Natasha Koifman, President, NKPR Inc.
As public relations specialists, we focus on building images, creating relationships, nurturing reputations and leading the way in reliable communications. As a public voice for those we represent, we have so much to reckon with, especially since the advent of social media. We now live in a time where Instagram accounts get more exposure than some of the biggest newspapers and magazines, and we have embraced this.
While social media has given PR people more tools in our toolbox and another chance to monitor and amplify posts, it has also made our job much more difficult with the looming threat of cancel culture – the idea of withdrawing support for a public figure, an organization, or even an individual because they have said or done something that is objectionable. This got me thinking: how did I, someone with a public persona who also directs others with public personas, survive in an era of cancel culture?
Lead with kindness.
The people you have with you and surround yourself with are central to the success of your business and can be both your strongest proponents and biggest opponents based on how you interact with them. I’ve built my business on forging strong, long-term relationships based on trust and mutual respect. By making connections where honesty is at the helm, your teams, partners and contacts are more likely to come to you and hear your perspective should something come up, rather than jumping on a bandwagon. Focusing on nurturing relationships with authentic kindness and respect is a proven way to avoid getting canceled.
Don’t respond right away when you’re angry.
If you’re angry about something, take a deep breath and step away from your phone and computer before you do something you’ll regret. With the prevalence of social media, destroying something you worked really hard for is literally just a click away. Remember to post with purpose and think about the possible consequences it could have as it takes years to build a reputation but only minutes to ruin it.
Keep your ego in check.
We all have so much we want to say whether it’s online or offline. But do we have to say everything? Absolutely not. We’ve often discouraged our clients from commenting on anything they’re asked about, because sometimes it’s better to stay out of the story. Harry Potter author JK Rowling went from one of the most loved writers to one of the most hated after she passed transphobic comments on social media. I always advise clients to think about why people go to a brand or individual’s social media feed – if the topic you want to post or comment on isn’t consistent or authentic to you, it’s usually best to go on your own to stay on track. You don’t have to jump on everything bandwagons.
It is also important to listen – and not just listen to respond, but rather to understand and even learn. As a leader, it is your responsibility to lead with empathy, not with an ego that says “my way or the highway”.
Stick to your values and promises.
Be the best version of yourself. You nurture and build a brand or business by being authentic to yourself and your values, so make sure that’s something you never lose. Today’s public is informed and empowered and expects organizations, brands and celebrities to uphold their values and deliver on their promises. If you don’t, you risk of being called up and then cancelled.
In this day and age, awareness is important – not just about global news and pop culture, but also about what’s happening within your organization. As a business owner, it may be impossible to be on top of everything, so assemble a team whenever possible that keeps you informed and their ears to the ground. Ellen DeGeneres Faced huge recoil after claims about her talk show’s toxic work environment surfaced. She had built a public brand based on kindness and generosity, but her perceived values were not in line with what was happening operationally. As a result, she was subjected to heavy scrutiny. The ratings dropped and she finally ended the show after 19 years. What really surprised and angered people was that she was seemingly unaware of everything that was happening to her employees. Surround yourself with people who keep you informed about what’s happening within your own walls.
Is cancel culture positive or negative? That’s a topic for another day. But is cancellation culture here to stay? Absolute. As PR practitioners, we have the power to create messages that reach large audiences, and it is our responsibility to use this power wisely.
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