‘Levitating’ Through Crises – Even When They Aren’t “Yours”

Collaboration is at the forefront of culture right now. Companies are partnering with celebrities to release limited edition products, like Travis Scott’s “Cactus Jack” meal at McDonalds. Brands like Disney and Coach are also teaming up to bring their signature looks to clothing and accessories. And, of course, a flood of musical mashups is extending the life of hit songs.   

Since its release in October 2020, the double platinum song “Levitating” by Dua Lipa featuring DaBaby has skyrocketed both artists’ fame. However, when DaBaby headlined Miami’s Rolling Loud festival, which drew a crowd of nearly 80,000 attendees, it wasn’t the triumphant return to live performances many were expecting.  

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During his set, DaBaby spewed a repugnant and disturbing rant that perpetuated untrue, dangerous claims against the LGBTQ community and the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis. His comments were especially troubling to his collaborator, Lipa, who has been an outspoken ally of the LGBTQ+ community around the globe.  

Lipa found herself in an increasingly common conundrum where individuals or brands encounter backlash following the missteps of a third-party entity or collaborator. Reminiscent of the age-old adage, “you are not responsible for what your friends do, but you will be judged by the company you keep,” people have historically held organizations accountable for the actions of their surrogates.  

In the wake of the college admissions scandal, the Hallmark Channel swiftly terminated its contact with Lori Loughlin, stating that it was “saddened” by her role in the scheme. Last year, Viacom CBS fired long-time host and producer, Nick Cannon, over his use of “hateful and divisive words” on a podcast episode laden with anti-Semitic rhetoric.  

The rise of situations like these – let’s call it a “crisis by affiliation” – comes on the heels of a movement where consumers expect organizations to take visible and actionable stances on social issues. Now more than ever, company kept serves as an extension of values, integrity and business practices. As every relationship and collaboration continues to be scrutinized, it is important to be equipped with the tools needed to mitigate the organizational harm resulting from an affiliation with a problematic entity. Just as with every crisis, it is important to follow a series of steps to ensure limited damage is done to your overall brand.  

Step 1: Act Quickly and Organize Available Information to Determine Strategy 

This first step should come as no surprise to any crisis expert. As soon as a crisis arises, it is vital that you assemble the proper team internally who can begin to combat the issue by organizing available information. Some of this work can be done before a crisis even occurs by assigning roles within your team and drafting a crisis plan that anticipates potential issues.   

Due to the public nature of DaBaby’s outburst, and the rapid blowback among fans, quick action was also needed on the part of Dua Lipa. When faced with this crisis, her options were to either remain silent or issue a statement. To quell the rising anger of her fans, the best strategic move for Lipa was to create distance.  

Step 2: Identify Your Key Audiences and Draft Initial Communications 

Equally as important as quick action, proper targeting of your message is key to ensuring the right stakeholder receive your message. Even the best statement will go unnoticed if communicated on the wrong platform. Understanding audience demographics and patterns on how they consume news is the key to success, and something that can prepared ahead of time. Designating one spokesperson as your voice will also increase trust and sincerity of your message.  

In the case of Dua Lipa, she chose to release her statement on Instagram, aligning with the tendency of her audience (made up of mostly Gen Z) to consume news on digital platforms. Because of Lipa’s high-profile status, it also increases her credibility to speak directly to the issue rather than through a spokesperson.  

Step 3: Monitor Situation for Change  

In the age of social media and the 24/7 news cycle, it is natural for crises to evolve quickly. Here, media monitoring is vital to ensure your crisis does not transform into an entirely new issue. If your team notices a further criticism, you must reconvene to coordinate new responses and actions to contain the situation.  

While many praised Lipa for her initial reaction to the controversy, her lack of concrete action resonated with fans. Many called on her to remove the “Levitating” remix from all streaming services, astutely pointing out she is still financing profiting from her collaboration as the song continues to be available on all major platforms. Other social media users demanded she re-record the song without DaBaby by enlisting either Megan Thee Stallion or Lil Nas X as his replacement, especially since both artists felt personal impacts in the aftermath of the Rolling Loud set. 

Implications Moving Forward 

Despite the prevalence of “crisis by affiliation” in the entertainment world and beyond, there’s not a perfect playbook on how to deal with its aftermath. While possible to discern positive actions from Lipa’s response, her decision to not separate herself financially from the situation ultimately lessens her credibility.  

Although it’s virtually impossible to predict or control the actions of your business partners, their missteps won’t stop stakeholders from associating you with the company you keep. In today’s world, organizations must take thoughtful, swift, and direct steps to preserve reputation and prevent (or at least avoid) long-lasting, and maybe even permanent, damage to the bottom line. While taking steps like these might result in temporary monetary loss, they’ll ultimately result in long-term reputational gain.   

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