PETA is the crazy aunt Esther of public relations. You never know what she is going to say or do, and in a way you kind of love her for it. In many regards PETA is synonymous with public relations, because much of the public associates the brand with one of its many controversial campaigns.
From leveraging the power of human sexuality to animal cruelty, PETA has always managed to gain the public’s attention. This time, however, PETA is focusing its efforts on a more select audience: the stockholders at SeaWorld. PETA paid $2,273.70 for 80 shares of SeaWorld stock, which went public on April 19. With money comes access, and that amount is just enough to provide PETA access to SeaWorld’s annual meetings where it can promote its agenda and ask for policy changes.
SeaWorld, unsurprisingly, is not happy. PETA vehemently disapproves of SeaWorld’s very existence, claiming the park enslaves wildlife such as orca whales and profits from the imprisoning and display of animals. The treatment of animals is an emotional issue that resonates with the public, no matter where they stand on the issue. This makes the confrontation compelling for anyone in our industry. This is a battle for the hearts and minds of the American people.
Both PETA and SeaWorld claim that education is critical to winning over the public. PETA wants the public to understand SeaWorld’s true practices and motivations; SeaWorld wants the public to understand PETA’s true practices and motivations. Both believe they own the higher moral ground.
PETA has clearly been very successful at creating controversy, and by creating this controversy it can claim PR success the same way modern art—no matter how untalented and confusing—can achieve legitimacy by compelling people to talk about art. But industry experts know that emotions come and go.
To win the public the facts must prevail.