reassure the public."
I wonder how they will "make sure" this whale (Tilikum), or any other whale that gets ridden around on for park visitors' viewing pleasure, won't kill someone else.
Larry L. Smith, president of the Institute for Crisis Management, in Louisville, Ky., defended SeaWorld's response.
"They've not overreacted. They've not gone into a stall. They're not ducking the media," he said. And, he said, they had the advantage that the attack occurred the same day the head of Toyota testified before Congress about his own company's public relations crisis and broke down crying.
Oh that is lucky! Some people have been killed in runaway cars and this trainer lost her life when the media was distracted by the investigation. Everything fell into place so nicely.
Smith said the attack could actually drive up attendance of at least one demographic — teens and young adults.
"It's not going to draw families necessarily or older people who would typically visit there, but there is an age group that gets excited about the risks and the potential for drama and it may attract some of those folks," he said.
It's like the X-Games but with whales instead of skateboards. Awesome! Sea World may have hit the jackpot here.
For now, the killer whale shows have been suspended. As for what Sea World will do next, I would love it if Sea World announced it was letting all its marine mammals go free. They won't, I know. Tilikum in particular has been a prolific sire for their captive breeding program. He's worth a lot of money. And that, I'm guessing, will continue to be the guiding light for Sea World.
News conference scheduled for 1pm Eastern.
Update: A summary of the news conference here.