Yesterday marked a big win for activists, and even the very threat of activism. Shares of SeaWorld Entertainment fell 30 percent after the company reported disappointing results. SeaWorld gave a straightforward explanation for slumping park attendance: the controversy generated by the film Blackfish. As a public relations professional, I admire an activist campaign that can shave $750 million off a company’s market cap.
But how much is SeaWorld to blame for its own predicament? Activists want you to engage them in a very contentious and public dispute. The publicity creates awareness for the activists’ cause, and a downward spiral of business distractions and diverted resources for the company.
If your company’s business model is incompatible with an activist group’s demands – as in SeaWorld’s case – the only workable strategy is to de-escalate the conflict. Your message to every audience – press, public, customers – is that we care, we agree, and we are interested in working toward the best solution. If all parties appear to be working together, the agitation loses its purpose.
So how did SeaWorld do? According to the Wall Street Journal, SeaWorld has called Blackfish “propaganda” pushed by “animal-rights extremists,” and even launched a website in 2014 titled “Truth About Blackfish” to dispute the film. And what did all this defensiveness and name-calling get SeaWorld? Here’s a 5-day snapshot of the company’s stock price: