Worst PR Technology Nightmares

As we’ve pointed out, PR pros use many tech tools to do their jobs on a daily basis. Most are used for internal and external communications, and they work well. Yet an accidental keystroke or a slip of the mouse can produce mortifying results. If anything, technology tools allow mistakes to travel faster and further then ever before. Here are some of the worst technology “horror stories” experienced by our team or by colleagues who wish to remain anonymous.

Video killed the audio star

Videoconferencing is indispensable for most businesses, but it’s not to be undertaken carelessly. A team member’s spouse was under the impression that his Zoom meeting with European colleagues was solely an audio connection. Because he feared running late for another appointment, he began to change his clothes as the conversation dragged on. Thankfully, he was warned by a startled meeting participant before he finished disrobing. Imagine being caught on video au naturelle as the boss talks about the quarterly P&L. As his spouse has warned us ever since, pay close attention to the screen icons and make good use of the mute button.

Use caution with calendar apps

Our calendars get cluttered when staff use their personal appointments to let coworkers know when they’ll be out of the office. But the funniest calendar slip-up happened to a friend of ours. She was annoyed with her high-powered spouse’s heavy work and travel schedule. They rarely saw one another and after two weeks, she was determined to send a message. She scheduled ‘have sex’ on his iCal to ensure he knew he was missed at home. But she sent it to his work calendar by mistake. At his company, all the admins share schedules for the department heads they work for, so all the assistants in his unit received the invitation. Embarrassing, maybe, but kind of sweet.

When Google Docs rats you out

What could wrong with something as ordinary as Google Docs? It’s a shared application, so the answer is, plenty. They’re great for collaboration, but when documents are inactive for a while, it’s easy to forget who else is in the mix. When editing a document originating with the client, or where they share access, it’s obviously best to keep snarky comments private. When a client or colleague rejoins the editing process, he may not be receptive to such, um, “candid feedback.” (See my colleague Matt and I having fun in this worst-case dramatization.)

Epic dial-in fail

In PR, voice calls are routinely used for client meetings and media interviews. Everybody experiences a wonky dial-in now and then, but some rise above the rest. Someone on our team had set up a highly-anticipated call between a client and a key journalist. The phone interview went swimmingly until an uninvited guest joined the call, signaled by the familiar “ding.” When another “ding” interrupted the interview, followed by several more, things became awkward. Each time, our colleague had to pause the interview to tell the mystery guests that they were on the wrong call. The dings seemed endless, leaving the client incredulous and the PR host horrified, though the reporter thought it was hilarious. Turns out another colleague had booked a call on the same line by mistake — with five celebrity chefs, another client, and two PR people. The takeaways: never double book a conference line. Also, celebrity chefs are divas.

Reply all 

Email is the PR pro’s best friend, but for many people, the group emails are out of control. A few of us have had the age-old experience of hitting “Reply All” to an email when we meant to respond to only one person. Our founder Dorothy confesses that she has twice sent a note meant only for the agency account team to a client by mistake in response to a client email. Fortunately, one was a neutral message and the other was urging the team on to better results, so there were no repercussions. But it’s worth remembering that the best rule for digital comms is to never put anything in an email or text that you wouldn’t want the world to see. Save the sensitive topics or personal critiques for face-to-face or phone meetings. Yet, if you’re wondering how to “un-send” an email see this C|Net article.

Our Favorite PR Horror Stories (And Lessons)

Halloween has us thinking about some scary PR experiences we’ve personally endured or heard about. Rarely can these mishaps be predicted, but sometimes they can be avoided after we’ve stopped cringing at the memory. Here are some of our favorites.

Disaster preparedness. Two years ago, just before Halloween, Hurricane Sandy struck here in New York. We had a potential overseas client fly in to meet with us and four other agencies in a competitive search. The day before the meeting, our office was in the “dark zone” without power, our server down, and the prospect couldn’t reschedule or meet via Skype. So we scrambled to find alternate space, and in a heroic effort, the team redesigned the room to reflect our creative theme, complete with props and baked goods! We were told that we made the next round, to take place the following week, so we redoubled efforts to perfect the presentation. The day before the final pitch, the prospect emailed to say the search was put on hold. Goes to show, you can rise to meet the most dramatic (natural) disasters, but you can never know how the fickle personal or business winds might blow.

Kill ’em with kindness. Recently, some colleagues — working with a creative partner known for his tempestuous personality — were late to a meeting due to a personal medical emergency. The upshot was that the team arrived one member short, and about twenty minutes late. Though the associate was told about the (very real) health issue, he was disproportionately upset, reaming out our colleague in a crowded public place. Our colleague kept his composure, even in the face of some pretty harsh insults. Weeks later, following a successful event, the individual came around, apologizing for his histrionic behavior and recommending us for future assignments. The lesson? It’s best to keep cool, be classy, and stay positive with clients. Sometime it pays to smile through a PR nightmare.

All mixed up. We know someone who spent hours meticulously researching media for the perfect pitch. The story was compelling and certain to find a good home. But somehow emails got sent to addresses with the wrong names attached. What could be worse? What could be more obvious than the importance of getting names right? Even personal, tailored emails when you actually know the person stand a slim chance of getting a response. It’s a scary enough world out there for the PR pro without fumbling the most basic things. We include this story as a (nightmarish) reminder of how important it is to heed every detail, getting every one right.

And here’s a favorite from the vault that will make you grateful for Powerpoint...

The Emperor has no clothes. Years ago, at another agency (hint: it rhymes with “pedal man”) our West Coast colleague George Drucker had the inside track on some new business. After the initial pitch, the team was feeling great: the presentations had gone swimmingly, they were in the final round, and only one other firm was in the running. The team was told they were favored to win! They did some final prep, and, feeling confident, assembled in front of the top execs the morning of the presentation, only to realize they had left the entire slide presentation at the hotel (this was the old days of physical slide carousels; kids, see them as memorialized by Don Draper). With no time to retrieve the slides and no backup plan, they tried to improvise. And went down in flames. A frightening day indeed, but, to be sure, George has never suffered from overconfidence (or forgetfulness) again. He became a model of backing up data, double checking all materials for meetings, and arriving early to presentations — just in case.