SeaWorld’s Sinking Ship

A new book released earlier this week is likely to put the final nails in SeaWorld’s coffin.

The book authored by John Hargrove, a former SeaWorld orca trainer is titled Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish.

via Amazon

Via Amazon

Hargrove was one of the former trainers who spoke out against SeaWorld in the 2013 documentary Blackfish.

Hargrove worked with orcas for 14 years, traveling to two different continents and working in two SeaWorld facilities. He now claims to be fed up with SeaWorld and its inhumane treatment of both the park animals and their trainers.

This book is likely to cause a lot of trouble for SeaWorld, but at this point I’m sure this company is used to it.

Blackfish created a tidal wave of backlash, which has undoubtedly tarnished the adventure park’s brand and image. Throughout the last two years SeaWorld has ended its 26-year partnership with Southwest Airlines, it has seen a 44 percent drop in share prices as of the end of 2014 (CBSNews), and public figures such as Willie Nelson, Aaron Paul and Russell Brand have publicly spoken out against the company.

A lawsuit was recently filed by a California women who claims she would have never taken her children to SeaWorld had she known the conditions in which the park animals were kept. “The lawsuit says any visitors to the parks in the last four years should be refunded, alleging that SeaWorld deliberately misleads the public about its care for orca whales.” (Time)

What is SeaWorld doing to fix all this you might ask?

For starters they have launched a new campaign called “SeaWorld Cares: You Ask, We Answer”. Looking over the website SeaWorld seems to be giving some good answers to many of the questions raised by Blackfish.

Some of the questions answered have names associated with them as if the questions were pulled from an actual people, but many are just labeled as frequently asked questions.

SeaWorld needs to be engaging with people not just throwing information at them.

In a tweet from SeaWorld on March 24, 2015 announcing the launch of “SeaWorld Cares: You Ask, We Answer” some 5-dozen comments were posted none of which were responded to by SeaWorld.

This company’s image is on its last leg unless it can find a way to be more transparent with its publics, and develop open channels of communication with audiences, if not John Hargrove may just sink SeaWorld forever.


Can Starbucks End Racism? Doesn’t Look Like It

In the last week Starbucks received waves of backlash due to the launch of the company’s new campaign titled Race Together.

Baristas were instructed to write #RaceTogether on customers’ coffee cups and then attempt to spark up a conversation about race with said customer.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 2.05.23 PM

Image credit: Starbucks (Business Insider)

One of the issues expressed in opposition of the campaign revolved around Starbucks putting the weight of such a heavy issue on its employees (Entrepreneur).

I doubt that while being orientated for their job as a barista that these employees were trained to handle issues as serious and sensitive as racism. Bringing up such a heated topic while handing someone their morning cup of coffee could land some Starbucks employees in difficult situations that neither them nor their management team have been trained to handle.

Another concern brought up in an article from the Washington Post suggested the exploitation and profiteering of Starbucks by using racism as a gimmick to sell more coffee. “The most ridiculous part of the new campaign is that it treats the very real problem of racial bias and tension as, at best, a peg for a marketing gimmick and, at worst, as something that can be waved away by simply thinking about it”

And it didn’t stop there, not only did the company receive backlash from the news media but also from social media. Twitter blew up with out rage so much so that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has now deleted his Twitter account.

Schultz may as well scream no comment from the top of the empire state building. It would have likely had the same effect on all those offended by Race Together.

It seems now that the company is leaving its senior manager of partner communications and engagement, Kelly Sheppard to clean up the mess.

Sheppard is a black leader in the company who in a blog post on March 15, 2015 discussed the series of partner open forum discussions that led to the creation of Race Together (PR Daily).

Alone this powerful post has generated almost the only positive feedback Starbucks has received from Race Together and may be the campaigns only redeeming quality.

Russia’s Break Up

One of the most tragic love stories of all time has finally come to its last act. Ketchum Inc. one of the largest public relations firms in the world recently ended its nine-year relationship with Russia.

The company began working with Russia in 2006 when the country “hosted the G8 Summit of world leaders from the richest industrialized countries for the first time and was made up into a full member.” (PR Week)

The Kremlin in Russia

The Kremlin in Russia (PR Week)

Ketchum also worked with Russia during the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and aided in the publishing of Vladimir Putin’s famous op-ed in September of 2013.

Relations between Russia and the west have always been complicated at best, but with the continuing crisis in the Ukraine it was probably best Ketchum pulled out when it did.

The relationship was reported by the Moscow Times to have ended due to the “information war” against Russia. As a result of escalating tensions Russia feels it can no longer improve upon its position in the minds of western countries.

Ketchum told PR Week “Ketchum no longer represents the Russian Federation in the US or Europe with the exception of our office in Moscow. Our partner in the consortium, [Omnicom subsidiary] GPlus, continues to operate under the terms of the contract.”

Ketchum received a good amount of backlash during the company’s time representing Russia including a not so nice article written by the Washington Post titled “Who Would Work For Russia? These People”.

In my opinion taking Russia on as a client was a fair move on Ketchum’s part. A client is a client, even if people don’t like them.

It also made sense for the relationship to end when it did. Continuing issues with Ukraine has put a great deal of strain between Russia and the United States, which was likely to have been every difficult for Ketchum.

Chrysler Doesn’t Do Crisis

This week I was shocked, but impressed by a surprisingly transparent blog post by Chrysler Fiat.

Gualberto Ranieri, senior vice president of communications for Chrysler Fiat Automobiles, wrote the post, in it Ranieri advised caution to anyone interested in purchasing a new 2015 Dodge Challenger or Charger SRT Hellcat.

The new 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat (Fox News)

The new 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat           (Fox News)

Ranieri explained the unanticipated high demand the company has recently witnessed for these vehicles. He goes on to point out how it has come to the FCA’s attention some dealerships may be promising more than they can deliver (FCA Blog).

Dealerships are expected to receive only one SRT Hellcat a month unless they are able to move the product within five days of receiving it. If the vehicle sits on the lot for longer than five days the dealership will not be able to receive another till the next month.

Ranieri urges people to ask the right questions when they consider placing an order for a SRT Hellcat. Some of these questions include: “How many Hellcat orders does the authorized dealer have pending and where would I be on the list?” and “Based on the dealer’s prior 90 day Dodge sales and previous Hellcat scheduling, when can I expect to receive my Hellcat order? (FCA Blog).”

Chrysler in my opinion is doing a fantastic job in being proactive to a crisis situation that has yet to hit the fan.

Since these vehicles have still to be released to the market no actual backless has begun, but by recognizing the problem before it actually becomes one Chrysler is likely doing itself a favor in the long run.

Chrysler’s transparency in this situation makes the company appear loyal to its customers by informing and making them aware of what problems they may face and how to avoid them.

Coca-Cola is Keeping it Happy

A few bumps in the road and a bad prank can’t keep a good company down.

Coca-Cola is at it again with a new campaign to spread happiness. This time using smiling emoji icons as web address for the Coca-Cola Puerto Rico website.

Typing the happy emoji web addresses into a web browser directs web surfers to a special landing page where Coca-Cola is hosting a contest allowing applicants to sign up for a chance to win an emoji web address of their own.

Only emoji icons that express happiness are being used for this campaign. From faces sticking their tongue out at you to crying from joy no happy face was left behind. To convert all of these cute emoji faces into web address they were finished off with the suffix .ws.

“Emojis are not accepted on domains such as .com, .net, and .org,” DDB Puerto Rico says. “After doing some research on domains that do accept emojis, we opted to go with the .ws because the letters could stand for ‘We smile’ and hence seemed most relevant to the brand. (AdWeek)”.

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One of Coca-Cola Puerto Rico’s new billboards for the smiling emoji campaign (AdWeek)

Converging media channels Coca-Cola has chosen to use traditional media to spread this new campaign that may have other wise been bound to the realm of the Internet.

Billboards featuring the emoji icons have popped up all over Puerto Rico. The advertisements are kept simple by only displaying the classic Coca-Cola brand background behind the emoji web addresses.

“The vast majority of our audience now visits our website via a mobile device. And since emojis have become a kind of second language for Coke’s younger consumers, we felt this was a great opportunity to connect on a deeper level with our most important demographic,” says Alejandro Gómez, president of Coca-Cola Puerto Rico (AdWeek).

Security Crisis

Personal information just isn’t so personal anymore. I would bet more than two-dozen companies have access to my bank account and identify information. Honestly, that’s pretty scary to think about.

What’s even more frightening is how even industry giants are not immune to hacks. Anthem Inc. is a leader in the insurance industry, it is one the largest for-profit insurance providers in the world.

David McNew/Getty Image

File photo of the Anthem Blue Cross headquarters in Woodland Hills, California, on Feb. 9, 2010. Photo by David McNew/Getty Image (PBS)

Anthem was hacked Feb. 4, 2015 and has been working to resolve the issue with the potential 80 million victims.  So far four lawsuits have been filled in Indiana, California, Alabama and Georgia (Indystar).

Some respect has to be given to Anthem CEO, Joseph Swedish who took no time informing his customers and law enforcement of the incident. Swedish even signed an email the same night expressing his frustration and concern since he and other Anthem employees were also victims of this attack (LA Times).

He actually beat the press, and he apologized before anyone even had the chance to get too pissed off, so two thumbs up for good crisis management.

Unfortunately, what’s really ticking some people off is the low security standards that made this attack so simple.

First, all of Anthem’s customers’ data was stored on a single server. Eighty million individuals’ information was all in one place. That just doesn’t sound like a good idea.  This was a one-stop-shop for which ever hacker group is responsible.

Second, insurance agencies are not required by law to encrypt customer data. This measure may have prevented the incident all together, or at least made it more difficult on the hackers.

Other insurance companies should learn a lesson from Anthem’s recent scandal. Just because you don’t have to do something doesn’t always mean you shouldn’t.

The Need For Ethics in Business and Media

Ethics are important in every field and career, almost every occupation today has some type of ethics code, guidelines, or is bound by ethical laws.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which is the governing guidelines for ethics for publicly traded businesses, was established after the Enron scandal. In media the Society of Professional Journalists has a code of ethics, which serves as a manual for how to be ethical in journalism.

For myself as public relations major ethics in the fields of business and media are especially important. Public relations crises are often born out of lack of or neglect of ethics in one or both of these fields.

Former chief executive of Tyco International Dennis Kozlowski and wife Karen leave New York State ...

Dennis Kozlowski being released form prison in January of 2014 (Reuters/ Seth Wenig)

Take for example Tyco, a security systems company, which in 2002 under-went one of the worst public relations scandals ever. The company’s CEO, Dennis Kozlowski along with his senior management team stole over $150 million disguised as executive bonuses and benefits (Investopedia).

Some have compared Tyco’s 2002 scandal with other well-known business ethics scandals such as Enron and WorldCom. The primary difference and possibly why Tyco is ranked further down in lists like the “5 Most Publicized Ethics Violations By CEOs” is that unlike Enron, WorldCom and many others, Tyco didn’t go bankrupt after losing over $150 million. Today Tyco is still a huge business; it’s customers “[range] in size from large Fortune 500 companies to single-location commercial customers and residential customers (Tyco).”

Last January after serving his maximum minimum sentence of eight-and-a-half-years Kozlowski was released from prison at the age of 67.

During his parole panel conference meeting Reuters reported Kozlowski’s apology admitting, “It was greed, pure and simple,” that led him to commit the crimes he did.

Kozlowski allowed himself to become blind by greed and overlooked his and Tyco’s ethics. This disregard left a millionaire CEO unemployed and imprisoned for eight years.

Another example of why Ethics is necessary goes back to 2012 in Benghazi, Libya where ambassador Chis Stevens and three other American citizens were murdered during a protest.

Many consider this a hugely important scandal for many reasons, but I want to pay attention to the media response and the scandal that surrounded the supposed cover up by the Obama Administration and 60 Minutes report by Lara Logan.

The attacks on the consulate took place on September 11, 2012. In the first documented media response major networks reported the incident to have taken place during a spontaneous protest. This information was provided by the Obama administration that adamantly avoided associating the incident as an attack of terrorism. The protest was reported to have begun that day as a result of outrage toward the Anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims.

The scandalous part of all this began with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s interviews on multiple Sunday talk shows, her talking points were revised to edit out the words like terrorist attack to avoid Obama losing points in the 2012 election (Washington Post).

It was not until after Obama had been reelected that the administration begun referring to the Benghazi attacks as an attack of terrorism.

So there is one ethical issue, because of all this some have referred to Benghazi as the Watergate of the Obama Administration.


Lara Logan 60 Minutes report on Benghazi (Media Matters)

A second ethical issue that occurred with the Benghazi story developed after the airing of a 60 Minutes segment by correspondent Lara Logan. In the segment Logan interviewed a man who went by the pseudonym Morgan Jones whose actual name was Dylan Davies.

Davies who was a security contractor was present in Benghazi during the time of the attacks, he alleged to have been in the middle of the chaos at the consulate that night. He claimed he entered the compound that night and was engaged in an altercation with one of the attackers, he also said he had seen Ambassador Seven’s dead body in a hospital, none of which was true (Washington Post).

All of this false information was aired because of 60 Minutes not properly vetting Davies before deciding to run with his story. The story he told 60 Minutes did not add up with the account he gave the FBI and the State Department.

As it turned out Davies was nowhere near the compound that night. He was at home.

Lara Logan was forced to apologize, she admitted she was wrong and a mistake had been made. Logan and her producer, Max McClellan were both later asked to leave CBS.

If simple ethics had been applied to either of these situations maybe the end result would have been different. Perhaps Dennis Kozlowski would still be the CEO of Tyco, or maybe the Obama Administration would not have its own Water Gate Scandal, and also CBS would still employ Lara Logan and Max McClellan.

All of these cases would have been handled in part by a public relations crisis communications team. By studying these cases public relations professionals are capable of understanding ethics better and help to better explain and implement their understanding to their clients and their clients businesses.