Can a strong leadership reputation make a company resilient to cancel culture?

Can a strong leadership reputation make a company resilient to cancel culture?

Eve Smart

Eve Smart

What do a maple syrup company, world-renowned author JK Rowling, and Ellen DeGeneres all have in common? They have all been cancelled and are still reeling from the effects. Cancel culture, which can be defined as the blacklisting and ostracisation of a company, celebrity, or public figure, is one of the biggest issues facing PR today. Companies have fought tirelessly to grow their reputations, and now thanks to cancel culture, there is even more need to build a robust reputation.

Increasingly, we are seeing examples of when a strong reputation with loyal customers (or fanbases) make brands somewhat ‘cancel-proof’. In fact, time and time again, organisations that were once trending on Twitter for their often controversial ‘cancellation’, have risen from the ashes due to their leaders’ strong and resilient reputation.

Crisis management has always been a significant part of public relations, but no one could have predicted the scale and reach that cancel culture might have. So, should communications professionals be scared of the looming threat of cancel culture? Or could a strong reputation mean a resilience can be built against these mass boycotts?

Great reputations and charismatic leaders

Despite the power of ‘cancellation’, reputation has been the saving grace of some companies and public figures, who may have otherwise succumbed to the snubbing. A notable example of this is YouTube titan Jeffree Star, who owns makeup company Jeffree Star Cosmetics. Despite exhibiting behaviour that could risk cancellation, Star and his cosmetics empire have remained resilient to this threat, due to his strong online presence and reputation, as well as his loyal and established fanbase.

In the tech world, one may draw parallels with Elon Musk. Musk’s ability to survive controversy after controversy has been attributed to the fact that he is a charismatic leader, although that’s not to say there hasn’t been some reputational damage to Tesla because of Musk’s behaviour.

Damage that cancellation can do

The reputational damage that cancel culture can do is not to be understated. A certain beverage company will remember 2017 as the year they lost a predicted $5 million dollars in the aftermath of cancel culture. When Pepsi hired the world’s highest paid supermodel Kendall Jenner to star in their protest themed advert, no one (well… maybe some of us) could have guessed that it would result in a huge uproar from people all over the world and significant reputational damage for the company. In fact, the company is still being teased for the incident in pop culture. Although Pepsi has not ‘died’ due to cancel culture, it suffered reputational damage that, with everyone and everything having a permanent, undeletable digital footprint, will not be forgotten and will always be a stain on the company’s reputation. It goes to show that no brand leader, or even the world’s biggest supermodel, could save Pepsi from taking a hit to their reputation.

As much as some companies may hope and pray, cancel culture is not going anywhere. The rise of social media’s influence on society (71% of Tik Tok users believe it’s where the biggest trends start) means that brand need to learn to adapt and survive against cancel culture, and the addition of a charismatic leader is a major component to reputational resilience. The decisions that a company makes when it concerns a company’s reputation must be thoroughly thought through. Ultimately, it is not cancel culture itself that organisations (with or without a face) should fear, but the status of your reputation and whether it can make your company resilient.

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