Public relations can be your most powerful tool in marketing outreach, and it can also be your downfall.

Public relations includes marketing and advertising but sort of supercedes them to include pretty much any communications you have with customers and the general public. For instance, customer support following purchase is a PR opportunity moreso than a marketing opportunity. With so much interaction, it’s difficult to stay on top of all communications and maintain a perfect record of satisfying the public’s demand for your austerity. Thus, even with great intentions, the best of businesses occasionally have slipups.

Here’s the top three PR mistakes many small to mid-sized businesses make, how to set yourself up to avoid them, and what to do if you slip up.

    1. Oversights and lack of planning for the obvious. Craigslist, which has online classified ads for everything from apartment rentals to jobs to boats for sale, plays the part of innocent messenger more or less. If there’s a scammer who uses their service, the blame should really fall on the scammer, not on the middleman. Craigslist thought so, too, until several lawsuits bounced up against them for scams that occurred on the website. In hindsight, the obvious potential liability of hooking up two complete strangers for a financial transaction should have been identified as the giant gaping hole to fill. Nowadays, Craigslist has warnings in bold and various colors to make sure people understand the risks involved in the process and helping them avoid scams. What’s the giant hole you’re not anticipating yet? Think through your operations, find that hole, anticipate what will happen if…, and then be proactive about the potential for repercussions on your brand and image.
  • Poor initial response to disaster. When Fox News’ parent company, News Corp, was exposed for wiretapping citizens and war veterans phones and hacking emails to, among other things, drum up pro-war propaganda, the company’s CEO Rupert Murdoch was asked what the company’s response would be to make the situation right. Murdoch indicated in no uncertain terms that his top priority was the embattled head of the division which had been doing the hacking. While it’s nice that senior executives look out for their people, the response showed a mind-boggling callousness to the fact that his company’s actions had hurt thousands of people (including one school-aged girl who was abducted, and while missing, had her phone hacked by Fox News’ British affiliate and voicemails deleted that could have been evidence). In addition, it was an obvious example that his company was aligned with the military industrial complex that was getting rich on the taxpayer’s back by perpetuating the wars in a time when seemingly all government agencies are cutting services to reduce deficits.



  • Overstating your company’s credentials. In this day and age of free-flowing information, hiding things or misrepresenting your company’s credentials is perhaps the simplest way to ruin your company’s reputation. Greenwashing is an obvious example of this, with the recent SC Johnson scandal testifying to the swift rebuke and brand damage done by overstating the good in your company’s operations. If you are doing something good in terms of corporate social responsibility, terrific! Talk about it. But realize that if you exaggerate, people will quickly catch on, someone will blog about it, someone else will post that blog on their Facebook status, and before you know it, your company is in hot water. Transparency is key–be open with your strengths and your ongoing challenges. Acknowledging you still have some things to work on is far better than getting caught lying about your accomplishments.


In next month’s free business coaching teleconference for mission-driven entrepreneurs, Tad Hargrave and I will help you through your PR thoughts and concerns. Check out the video preview here for more information, and we hope to see you there!

photo credit: Poppy Wright, Flickr Creative Commons

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About The Author

Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on

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