3 Cancel Culture Trends Affecting Public Relations Practice

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2020 has been a year of lessons for publicists and brand managers. From social justice movements (and the content trends they spark) to the recent wildfire crisis, we continue to see our roles and responsibility evolving. No longer just relationship builders and media relations, we’re molding our clients’ legacies with every picture, placement, and caption.

With tensions ever high on social media, it’s no surprise to see audiences engaging brands directly, especially on tough subjects. This year, TikTok emerged as a new channel that turned social engagement on its head; transforming the location and short-form video content we’re consuming the most. And now of course, we have Reels which mimics TikTok’s creation tools. 

No longer just relationship builders and media relations, we’re molding our clients’ legacies with every picture, placement, and caption.


1. TikTok’s Culture-Making, News-Creating, Collaborative Call-Outs

While many brands found success incorporating TikToks unique video meets text storytelling, there is one area of TikTok no brand wants to be. This is where tech-savvy teens and activist millennials share the “receipts,” screenshots, tweets, news articles, and other evidence that points to the need to “cancel” an individual, business, or other entity. 

While documenting and distributing bad press is nothing new to the industry, there is a key element to this situation. First, TikTok videos travel FAST. They’re easy to download and share across text/SMS and social media. Additionally, TikTok “duet” and split-screen reactions allow for a sort on ongoing conversation and pass-through rate, not to mention the ability to embed these reaction videos over on Instagram for cross-channel conversation.

In our current digital communication space, bad press is not announced as a newspaper headline, but rather directly among users and consumers. Television, radio, and digital articles are often late to the game, eventually “catch up” to many of the trends we see originating on TikTok and even reporting on these trends as news.

2. Company takedowns from the inside out

But it’s not just brands and entertainers getting called out. There has also been an influx of employee concerns on social media too

In the last two months, our team has seen customers reach out to our brands directly with screen shots of racist comments on Facebook posts from local newsstations. These forums are breeding ground for negative sentiment. However, there’s a deeper message than distasteful sentiments. People who we consider customers, fans, followers and even friends are listening, closer, and more intently than we may otherwise think.

Social media teams now have to rely on their PR and legal counterparts to craft and publish brand messages. The details of these messages are meticulous; every word choice matters.

3. Scrutiny beyond the veil of great branding

Well known consumer brands are not the only ones at risk, as the collective asks for more defined information and transparency from service and software providers, and agencies as well. We are looking beyond the branding to look at the internal makeup of companies, boards of directors, policies and positions of leadership.

In our own industry, Black Lives Matter calls attention to the role of public relations and the lack of diversity of our own industry. PR agencies assessed the realities of their company culture, client lists, and hired employees. The #HoldthePRess initiative addresses these issues head-on, asking PR agencies to identify various key aspects to their business structures. The initiative recently released 10 Key Learnings from the gathered data that revealed much of the problematic nature of the industry. We know consumers will hold brands accountable, so why wouldn’t they do the same for those that shape and develop them? 

Social media teams now have to rely on their PR and legal counterparts to craft and publish brand messages. The details of these messages are meticulous; every word choice matters.


When it comes to cancel culture, communication professionals must prepare with an array of armor: templated responses, legally-sound statements, pledges, and promises. Increasingly marketing savvy consumers see right through disingenuous behavior. Transparency and factual data will be our best allies, but we must also be prepared to revisit tough subjects and encourage change that starts at the foundation, not simply molded into marginally satisfying key message.

“Any press is good press” is outdated; be prepared to be held accountable for the bad press too.

Alex Perry

Alex Perry

Alex Perry is Owner and Creative Director of PR firm and creative agency, Perry Rose Media. She is chai latte fanatic, former newsroom writer and story-telling specialist. Her knack for creativity and direction help provide her clients with strategic, stylish and elevated content and campaigns.

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