How To Survive In PR During An Era Of Cancel Culture


Natasha Koifman, President, NKPR Inc.

As public relations specialists, we are in the business of building images, creating relationships, looking after reputations and at the forefront of it all, trusted communications. As the public voices for those that we represent, we have so much to be mindful of—especially since the advent of social media. We’re now living in an age where Instagram accounts are getting more eyeballs than some of the largest newspapers and magazines, and we have embraced this.

While social media has given PR people more tools in our toolbox and a new opportunity to control and amplify messages, it has also made our job that much harder with the looming threat of cancel culture—the idea of withdrawing support for a public figure, an organization or even just an individual because they’ve said or done something that is objectionable. This got me thinking: How have I, someone with a public persona who also manages others with public personas, managed to survive during an era of cancel culture?

Lead with kindness.

The people that you have with you, and surround yourself with, are central to the success of your business and can be both your strongest advocates or biggest detractors based on how you deal with them. I have based my business on forging strong, long-lasting relationships based on trust and mutual respect. By establishing connections where honesty is at the helm, your teams, partners and contacts are more likely to come to you first and hear your perspective, should anything come up, versus the alternative of jumping on a bandwagon. Focusing on nurturing relationships with authentic kindness and respect is a proven way of avoiding being canceled.

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Don’t instantly react when angry.

If you’re upset about something, take a deep breath and step away from your phone and computer before you end up doing 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 a purpose and think of the possible consequences it could have, because it takes years to build a reputation but mere minutes to ruin it.

Keep your ego in check.

We all have so much we want to say, whether it is online or offline. But do we need to say it all? Absolutely not. We have often advised our clients against commenting on everything they’re asked about, because sometimes it’s more appropriate to stay out of the narrative. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling went from being 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’re thinking of posting or commenting on isn’t consistent or authentic for you, it is usually best to stay in your own lane. You don’t need to jump on all bandwagons.

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It is also important to listen—and not just listen to respond, but rather listen 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 is something you never lose. Today’s audiences are informed and empowered and expect organizations, brands and celebrities to uphold their values and keep their promises. If you don’t, you risk getting called out and subsequently canceled.

Be aware.

In this day and age, awareness is important—not only about global news and pop culture but also about what is happening within your organization. As a business owner, it might be impossible to be on top of everything, so when possible, get yourself a team that will keep you updated and have their ears to the ground. Ellen DeGeneres faced immense backlash after claims of her talk show’s toxic working environment came to the surface. She had built a public brand based on kindness and generosity, yet her perceived values weren’t aligned with what was happening operationally. As a result, she became subject to heavy scrutiny. Ratings fell, 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 going on with her employees. Surround yourself with people who will keep you abreast of what is happening within your own walls.

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Is cancel culture positive or negative? That is a topic for another day. But is cancel culture here to stay? Absolutely. As PR practitioners, we possess the power to create messages that reach large audiences, and it is our responsibility to use this power wisely.


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