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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.