Six Flags Files for Bankruptcy

Theme-Park Chain Buys Up Online Ads in Hopes of Drawing Visitors Year-Round

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Theme-park giant Six Flags has filed for bankruptcy, a move that normally signals a cut in marketing spending. But in this case, Chapter 11 figures to be good news for Mr. Six.

Six Flags is doing its best to protect its image online with a PR blitz.
Six Flags is doing its best to protect its image online with a PR blitz.
"Our biggest challenge today is that the public is more familiar with 'bankruptcy' because of AIG and Chrysler," said Mike Antinoro, exec VP-entertainment and marketing at Six Flags, adding "But you hear that word, and it's closely associated with 'closed.'" So Six Flags, which derives more than 80% of its annual revenue from late spring and summer, is buying additional interactive inventory to help spread the word that its parks are very much open for business as it restructures its $2.4 billion debt.

More than 'open'
"We're redirecting our message online," said Mr. Antinoro. "We're focusing on reassurance: We're not just 'open'; we have new attractions and rides in every single park, and longer hours and more operating days than ever before."

Mr. Antinoro declined to speak specifically about how much money Six Flags would spend to "reassure" its customers. However, another insider familiar with the company's finances said the company spends some $60 million annually on all of its marketing. Thanks to the restructuring of its debt, at least five Six Flags markets -- New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis and Springfield, Mass. -- are slated to actually receive between 10% and 15% increases in their advertising and marketing resources, the insider said. Ogilvy North America is Six Flags' agency.

In the meantime, Six Flags is doing its best to protect its image online with a PR blitz. It's purchased search terms such as "Six Flags bankruptcy" at major search engines like Google and Yahoo so that an FAQ page on Six Flags site can direct them to factual information about the minimal effect on operations. And CEO Marc Shapiro spent much of his Monday afternoon answering questions at a bloggers' roundtable, fielding questions from financial and theme-park bloggers about the impact of the restructuring on new roller coasters.

Hiring an agent
The company has also deployed a dedicated "social-media agent" to monitor and respond to online chatter on Facebook and Twitter. "There's a great need for accurate information right now [online]," said Mr. Antinoro, adding that those who are talking about Six Flags on Facebook and Twitter are "really the most loyal and most engaged with us and our brand, even if 'loyal' doesn't mean they always agree with us or think everything we do is great."

In a separate interview, Mr. Shapiro, meanwhile, said he is doing his utmost to market Six Flags as a 12-month-a-year business. Six Flags, he noted, is "looking at and pursuing brand extensions" such as Six Flags Rollercoaster Cuts, a children's boutique and hair-salon offering a multi-media haircutting experience for kids, replete with roller-coaster barber chairs and big-screen TVs simulating coaster rides. Six Flags, he said, will be opening another Rollercoaster Cuts soon, at the King of Prussia mall in Pennsylvania in the next few weeks, with others to follow.

"It's a low-cost-of-entry business, and it serves as a marketing machine for us," said Mr. Shapiro, "The idea is to get these kids while they're young. And as we get out from under this debt, you'll see us experimenting in all sorts of marketing efforts that turn us into a 12-month [a year] business. We're just as much about the experience as the rides."

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