Since some of us learn better by hearing bad examples — so let’s talk about four critical things to avoid when trying to maintain a positive image for your startup. Luckily for us (because it makes writing this blog so much easier), a few years ago BP gave us an outstandingly bad example of PR behaviors during its Gulf oil-spill crisis, (So did the ill-fated Enron, but its scandal was beyond repair.)
If You’re at Fault, Admit It
According to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the first rule in any crisis is to get out in front of the story early. For weeks at the beginning of the crisis, BP executives denied fault and tried to push the blame onto contractors. Rather than protecting their company’s image, these execs only made the company look more obnoxious and arrogant than the news had been saying.
Think Before You Speak
Remember, the Gulf oil spill put 205 million gallons of oil into the ocean. Think about all of the communities surrounding the Gulf of Mexico that depended on the fishing industry for their economic stability. The oil spill was a pretty big deal. In fact, it was catastrophic.
So, when BP’s previous CEO, Tony Hayward, said things like "There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. You know, I’d like my life back," the people in these Gulf communities were understandably offended. Moral of the story? Just think.
Understand the Community
This step is closely tied to the previous. If Mr. Hayward had understood the citizens of the affected areas, I don’t think he would have made such a ludicrous statement about wanting his life back. (Not many people sympathize with the CEO of a multi-billion-dollar oil company, especially when he made off with over $18 million in severance pay.) Misunderstanding the priorities of members of the community makes any PR tactic at best worthless, and at worst further damaging.
Eschew Unethical Actions
Perhaps the best lesson of all is to just avoid doing anything unethical. Unethical business practices yield equally disparaging attention. Follow Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, use appropriate and truthful advertising, definitely don’t bribe news media professionals and obey the law to avoid the damaging repercussions of unethical behavior.
Both BP and Enron give us a perfect example of what not to do when managing the image of a startup from a PR point of view. What are some other bad PR practices startups should avoid?