PR | 23rd of July, 2020

Trying not to be cancelled could get you deleted

Back in the day, before businesses talked about purpose and values, people were just customers and not followers, and rarely did they look beyond a framed ‘Investors in People’ certificate.

This changed when a more socially responsible consumer emerged and good marketers recognised this, forcing change in many top brands. When PR strategies started to include CSR activities, no doubt some confused men in suits were scratching their heads at these profit-eating initiatives while signing them off.

And that was the problem. For a while back there, values and purpose were something that businesses had to be ‘seen’ to have, rather than actually have.

CSR became all the rage. For some it was something you’d get a lot of PR value out of, something used to promote the business.

Enter social media, providing a platform to showcase CSR credentials, promote the good and put pressure on others to do the same… but enabling some to jump straight to the promotion part, and be seen to do good.

Changing profile pics for the day, creating lovely graphics to post on certain days of the year, showing support of popular causes even if just for fear of what not showing it might look like on the feed.

This was all part of the typical content calendar of 2020… before it was ripped up.

But will a virus that struck in Q1 of 2020 really change PR and content strategies for the rest of the year and many to come? 

You can bet your brand sentiment score and a good portion of your turnover it will.

While many of the pre-lockdown ways will be back soon (no doubt we’ll be cuddling strangers in pubs soon), some comms advice should never be the same.

Any adviser worth their salt won’t allow PR to play a part in corporate virtue signalling or be the driving force behind talking about values.

As the Covid-19 tsunami first headed towards us, we needed trusted organisations to get us off the beach. With governments not seeing the forecast fast enough, it was left to many private companies and employers (brands) to do the right thing.

Many did. However, the amount who waited until they were forced to protect their staff and customers, then posted about the wellbeing of their staff and customers being their “number one priority” was quite something.  

Putting people first and not just talking about it will be non-negotiable in the post-lockdown world, and how businesses acted in the worst of times will be remembered in the best of times.

This was already brewing, and Covid-19 has only made it stronger.

Post George Floyd, post Greta, post me-too, post Pride, companies will be judged on authenticity of their social media posts and PR persona.

A successful business usually needs a strong brand. To build a strong brand you need your public to like you. For this, you need to not only be good, but do good - talking a good game is no longer enough.

My dad (from the east end of Glasgow) told me when a kid once threatened to beat me up “there’s say-ers and there’s dae-ers”. I’ll translate. He meant saying it and doing (dae-ing) it are two different things.

Right-on social media posts won’t be enough to earn brand loyalty in future. Consumers, and employees, now need more.

What do you think? What do you stand for? Questions normally asked of people, are now asked of businesses. Those that can answer, push the PR button. Those that can’t, stay away from it until you can, and perhaps keep the profile picture as is.

Post-lockdown I think more businesses will increase their focus on living - not laminating - their values, and any inauthentic attempts at being seen to do good will be see-through.

Don’t let Twitter’s cancel culture of the past year fool you into believing that this too shall pass - what we’ve lived through in recent months will change us for good.

Worrying too much about being cancelled could see a brand deleted if their efforts are not genuine.

Issues such as institutional racism don’t disappear when the blacked-out squares come down. Support of NHS and essential workers getting the working conditions they deserve won’t go away once the masks come off.

In the post-lockdown world, many of us will demand more of the brands we support and our loyalty will not just be based on product or customer service.

These are not trends that businesses need to be down with - they’re core values that should be nailed down before posting or pushing the PR button.

I hope to see many more pushing the button in the weeks, months and years ahead as we all do more, and do better.


Stephen McCranor
Joint MD, Frame