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How Brands Can Counteract Cancel Culture

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Hardly a week passes without a brand being proclaimed “canceled “on the internet.

Consumers express outrage at the brand’s error in judgement or perceived crime and place the #cancelled hashtag next to the brand’s name on Twitter. They vow never to do business with the company again and urge others to follow their example. In many cases, a celebrity or other influencer urges their many followers to boycott the company’s products. Reasons include alleged racism, support for President Trump, or an errant comment by the CEO on a controversial issue.

Soul Cycle, L’Oreal, HSBC. Jo Malone and Oatly are some of the many brands subjected to the cancel culture recently, the Drum reports. Brands generally take a standard PR crisis approach. They apologize and try to offer an explanation and make amends.

Recommended Steps to Managing Cancel Culture

Monitor – and listen.

A social media listening service can reveal an emerging PR crisis before complaints reach a critical threshold and before the media contacts you. Some companies establish an average volume threshold of negative mentions for the brand. Media monitoring can trigger a warning when mentions surpass that mark. A subscription media monitoring service provides access to specialized expertise, superior technology and objective analysis.

It’s important to look beyond brand mentions and analyze sentiment and understand viewpoints of critics before responding. In other words, it’s not enough to aggregate data about media mentions; it’s crucial to read the content.

Focus on your key message.

Insights gathered through social media listening can help develop a thoughtful communications approach that drives your core messages, advises Evan Nierman, founder and CEO of crisis communications firm Red Banyan.

“Make sure that you are cohesive and consistent across all platforms, which ensures that you effectively communicate the points that are most essential,” Nierman writes in Forbes. “When addressing difficult subjects, formulate your communication in a way that addresses the controversy at hand but focuses more on conveying positive sentiments than calling additional attention to negative topics.”

When to defend the brand.

PR crisis management experts sometimes disagree over how to respond to the cancel culture. Many PR crisis management prefer contriteness and immediate apologies in most situations. Others urge brands to report the truth and defend themselves. The proper response depends on the situation.

“For an organization under fire, it is incumbent upon you to defend your reputation and set the record straight by pressing the truth,” Nierman says. “Nobody has the information that you do, or the desire to make sure your company survives.”

Oatly came under attack and was canceled for receiving an investment from Blackstone, which critics linked to Amazon rainforest deforestation. Critics said the funding didn’t align with Oatly’s professed values. But Oatly defended the relationship, saying it hoped to encourage other private equity firms to invest in green investments.

Some PR crisis management experts believe that response was a mistake. Oatly could have avoided the issue by including criteria in the funding process to ensure that investors shared its values, Chris Norman, chief executive purpose-led branding shop Good Agency told the Drum.

Enforce morality clauses.

An amorality clause is a contract provision that requires or prohibits certain conduct, or enforces a standard of conduct for executives, other employees, board members and shareholders. Despite their controversial history, morality clauses are regaining popularity, says attorney Jessica Vittorio.

“Use of a well drafted morality clause can not only act as a deterrent for potentially damaging conduct from a party, but can also provide invaluable options for immediate distancing or public separation from the scandalized brand in order to preserve project value or protect the other party,” Vittorio told Forbes.

Seek expert help.

Both attorneys and PR crisis management consultants urge companies to seek their expertise – before the organization confronts being called out or cancelled. The earlier clients engage with crisis management experts, the better positioned they are to weather a crisis.

A PR firm that specializes in crisis PR can help guide the organization through a challenging situation, often working in tandem with an in-house or outside attorney to minimize legal exposure. Although PR crisis management teams may disdain lawyers, it’s crucial for PR and legal professionals to work together to protect clients from both legal and reputational risks.

Bottom Line: In today’s omnipresent cancel culture, all organizations are at risk. Wary brands now continuously monitor social media, prepare PR crisis communications plans and build relationships with legal and crisis communications experts before they’re called out and cancelled on social media.

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