We’re seeing it happen with greater frequency. A celebrity, politician, or influencer says something controversial and is immediately condemned, often on social media, with such animosity that their reputations are tarnished and careers potentially ended. Suddenly, their standing in pop culture is nullified or is, in effect, “canceled.”
Recent cultural evolutions have cast the spotlight on the past behaviors of our leaders. The Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements made social media heroes and villains, seemingly overnight. And the younger generation, especially, has made a habit of examining the past actions of influential people and holding them accountable for any offenses they may have committed.
This new era of cancel culture mandates those in the public eye be more careful than ever – about what they say, and do, and with whom. For publicists, cancel culture has led to an unprecedented spike in crisis PR cases.
Here’s what happens. Celebrities and brands are forced to address and apologize for scandals from the past or face the very real threat of losing their cache with the public and substantial revenue from their business or personal brand.
An effective crisis-PR strategy can come to the rescue for someone facing “cancel culture”. But, unfortunately, there are several notable exceptions where we can see, first hand, what happens when the scandal is inadequately addressed. Let’s take a look at one case.
Recently, ABC’s hit reality series “The Bachelor” has received a lot of scrutinies after the public learned about the racist past of a contestant, Rachael Kirkconnel.
The accusations were bantered about social media for a long while before the show’s producers finally decided to address the claims. Because the contestants themselves are contractually obligated to stay silent before the show ends taping, host Chris Harrison spoke on Rachael’s behalf on a talk show with Rachel Lindsay. This was a perfect opportunity to better explain the situation and apologize for the actions, however, Harrison instead defended the racist actions and also questioned why some people took offense to them in the first place.
Harrison’s lack of effective crisis PR insights resulted in a major backlash for both the show and himself, ironically taking the spotlight off Rachael Kirkconnel. In response to his interview, Harrison released a statement apologizing for his insensitivity and announcing his resignation from the show.
Dealing with cancel culture has become the latest challenge for those living in the public eye. The difference between productively combating scandals and using poor crisis PR can be the difference between losing public favor and rebounding back with acceptance, forgiveness, and increased popularity.
Being able to squarely address the offense, showing remorse, and striving to learn from those mistakes in order to become a better person are key steps in the successful use of crisis PR. Those who stay relevant in the media are those who know how to squash a scandal in this manner. It all goes to show why the current demand for effective crisis PR is huge and will continue to grow.