SeaWorld Entertainment has named Marisa Thalberg as chief marketing and communications officer, effective April 24, according to a press release shared with Marketing Dive. The executive’s purview covers brand and marketing strategy, driving visitation across a portfolio of 12 parks and promoting the company’s conservation platform.
The announcement touted Thalberg’s expertise in areas like digital, social media and e-commerce, along with accolades including five appearances on Forbes’ “World’s Most Influential CMOs” list. Company leadership indicated that Thalberg was tapped to strengthen brand purpose for the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens owner, which has grappled with controversies related to its handling of animals over the past decade.
“Marisa’s experience with some of the most recognized retail and [food and beverage] brands, coupled with her strong history of driving revenue growth through holistic marketing strategies, represents a great opportunity to better showcase our iconic brands and the passionate work we do with conservation,” said Marc Swanson, CEO of SeaWorld Entertainment, in a statement.
Thalberg has developed a reputation as a brand purpose maven thanks to buzz-generating work at brands including Taco Bell, where she engaged the quick-service restaurant’s fervent cult following through innovative digital, mobile and experiential campaigns and helped consistently grow quarterly same-store sales. Thalberg also stewarded the Yum Brand chain’s marketing through a fast-paced international expansion.
Thalberg departed Taco Bell in 2019 after a four-year stint and, in early 2020, landed at Lowe’s. The move occurred right before the pandemic hit, meaning much of Thalberg’s early mission at the home improvement retailer revolved around navigating the crisis. Thalberg departed Lowe’s in September of last year as part of a larger reorganization.
Outside of her brand-specific work, Thalberg in 2002 founded the organization Executive Moms, which supports mothers in the professional world. She has sat on the boards of trade groups including the AdCouncil International Women’s Media Foundation.
SeaWorld Entertainment hiring Thalberg to evolve its conservation efforts follows years of transition for the organization. Its flagship SeaWorld brand has been the subject of some high-profile controversy, namely due to the 2013 documentary “Blackfish.”
The film profiled an orca held in captivity that killed a trainer during a performance. It became a major hit and resulted in backlash against the practice of breeding orcas, which SeaWorld eventually wound down. SeaWorld in 2020 also halted the practice of trainers riding with dolphins. The company that year agreed to settle an investor lawsuit over the impact of “Blackfish.” Investors had accused SeaWorld of downplaying the film’s effect on performance.