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Navigating PR in the Era of Cancel Culture

Cancel Culture Letter Blocks on Laptop Keyboard

Cancel culture has become a significant force in today's digital age, posing unique challenges for brands, organizations and individuals alike. This phenomenon can swiftly damage reputations and disrupt operations. Learning the impact of cancel culture and developing a strategy to prevent a potential cancel culture crisis is a crucial component to any effective PR strategy and media relations campaign


What Exactly is Cancel Culture?

Cancel culture refers to the practice of publicly calling out and boycotting individuals, brands or organizations for perceived wrongdoings. It often involves social media campaigns aimed at holding entities accountable and exposing faults to the mass public, which often results in reputational damages, financial losses and operational disruptions

How Does Social Media Come into Play? 

Social media platforms are the primary venues where cancel culture occurs. The rapid sharing of information and the viral nature of social media amplify the effects of cancel culture. A single post or tweet can trigger widespread outrage, leading to a snowball effect where more users join the call to cancel and boycott a company and/or brand.

How Does It Impact Brands and Organizations?

Cancel culture can have severe repercussions for brands and organizations. These include:

  • Damage to Brand Reputation: Public backlash can tarnish a brand's image or an executive’s thought leadership, leading to a loss of consumer trust.
  • Financial Losses: Boycotts and negative publicity can result in decreased sales and lost partnerships.
  • Operational Disruption: The need to manage a crisis can divert resources and attention from regular operations.
  • Employee Morale: Negative public perception can affect employee morale and retention.

Why Are Nonprofits and Mission-Driven Organizations More Vulnerable to Cancel Culture?

Nonprofits and mission-driven organizations often operate under the scrutiny of passionate supporters who hold them to high ethical standards. Any perceived deviation from these standards can trigger a backlash. The causes these organizations support can also be controversial, making them more susceptible to cancel culture trends.

Alternatively, any perceived inauthentic advocacy can also lead to the cancellation of a company. An effective public and media relations strategy helps to deliver genuine, engaging messaging that resonates with the target audience. 

Famous Examples of Cancel Culture

Several high-profile examples illustrate the power of cancel culture:

  1. The Boy Scouts of America: Faced backlash over their handling of abuse allegations and exclusion policies.
  2. Kendall Jenner Pepsi Ad: Criticized for tone-deaf and problematic messaging. 
  3. Bud Light: Attacked by conservatives for airing a social media ad with a Transgender influencer, then criticized by liberals for backpedaling

Managing a Cancel Culture Crisis

When faced with a cancel culture crisis, taking swift and strategic action is crucial for online reputation management and to maintain effective community outreach. Here are steps to manage such a crisis:

  1. Sincere Apology: Issue a heartfelt apology if the organization is at fault. By neglecting to do so, the online backlash may increase and impact the organization’s public image. 
  2. Transparent Communication: Keep stakeholders informed about the steps being taken to resolve the issue.
  3. Corrective Actions: Implement necessary changes and communicate them to internal team members and the media
  4. Engage with Affected Parties: Reach out to those directly affected, take responsibility and begin rebuilding trust.
  5. Monitor Social Media: Continuously track public sentiment and respond appropriately.

Don'ts: Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid these common mistakes during a cancel culture crisis: 

  • Ignoring the Issue: Hoping it will blow over can escalate the situation and make an organization appear aloof or indifferent. 
  • Defensive Responses: Arguing or deflecting blame can worsen public perception.
  • Deleting Comments: This can be seen as censoring and can further inflame public outrage.
  • Inconsistent Messaging: Mixed messages can confuse stakeholders and erode trust.

The Importance of PR Planning and Having a Crisis Management Plan

A PR strategy can help prevent a crisis from unfolding in the first place. A strategy can encourage open communication with stakeholders and target audiences, maintain ethical practices and train all members of a nonprofit organization to uphold the company values. 

Within a strategy, there should be: 

  • Risk Assessment: Identify potential risks and prepare for various scenarios. This involves regular online monitoring to gauge public responses and overall sentiments regarding issues. 
  • Crisis Response Team: Establish a dedicated team to handle crises.
  • Communication Protocols: Define clear communication channels and protocols across the entire nonprofit organization. 

Hiring the Pros to Support

Engaging a PR consultancy can provide valuable expertise in managing cancel culture crises. A public relations firm offers:

Looking Forward After a Crisis

Facing a potential cancel culture crisis? Contact TASC for expert guidance and support. Our team specializes in public relations for nonprofit organizations and mission-driven entities, ensuring your message is heard and your reputation is protected. The strength of your organization’s overall PR strategy can help prevent a crisis from happening, and protect your brand in case something does happen. 

About TASC

TASC is a leading public relations firm dedicated to supporting nonprofits and mission-driven organizations. With expertise in crisis management, media relations, storytelling and strategic PR planning, TASC helps clients navigate the complexities of cancel culture and maintain their brand image. 

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