6 PR Gaffes Waiting To Happen In Your Startup

The vast majority of startups will fail – but I’m sure you are aware of this already. There are plenty of reasons why. The team might be working on a product for which there is no demand. It could be working on something too big and complicated that is trying to solve far too many problems in one hit. But the worst reason for failure is a little more self-inflicted than any other: big public relations mistakes.

It doesn’t matter how great your product or the idea is, a bad PR gaffe can sink your business before you even launch. And the sad fact is that they are usually avoidable. I’ve put together a list of common mistakes you might make, so cover your bases and keep your eyes peeled. Let’s get started right away.


Jeff Eaton

Faking it

Everyone will be aware of Volkswagen’s PR disaster from last year – which they are still paying a price for today. If you didn’t know, engineers from VW installed software in 11 million new vehicles that enabled the car to ‘cheat’ emission testing. It meant they could claim their vehicles were far more environmentally friendly than they actually were. Now, a company with the history and success of VW might be able to pull through an incident like this – eventually. But for a startup? The chances are you will be blown away in a matter of weeks. So, make sure that any claims about your products are 100% accurate and true. If you fake it, you will get found out at some point.

Poor planning

There is a lot to do when you are working on a startup idea – and little time to do it. Work slow and you will run out of money. But if you set deadlines you have to stick to them – particularly once you start making noise about your company. The key to success is laying out a robust plan. It should all lead to a successful launch that arrives on time. The second you start delaying it is going to put your company in a bad light with consumers and investors. When you say you are going to do something on a particular date, you have to make sure that you succeed. It’s so easy to lose consumer confidence these days – don’t shoot yourself in the foot by being branded an unreliable company.

Health and safety avoidance

All startups cut corners – but not always the right ones. Take health and safety, for example. When you are working with friends or in small teams, it’s not the most important thing in your mind. But if you fail to put H&S at the heart of everything you do it’s going to come back and haunt you in the future. Peninsula’s health and safety consultants recommend starting out with a risk assessment. You also need regular audits to make sure you stay on track. An unfortunate accident at work or a faulty and dangerous product will be the ultimate in bad PR for your business. It shows you don’t care about your team or your customers, and put profit over safety. It’s not a good look.

Public Relations Class

Parker Knight

Not admitting mistakes

Every business has at least a dozen errors in them when they are just starting out. It’s normal. But it’s how you go about dealing with mistakes that people notice. It’s always best to hold your hands up and admit you are wrong – and it’s also important to act fast. I’ve written about an example of this with video streaming giants Netflix before, and there are countless other examples. Don’t forget, these days it doesn’t take much for a mistake to blow up on social media and the word to get around the entire globe. And, if you can’t hold up your hands and admit your mistake, it’s going to get worse by the day. Be reasonable, honest, and accept the blame. It will limit the impact of any gaffe once people realise you aren’t trying to hide anything.

Failure to check messaging

When you are working in the midst of a business idea, it can be hard to stop and take stock of everything. And it can lead to some disastrous results. It’s not just startups that are guilty of this, either. Even huge companies like Budweiser have made some serious errors with their advertising campaign. Only last year, the Bud PR team cleared a slogan for a Bud Light campaign. It stated that Bud Light was: “The perfect beer for removing ‘No’ from your vocabulary for the night.” I’m not sure I need to tell you how well that went down with the public as a whole. The point is, the PR team didn’t make the relevant checks, meaning the message was completely off. Do something similar for your startup and you will face a significant backlash – and plenty of ridicule.

Pushy with journalists

Journalists are the key to getting your message out there to the wider world. So, while it is going to be vital for you to try and touch base with industry hacks, there needs to be a limit to your persistence. Your job is to plant a seed into the minds of journalists and bloggers – not to bludgeon it in with a blunt instrument. Avoid hassling them and irritating them with constant emails and phone calls. Not only will it dissuade them from giving you positive coverage, but the chances are they don’t have any control over it, anyway. Editors and media owners will be setting the vast majority of their agenda, and if your story is not appropriate for them right now, it’s just the way it is. Don’t push too hard and give them some respect – if your product or idea is good enough, they will contact you at some point.

OK, so there you have it – six examples of areas where many startups can make big PR blunders. Make sure you are aware of everything you say when it comes to your communications. There is an element of common sense about all this, of course. But when you are trying to get a product out of the door it’s easy to slip up.

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SWE Staff

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