Business + Publicity

Avoiding Political Backlash and Cancel Culture: PR Advice for Businesses and Entrepreneurs 

February 24, 2021

< back to blog home

You’ve heard the saying, “All publicity is good publicity,” but that’s not the case with politics where you can quickly alienate a significant portion of your customers.

This blog was originally published in 2019, leading up to the most polarizing election my generation, perhaps our country, has experiened. Most of this is still relevant and I’ve made a few updates in 2022 to help brands and thought leaders navigate an authentic brand in the times of social media and the rise of cancel culture.

Whether it be with a yard sign, a political donation made public, or an impulsive social post, sharing your political beliefs or opinions on the trending social movement of the month, can potentially have lasting effects on your brand, your business, and even your bottom line.

I’ve done my fair share of reputation management PR over the past few years, helping business leaders and politicians after they’ve made a public misstep to minimize the impact on their brand, their staff, reputation, and even sales. Here are a few tips that are still relevant today.

Don’t Take a Public Stance 

Or do… but be prepared to draw that line that will potentially turn away half your customer base. Recent elections have become particularly hostile, and you’re likely to have customers on both sides of the aisle who are passionate about their stance.

In my podcast interview with the founder of Simple Operations, Alex Charfen, he shares timely advice about how to stay transparent about your beliefs to attract both customers and team members who align with your values or at least, appreciate them even if they don’t share them. 

Many businesses are now launching with political and other values as a significant part of their brand image, name, and marketing. Others make public endorsements for specific organizations, drawing a firm lind in the sand and making it known where their values, and some of their profits, side.

If your brand has never been involved politically, now may not be the time to test the waters. Take SoulCycle for example: when the chairman of SoulCycle’s parent company hosted a fundraising gala for President Trump’s reelection campaign, social media outrage followed.  The subsequent boycott of the cycling club resulted in a 12.8% drop in SoulCycle purchases the next month. 

Similar situations can happen with smaller, local businesses too. You may not be hosting fundraising galas for your favorite candidate, but your social media posts can do a similar amount of damage to your brand. The election (or latest polarizing movement of the times) will end, but the backlash from your social media rant may not. Especially if you voice it online, where your opinions can live forever. 

Focus On Causes That Matter To Your Brand

If the situation arises where your business needs to take a stance and cannot remain silent on a politically charged issue, instead of openly declaring your support for one candidate or party, funnel your energy into a cause that aligns with your brand. Focus on an issue you are passionate about and that the majority of your customers would accept.

In 2018, Patagonia announced that it would donate its estimated $10 million tax break to environmental organizations. The move aligned with the outdoor apparel brand and was a good PR move, assuming the majority of its customers likely also support environmental causes. 

Besides your customers, it’s also important to consider how your stance will affect your investors, vendors, and employees.

Be Prepared to Apologize

The best way to handle a PR crisis is to avoid one altogether, but if it’s too late, consider a heartfelt apology and efforts to make it right. In our experience, the businesses that own up to their mistakes and simply apologize early on, are the ones that recover fastest. 

Just remember that your brand’s reputation can be damaged in an instant. Have a crisis PR plan, and think twice before sharing your political opinions. Those opinions can damage your brand long after the election ends.

SHARE THIS POST

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

search the blog & show notes!

Hey! I'm lookin' for...