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SeaWorld found itself involved in a big crisis management mistake made by the Orlando Business Journal.

This occurred after the outlet reported that one of its polls was being tampered with by the theme park chain.

The outlet had asked its audience a question about a documentary that painted SeaWorld in a negative light, titled Blackfish. The question itself asked visitors whether the documentary changed their perception of the aquatic theme park, and the results that came in were surprising.

That’s because 99% of the voters that participated in the poll responded that the documentary didn’t have an impact on their opinions of the theme park.

Results of Investigation

After the results were finalized, the Orlando Business Journal decided to investigate the poll and shared the results of that investigation with the readers.

According to the investigation, there was a single Internet Protocol Address (IP Address) that contributed over 50% of the total number of votes. More specifically, out of the total 328 votes, 180 were made from a single device.

IP Addresses are a unique digital identifier that’s given to a single, or a series of devices, such as a single smartphone, or a multi-computer network in an office.

The outlet also revealed who was behind the IP Address in question, as they’re registered with the domain name and company, and the responsible party was SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.

That meant the aquatic theme park participated in a low form of ballot stuffing to change public perception of it.

However, the situation only ended up furthering the negative image that the theme park already had in the eyes of the public, which was started by the documentary at the time.

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Start of Crisis

In the documentary, Blackfish, SeaWorld is portrayed as an irresponsible and uncaring organization that only publicly states that it’s doing the best it can for the animals.

However, this isn’t actually the case, since the documentary details the capture and harassment of orcas inside the theme park.

Those incidents made the captive orcas in SeaWorld very aggressive, as they were stressed throughout their time in the theme park. The entire situation resulted in several different attacks from orcas on their SeaWorld trainers, as well as three deaths. 

This hasn’t been the only instance when SeaWorld has found itself in a negative situation in front of the public, as the popular theme park has ignored a number of positive crisis management tips and strategies.

The entire PR crisis stemmed from the Blackfish documentary, and instead of SeaWorld working to mitigate the negative backlash from the public, the theme park sat idly by while the rest of the world talked about what had happened.

Response and Reaction

About two years after the documentary, SeaWorld finally decided to react to the situation by releasing an ad campaign and defending itself against some of the claims that were made against it.

Although the film was never addressed in the aftermath of the documentary, the timing was too late to repair any of the damage that had already been done.

That’s why companies should always have a PR crisis plan long before any crisis situation hаppens. Companies should also communicate with the public with speed and transparency in order to more effectively mitigate any potential negativity.

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Ronn Torossian is the CEO and founder of NY based PR firm 5W Public Relations. Torossian is also the founder of the Ronn Torossian Foundation, and a life long New Yorker.

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Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 175 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, and a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, was named to PR Week's "40 under Forty" list, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations" is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.