Sesame Place Schools Us in Bad Crisis Response
Sesame Place, a theme park near Philadelphia based on Sesame Street, the children’s-education TV show, recently educated us on the importance of getting a crisis statement right the first time. Indeed, the company had to go back to the blackboard — more than once. The incident also shows the importance of emotion over logic in crisis response.
On Saturday, July 16, the performer portraying Sesame Street character Rosita (pictured) during a parade at the park allegedly refused to hug two Black 6-year-old girls who were waving at her, and then hugged a white girl next to them. Jodi Brown, the mother and aunt of the girls, filmed the incident, which went viral on social media. The backlash has been intense, including protestors outside the park.
Sesame Place Philadelphia, owned by Orlando, Florida-based SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, issued a statement the day after the incident.
This first statement started out standard enough, with a general paean to the company’s commitment to inclusiveness. But then it got too defensive and in the weeds. The performer was actually waving “no” to someone who wanted Rosita to hold a baby for a photo, which isn’t allowed, Sesame Place said. And the characters’ costumes make it hard “to see at lower levels and sometimes our performers miss hug requests from guests,” it said.
The park regretted the misunderstanding and invited the family to return and meet with the Sesame Street characters. Still, it was too much self-justification and not enough apology. It’s not what people want to hear when they feel they’ve been wronged.
“The apology was not well received, and more families began coming forward with allegations and videos alleging similar experiences at the park,” Fox29 Philadelphia wrote. “The words landed with a thud, leading to a second statement from the park Monday,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
The second statement was more self-flogging. Sesame Place apologized again and said the incident was “not ok. We are taking actions to do better. We are committed to making this right.” It would provide bias training for employees, it said, a smart move because it showed the company at least doing something.
Yet, it wasn’t enough. On July 20 Jodi Brown and her lawyer held a press conference demanding more action, a better apology and the employee in question be fired. They threatened to sue. (A different Black family sued yesterday.)
The presser apparently coaxed the park into putting out a third statement, according to Fox29. This one can fairly be described as groveling. It reiterated that the incident was “unacceptable.” “We are heartbroken by what these young girls and this family experienced in our park,” it wrote.
So what happened? Sesame Place came to see that crisis response often isn’t about defending oneself, but about what your stakeholders feel they experienced. The company was no longer trying to find explanations or excuses.
Photo Credit: Viaval Tours/Shutterstock
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