The phrase “cancel culture” evokes many reactions. For a lot of people today, the idea of “cancelling” a person or brand via a backlash so large it effectively ends their career or has a huge impact on their business has become an important tool of social justice. Ultimately, “cancel culture” is a way for people to hold public figures and companies with far-reaching platforms and audiences accountable for their words and actions.
But what if you or your brand gets “cancelled”? Is it something you’ve considered? Do you have a plan in place for how you might respond or the steps you’d take next? If your immediate thought is, “I’d lockdown my social media profiles and ignore the uproar until it goes away,” you wouldn’t be the first – but we’re here to tell you that it won’t work. You need a plan of action and a PR strategy to get you through the storm. And it’s important that you have that strategy in place before you’re caught out in the rain. Here’s why:
PR is more than crisis communications
Real talk: crisis communications is only one small (and expensive) component of PR. What a lot of people often fail to realise is that public relations is not a short-term solution, but rather a long-term tool that should be used to tell their story – and not only when they’re being taken to task by netizens.
However, if you don’t already have a crisis communications plan as part of your public relations strategy, and are turning to an agency for assistance in the midst of a crisis, you should 1) be prepared to pay, 2) consider a retainer that extends beyond the crisis at hand so that you can truly use PR effectively.
Crises require tailored approaches – and lots of thought
If you think you can do a quick internet search for a tutorial on how to get through being cancelled or pay an agency for a 10-step solution and make it out unscathed, we are very sorry to tell you that whatever answers may turn up for you online are likely not going to work or are a scam. This is because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to mitigating a crisis: each situation needs to be evaluated and given a tailored approach that specifically addresses the reason why the company is under fire.
Though it sounds like this would be impossible to plan for, that isn’t actually the case: brands should always be prepared with a crisis handbook detailing the issues that could potentially spiral out of control and the steps they would need to take to communicate with stakeholders at every level quickly and efficiently.
With plans like these in place, brands can more swiftly, which can help them get ahead of crisis culture. For example, toy and board game company Hasbro went a step further and changed all its outdated Community Chest cards rather than waiting for cancel culture to catch up to them. This showed that the brand had a good understanding of its customers and proved to people that it was making an active effort to address problems.
In responding to a crisis, speed is crucial. Your short-term plan will need to include immediate responses from the brand reassures the public that the brand is engaged, acknowledging and reacting to the market. This should include pausing ongoing campaigns, evaluating the situation thoroughly and focusing on repairing the damage and addressing the public’s concerns.
Once you’re assured your stakeholders that you are on top of the situation and rolled out your short-term communications plan, it’s time to get to work on your long-term strategy. Focus on the future and materialise your plans to shift the sentiments and assure your customers that you are walking the talk. This includes transparency and open dialogue cemented in communications by listening to your target audience.
Crises require time for recovery
It might take weeks, months or even years to recover from being cancelled, but brands must continue to stay on track and provide updates about their progress while executing their long-term strategy.