Managing Conflicts in a ‘Cancel-Culture’ Environment

The 6th Amendment of the Constitution specifies the right to legal representation and, in medicine, the Hippocratic Oath is still a sacred tenet. But public relations doesn’t have such a provision, which means that practitioners must decide whether or not to help a particular organization build, grow and protect its reputation.

Back in the day, that decision seemed pretty simple for an agency — usually determined by having a truthful client and assuring them that you weren’t working for a direct competitor offering the same product or service. That was really it: You took on the client, did the work according to the PRSA Code of Ethics and all was good.

It isn’t so straightforward these days.

With today’s CEO activism, there’s a chance that a vocal executive’s views may run counter to employees, agency staff or other clients. Competitor lines are blurred — with many engaged in frenemy-like “co-opetition.” The “cancel culture” has also become part of our vernacular — with people more apt to boycott than listen, give the benefit of the doubt or allow for atonement.

More complexity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We’ve just passed the one-year anniversary of the Business Roundtable’s landmark commitment to move from shareholder primacy to consideration for multiple stakeholders. But those with experience know that it’s difficult to balance the needs of investors, employees, customers and communities without compromise — something that seems in short supply in today’s outrage-first environment.

Unless you’re a small agency with few clients, these conflicts are inevitable. Clients and staff will have different points of view on a range of issues — climate change, business taxation, labor policy, food and nutrition guidelines to name a few. There aren’t any easy answers, but some methods for managing those challenges include:

The world isn’t getting any less complex, and those growing agencies will inherently run into conflicts different from those in the past. Having policies in place, educating staff and living by your values will help you manage through.

This article was initially published on PR(Say) the PRSA blog, you can read the full post here.

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