Making waves: SeaWorld’s Diane Centeno talks branding

August 31, 2012

Though summer is coming to a close, some SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks operate year-round, while others remain open through September and offer special holiday-themed events. For Diane Centeno, M.S.,  APR, the director of advertising, media and brand for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, amusement parks “were always such great places to enjoy shared family time and to go to with friends.” And although she didn’t “expect to have such a fun career because of them,” she “wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Centeno is responsible for all advertising strategies for the Busch Gardens and Sesame Place brands. She oversees IMC strategic planning, creative development and media strategies for five theme parks in Tampa, Fla., Williamsburg, Va., and Langhorne, Pa.

She started her career at SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment as a PR  manager at Busch Gardens and Water Country USA in 2000. Centeno received her undergraduate degree in marketing from St. Leo University and her master’s degree in integrated marketing communications from the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism at  West  Virginia University. 

How did you get your start in public relations?

Public relations was part of my first marketing  job at Bon Secours Health System as a marketing manager for Maryview Medical Center, in Portsmouth, Va. I gained experience in strategic planning, media relations, message development and crisis communication. I had an opportunity to join the PR team at Busch Gardens and Water Country USA. I jumped at the chance to focus 100 percent of my efforts on public relations for the tourist entity and have loved all of the roles I have been afforded within our company.

What’s a typical workday like for you?

I hold joint meetings with our creative and media agencies to finalize advertising film shoot details, determine talent casting and approve media recommendations; then, attend internal stakeholder meetings with PR, social, mobile and affiliate disciplines to ensure that action plans ladder up to our brand voice. It is a collaborative vetting process that integrates our efforts and allows the team to break down silos by bouncing ideas off of each other. It takes substantial coordination and communication to align all internal teams, especially with multiple locations, but it’s critical to ensuring that everyone is supportive of the strategies and tactics. Budget planning, staff development and long-term development projects round out the day.

The SeaWorld brand encompasses many properties in various locations. What is your role in integrating these?

As the advertising director for Busch Gardens and Sesame Place, my role is to help establish the consumer-facing voice of our brands, using both qualitative and quantitative research to ensure that our messaging resonates with our target audience.

I lead the development of communication strategies and creative ideas that span traditional media and work with a diverse group of colleagues to strategize and execute integrated marketing communications. Our goal is that consumers will experience one brand that they know and trust regardless of how they interact with us.

What are the challenges for the travel and tourism industry of reaching consumers in a down economy?

The tourism industry is beginning to see a turnaround as consumers start to have more discretionary spending. Families want to be able to have experiences together, so being able to communicate our parks’ points of difference and how families are able to enjoy shared time is important. Consumers want to be able to see value for their investment.  That’s not the same as discounts, but means that families want to invest in a brand they know and trust, and can expect to deliver the experience they are looking for. Our parks take guest satisfaction seriously to help meet expectations.
How have social media and real-time news changed how you do your job, how you work with the media and how the parks reach their fans?

Being able to facilitate two-way conversations with consumers and respond immediately is critical. Our parks have many fans and annual pass holders who help provide feedback and insights into our products and services and love to share their news.  Ensuring that our team members are equipped to answer these on-demand questions is important to our success as a brand. Providing these fans with park updates and news helps build that sense of community.

Our general website provides e-commerce capabilities, and our parks maintain blogs and Facebook pages that allow for engagement as consumers diversify how they interact with our brands.

What are the benefits of visual platforms like Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook for brand engagement?

Our parks are visual from riders on coasters and animal interactions on the Serengeti at Busch Gardens Tampa to Sesame Street character interactions at Sesame Place.  Videos and images help convey the dynamic experiences and the delighted faces of guests.

Consumers research their travel destinations and activities before they commit to a purchase.  They want to know if the hotel room they book will suit their needs or whether a theme park has activities their whole family will enjoy.

Social media channels like Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook allow consumers to post their experience and provide third-party credibility to like-minded travelers.  Word-of-mouth has always been one of the most influential marketing mediums, and these new social channels provide instant support or critique.

What trends do you see on the horizon for the PR profession?

Consumers are savvy and conduct a fair amount of research prior to committing to a purchase.  The range of social media sites available to them allows for instantaneous reviews and information.

This creates challenges for PR professionals and marketers to build strong brand communities.  And the explosion of mobile devices and smartphones is going to continue to fuel this non-stop engagement. PR professionals and marketers will need to be strategic as to how they engage with consumers.

Determining which platforms best reach your target audience can help you deliver your business objectives and execute, even if on a smaller scale, rather than trying to be everywhere.

Managing Editor Amy Jacques interviewed Diane Centeno, M.S., APR, for this month’s member profile.

Getting to Know Diane Centeno

Best place to travel?
Any beach. My favorite is Siesta Beach in Sarasota, Fla.

Any three dinner guests, past or present?
Sonia Sotomayor, Steve Jobs and Sheryl Crow
Favorite leisure time activity?


Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


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