Getting bad press seems a bit unfair if you’re a start-up. You haven’t even got started yet and already there is a negative review of your product or service, or someone poking fun at your brand.
Alas, you cannot control what the media – or anyone else – writes about you, despite what some correspondence sent to StartupSmart suggests.
But your media antennae need to be switched on from day one if you are to ensure that your business isn’t severely damaged by a bad write-up.
The founders of mmMule are just one example of a start-up that was thrown off guard when a somewhat bizarre article appeared recently on US tech blog TechCrunch.
mmMule is a Sydney-based social travel network connecting locals who want items delivered with travellers or “mules” who can deliver them.
In return for delivery, travellers are rewarded with local travel experiences. The business was founded by Andrew Simpson, Avis Mulhall and Alan Mulhall.
In an article titled “Deliver the love with mmMule: Let strangers carry things to other places for you”, TechCrunch writer John Biggs takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to the service.
Biggs’ story – which is written in first person – features a mule who wanted a free tour of San Francisco “in exchange for taking a pound of cut heroin to my contact”, suggesting mmMule leaves itself open to drug couriering and other criminal activity.
“You can sign up for free and they don’t hassle you or nothing, and they don’t give your name to the cops, even if the cops ask for it. Sweet deal,” Biggs wrote.
Avis Mulhall was quick to comment on the article, setting up a fictional scenario in an attempt to highlight what the founders saw as the real value of mmMule.
Mulhall’s story centred on a soldier during World War Two, charged with the task of returning a watch to a woman whose husband put the request on mmMule before he was killed.
“No money ever changed hands… but [the mule] kept his word,” Mulhall wrote.
“It’s just amazing to me that something as simple as a website like mmMule could create such powerful stories.”
Mulhall’s comment sparked plenty of interest, with one reader describing Mulhall’s story as “even better than the first article”, before declaring, “I am totally a fan of Avis and mmMule”.
While this is one way to respond to a lukewarm write-up, there are other things you need to consider in order to protect your brand.
StartupSmart spoke to the experts about how to handle mediocre reviews.
1. Be prepared
Sydney-based entrepreneur Ryan Wardell says sites such as mmMule are always going to come up against this type of thing because “that’s just the nature of [their] business”.
“People will want to know how you prevent drugs and other illegal items being smuggled – make sure you’ve got a kickass comeback prepared,” Wardell says.
2. Don’t overreact
Jo Macdermott, founder and director of Next Marketing, says unfavourable media can be damaging to any business at any stage of a business lifecycle, not just start-ups.
“For a new business, it may mean that they never really get going. They may not have enough customer loyalty to weather the storm,” Macdermott admits.
“[But] there is a saying that there is no such thing as bad PR.”
According to Wardell, it’s important to remain calm and collected in these situations – like Mulhall – or risk drawing more attention to the unfavourable review.
“I think the average TechCrunch reader is bright enough to understand [the mmMule] article is tongue-in-cheek,” Wardell says.