Cancel culture is coming. Is your communications team ready?

September 6, 2022

Imagine your company has a major announcement in the works. Your entire team has invested months into launching a new product, finalizing a partnership, or opening a new location. Everything is on schedule.

And that’s when cancel culture hits your company. No, not that one. We mean when a staffer cancels a week of work because of a COVID-19 infection, or cancels months of work because he or she quits to move up the corporate ladder. Or, an employee simply didn’t plan their time well, and is stuck in traffic on the way to the press conference and ribbon-cutting.

This culture of cancellation isn’t new, but it has accelerated in recent years. Employment Screening Resources found that a record 4.5 million employees voluntarily left their jobs in March 2022 as part of The Great Resignation, and The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has created more accepting attitudes on canceling meetings and commitments. 

In short, everything from quarantines to changing travel guidelines have forced society to become more flexible. But you can’t let that get in the way of executing a growth strategy for your company, or the great PR plan that goes along with it.

Here are the 3 steps we recommend to make your communications team bulletproof against the culture of cancellation. 

Have a well-trained, integrated team

The biggest risk in a cancel culture is putting all of your communications eggs in one basket. Your communications director or vice president should be the best strategist, and your social media staffer should know all the tricks to LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram marketing. Your media relations lead should have the best media relationships. 

But you don’t want an illness to mean nobody posts on social media for a week, or a departure to mean the press doesn’t hear your narrative for a month. And your strategist’s departure shouldn’t leave everyone wondering what’s coming in 30 or 60 days.

An integrated team balances the discipline of staying in one’s lane with the knowledge of what a related colleague does. Siloing may make for a great individual contributor, but it will increase the pain if someone is temporarily or permanently gone.

Instead, We see these redundancies in other parts of business. Total reliance on a single staffer for critical parts of production, transport, or accounting when they are part of a team is a recipe for disaster, which is why trained integration is often preferred over siloing. Treat your communications team the same way.

Build strong relationships with media and outside firms

Communications team leads usually have the best relationships with media outlets. This means that the departure of a director or vice president shortly before a major announcement could dramatically impact the amount of positive press coverage from the announcement.

Therefore, it is important that employees just above and just below these critical managers also have good relationships with the friendliest media outlets. This might be the company CEO, who often acts as spokesperson, or the lower-level employee who schedules interviews and pitched op-eds.

It is also important to build relationships with outside firms which can step in on short notice to handle critical media and PR needs. They won’t know your company’s message inside and out, but they will likely have excellent relationships with important media outlets, and will be able to quickly craft the content necessary to keep a major initiative on track.

Siloing relationships is a good way to be left hung to dry when a person takes institutional knowledge with them. That’s why your clients will have an assigned sales rep or account manager, but they also may interact with other team members when appropriate. Your transportation vendor will have a liaison in your company, but they’ll also probably know other staff who help them load and unload, or who handle accounting matters. 

Treat your communications department with the same attitude to increase the quality of media and vendor relationships. Having institutional discipline and keeping people in their lanes doesn’t mean isolation. 

Have a continuity binder

A continuity binder is one of the military’s most important leadership assets. On active-duty, new leaders can’t take months to get their feet under them; a continuity binder created by prior leaders helps new commanders step into the role much more quickly. 

In the communications world, a continuity binder for every key role has many benefits, whether the cancellation is a day, a week, or permanent.

  1. Trusted media gatekeepers’ contact information and the company’s relationship with those gatekeepers helps temporary or permanent replacements establish good relationships quickly.
  2. A social media binder will have data about the company’s pages and leaders’ relevant personal pages, as well as the best hashtags, keywords, and other messaging information. This binder will also have background information on, and contact information for, digital influencers.
  3. The communications director or vice president’s binder will have direct and dotted line information for superiors and subordinates, outlines of each subordinate’s role, and key outside groups and individuals with whom the organization must retain strong relationships. 

Cancel culture is here. Be ready for it.

Disaster preparedness is key to any business’ success. Avoiding bad debt and building savings keeps cash on hand for tough times. Having backup parts for trucks and key equipment makes sure you can deliver on time. And having backup plans keeps your plans on track and your message in front of target audiences. 

Cancel culture is here – yes, that one, but also the culture of cancellation. And a well-trained, well-resourced communications team can make you bulletproof to both. 

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