I received this email about a month ago. Now, I’m used to getting bad pitches on a regular basis (which is an extremely sad thing to admit as a state of regularity for the public relations industry), but this one made even my jaw drop:
My name is ____________ and I am the current intern at ___________. I was wondering/hoping you could tell me who is in charge of receiving press releases having to do with the garment and accessories industry? If you could please e-mail me back with their name and contact information that would be greatly appreciated.
I look forward to hearing from you soon!
… make me roll my eyes because what I write about has nothing to do with the “garment and accessories” industry.
… make me slam my palm into my forehead because the intern thought ending the email with an exclamation point would make up for the pure puerility of the content.
… make my jaw drop because it was sent to me, and at least 100 other people, several of whom I know or am familiar with, and who also have nothing to do with the “garment and accessories” industry.
They write on nonprofit issues, the tech world (including a tech blog that is historically harsh on “PR people”), some extremely large mainstream outlets… their content is all over the place.
And how did I know that? Our email addresses were in plain sight. Because they’d all been included in the “cc” field.
Now, normally when I get bad pitches, I just roll my eyes, or slam my palm into my forehead, or do both at the same time, or recite Pythagoras’ Theorem to myself ad nauseam (don’t ask me why, but it helps ward off temporary insanity as far as I’m concerned).
I’m sometimes goaded into writing snarky posts on the pitiful way most people pitch, and if they are truly God-awful, I will share them with a very small group of friends, because sometimes truly awful things just have to be shared before they feel real.
And to be honest, there’s a prissy schoolmarm inside me who’d also like to “out” them. Can you imagine the traffic?! The link backs?! The possibility of getting picked up by one of the really big sites/aggregators?
But I don’t make that a habit because that would be a very mean thing to do, and heaven forbid I ever send out a truly horrendous pitch, can’t you just see that coming back to bite me?
Instead, first I sent it to my very small circle of friends (two, to be precise), so that we could all rubberneck together.
And then I looked up the agency the intern had cited. It looked legit – in fact, it has a decent social media presence – and I called it.
The lady who answered the phone was extremely polite. I verified that there was an intern by this name working there and then read out the body of the email to her.
And when I said, “Your intern ___ sent this out to me … and at least 100 other people, including outlets like _____, ________ and ________,” there was an audible gasp of horror on the other end of the line, accompanied by “OMIGOD OMIGOD OMIGOD.”
She couldn’t get off the phone quickly enough, after apologizing to me profusely.
About half an hour later, I received another email from the intern. This time, my email address was included in the “bcc” field, and it read:
I am so sorry for my major mistake. I did not realize what I did nor the severity of it until I had already sent. I hope you know how truly sorry I am and that I will only learn from this and know that I need to use “Bcc” from now on if I do not want to create a new e-mail every time. Once again I am so terribly sorry for my stupid actions during this time. I feel so terrible and do not know what else I can do and or say. I promise you that this will NEVER happen again.
I hope you know how truly sorry I am.
Do unto others
I’d like to think that that day, I helped someone new to our industry learn a huge lesson, and also paid it forward for the firm in a small way. (The poor intern will probably be terrified of keyboards for a while to come, but s/he’ll get over it.)
Where would we all be if someone didn’t help us out once in a while, right?
But wait! There’s more!
There was at least one person who committed an even bigger “sin” than the intern… after the apology was sent out. I still haven’t decided whether or not to “out” that person… because that is definitely someone who should know better.
And that’s what you shall hear about in Part II.
Meanwhile, what do you think of how the intern handled the situation (including the subsequent apology)? What lesson(s) would you extrapolate for interns, mentors and agencies alike? Or for anyone else? Do share your thoughts, I’d love to know!
@shonali Just read the post "The Intern and the Executive Coach, Part I: Clueless" and I can't wait to comment when I get in the office :)
@shonali sorry was half asleep and didn't read the comments. Would lose sleep if I didn't figure it out :-)
I like how you were able to turn an embarassing email into a story that prompts a question. Like many others, my first reaction to the email (and the second) was very negative, almost disgusted that someone could make so many mistakes without seeking out an advisor or atleast someone to proof read his/her work. Although there should have been supervision, it is a basic skill that every young professional must have to be able to consistently seek constructive criticism as well as mentorship. After all, a five-second question could have prevented this failure. With that said, I think you handled the situation well. It is imposible for us to "unlearn what we already know", thus it is difficult for people to remember themselves when they were learning basic digital lessons (even bcc). I believe Reaching out to one another is one of the most important things we can do in the professional world, as long as it is not in a nasty way. Maybe there is a middleground between these two thoughts that apply to this story? @quez781
@Matt Vazquez I remember when this happened, I was in our "kitchen" (in the office) and telling the story to @juliaaburgos and @katiehaswell . Katie, poor thing, was mortified that an "intern" could do this. But the fault really lies (or lay) , IMHO, with the people who didn't give the intern enough training... right?
You came up in a search and your Eidia Lush post popped up so you are so totally a garment and accessories blogger.
@Shonali I received this email as well (maybe you noticed!), and I replied immediately to the sender. I pointed out that PRSA's blog doesn't cover the garment and accessories industry, explained several reasons why the email was considered poor form, and suggested how similar communications could be approached in the future. I also went to great lengths to note that I was trying to be helpful, not critical, and I hoped that the sender would take my message in the spirit that it was intended. Given the sender was an intern, I thought this was a better approach (for the sender AND the profession) than a public shaming. While I can understand the benefit of using such missteps as "teachable moments," I struggle with our profession's proclivity for eating its own over honest mistakes. Maybe that's just the nature of social media, but I can't help but wonder whether PR Dummies and the Bad Pitch Blog do more to hurt the profession than help it.
@arthury I DID notice it! I figured at least one person would write back to that intern (thank you for that).
I really wanted to let the agency know, though, because my larger concern was ... what kind of training are they doing? I haven't actually sent them this post (kinda surprised that they haven't been stalking me after what happened, if nothing else because I called it out to them)... but I figure after Part II runs, I will. Btw - since you & I both know who it is, do you know the MD/CEO/whatever title IRL?
@cec_pr @pr_in_pink @ericajmoss @kirkhazlett @lisadjenkins @justHollieG @jennimacdonald @nesrdubp081 Wow, thanks so much!
Hey @skypulsemedia did you get that e-mail? Me either; I guess we didn't make the circle of friends. That's ok though, I've been left off much longer lists.............
I say let 'em hang out to dry; tough love. Do you think he wasn't the sharpest tack in the drawer or just a noob mistake?
@Shonali I assumed it was a 'he' because it lacked creativity and forethought.........something a guy would do............:).
I know I'm on your list, even if you are still a little miffed about the whole 'getting lost in the woods' incident in Orlando........
@bdorman264 LOL. What about the apology note, though... do you think that sounded like a guy? And way to escape the feminist wrath, Mr. Dorman. ;P
Wow! I'm sure this experience will be forever emblazoned on that intern's psyche for the rest of his/her life. Can't wait to read part two....
@Krista Part 2 will be like a thriller. Seriously. And while I haven't decided to "out" that person ... yet ... I will say that that person should've been ashamed of what s/he did... but probably isn't.
@Shonali I'm with Krista on this one... when is Part II!?? In regards to the situation as a whole - I think you certainly did a good thing contacting the firm and teaching the individual a valuable lesson. As you say, they may not be near a keyboard for a while, but they will never forget the experience, and (I hope) will become a better professional as a result. However, I hope that the firm took an equally (if not more) important letter from this. That is, as professionals, we have a responsibility to teach and mentor young professionals (something our friend @KirkHazlett so eloquently writes about on this and his own blog), and that everything we do as professionals - be it an email from an intern or a new business pitch to a prospective client - speaks volumes about us and our work. Hopefully after this experience they will take more time to work with hands-on with their interns to produce an experience and work that is mutually beneficial to both parties.
You know, I haven't heard from the firm at all since that phone conversation - ok, since the intern's apology. You'd think they would have started monitoring what I write about (especially since I was on the intern's first list) and by this point, at least written to me privately after this post was published (if they didn't want to openly acknowledge themselves as the firm, which I can understand)... but nothing.
And yes, they should be using @KirkHazlett 's blog as required reading!
I agree with a few others -- while it's a shame that this intern made this mistake (and I do believe she could have crafted her apology better), perhaps her management is more to blame. If this is a pitch that's planned to go out to several dozen people, it should be reviewed by at least a handful of people. If the intern is new enough that he/she may not know the proper way of sending it out, then that should be reviewed. It may be handholding, but as an intern, I can attest that I'd rather move slowly and learn along the way than make a colossal mistake that'll upset my superiors. You reacted in the perfect way, Shonali -- I hope that this intern learns from it (she obviously has!), and this won't end her internship or tarnish her career. We all make mistakes while we're learning...some bigger than others!
@annedreshfield That's the thing - how are interns, or, really, anyone, to learn, if no one teaches them? I absolutely think the agency was more to blame than the intern. I'm totally with you on the handholding as long as they need it. I always tell my interns/junior staff, I don't mind if they have 100 questions that they ask 100 times. I'd rather they asked me and got it straight. Once they have it straight, and they understand the task, deadline & deliverables, they need to get it done... but if there are ANY red flags, they need to let me know asap, else I can't help them. That's what I call setting someone up for success as opposed to failure.
@Shonali Wow, can I work for you?! :D That sounds like just about the most perfect philosophy an intern supervisor/boss/manager/anyone could have. One thing I might add is to be sure and remind interns that you are open to those questions...I've seen a lot of interns just kind of quietly dig into their work and be afraid to speak up and ask questions if they're confused or lost. Just a quick "I'm here to help!" reminder might give them enough confidence to speak up if they're a little shy.
I am with @KirkHazlett , @Ancita and @jenzings on this. I commend you for not taking the person to the broom closet in public but also for not sweeping it under the carpet. You displayed your reputation as a leader and respected professional by discussing your best course of action with a trusted and confidential few, addressed the issue through the appropriate channels so the intern would have some oversight and then imparted your thoughts, without coarseness, for the rest of us to learn.
In my book, that is why you continue to be at the head of the class. Looking forward to 'Clueless II', hopefully with Chick-A-Fil @kmueller62 as the target ;).
Indeed an interesting story. The supervisors really need to teach and handhold people who have just started their career. Right from the basics of outlook to how an e-mail should be written are the basic things that an intern needs to be trained for. Thankfully I have such seniors who have handhold me all this while :) . However, I still feel that the intern should have sent an apology mail personally to you rather than putting you and everyone else in bcc. This I say because you called up the agency personally and helped him/her realise their mistake. Not sure if my thought process is correct but that's what I think...
@Ancita That's an interesting point, Ancita - about sending me a personal note. I kinda expected it, not from the intern but from the agency... and here is somewhere else the agency slipped up, IMHO and to @KirkHazlett point below.
Because here's what happened - when I called the agency & spoke to the agency staffer, I gave them my name (they had no clue who I was, heh!). I asked if they'd like me to forward the email to them and they said yes, so I did... and all my contact information was clearly outlined in my note. I was wondering if they would circle back with me with a personalized thank you... but they didn't. So if the agency didn't, then I could hardly expect the intern to, right?
It's really interesting to see how agencies & different personalities handle issues like this. Something like this is a blip on the radar screen, but I now know who I would NOT go to if I were looking for support in garment/fashion publicity... ;)
Not to "jump the gun" on this, but there are bigger culprits here. First, the intern's supervisor. And, second, from my perspective as a public relations professional-turned-public relations professor...the intern's professors in college, especially anyone involved in "Writing for PR" courses.
The intern's supervisor should have taken the (obviously ignored) step of asking to see the intern's draft email communication. I recall from my own intern days (back in the parchment and quill pen days) my supervisor asking to see my proposed communication materials. Most of the time, they were fine; once in a while, he would point out sentences/wording that should be changed to make the message either more clear or more appropriate for the intended audience.
In my own "Writing for PR" classes (we call the course, for the nonce, "Publicity Techniques"), I emphasize the importance of having someone else review your work in the beginning...and I readily (eagerly??) point out major boo-boos that I, myself, committed in my earlier years...like misspelling the name of an Army base commander's name in a newspaper headline (and getting an "up-close-and-personal" visit from said two-star commander!).
My point in all my sermons is that no one is perfect. And, as a budding professional especially, you need to call on and rely on those who can show you the way.
The main example I use is this...I occasionally ask my wife, for whom English is a second language, to proofread things that I write, especially when I'm trying to explain somewhat complicated concepts. Why? Because she takes the wording literally...she's not digging for nuances. If it makes sense for her, it will make sense for just about anyone. (She's fluent in five languages, by the way.)
Internships are about learning...from doing...and from others. The intern in this post has now accomplished both! Awesome!
@KirkHazlett YES. That was one of my reactions as well - why on earth wasn't the intern coached well enough and put through his/her paces before being "unleashed" on the world, so to speak? Who on earth let him/her (you see how careful I am to keep doing that!) think it would be ok to add everyone's email address in the CC field as opposed to BCC...? And so on. So I think the supervisor(s) at the agency were more to blame... the poor intern was just trying to figure it out and be as efficient as possible, with what seems like inadequate direction.
Having someone review your work is such a good thing to do... and like you, I occasionally ask my husband to look my stuff over. As you say, if it makes sense to them, it makes sense. That's also something I have tried to get junior staff to do - to review my work. Not only does it make them feel good, it's a very subtle way of teaching them, and helping them learn by osmosis. Plus, I don't think anyone is "too young" or "too inexperienced" to catch mistakes... it's amazing what some younger folk will catch!
@kmueller62 Pretty amazing story, eh? Just wait for Part II. @hackmanj @GiniDietrich have a head start, though... ;) And thanks for sharing!
I think your approach to addressing this was spot-on. The bottom line is that we cannot continue to crucify people for making mistakes and expect this industry to have any kind of a future at all. Clearly, s/he wasn't coached on this prior to sending. So instead of hanging this person out to dry (and possibly driving someone who could, eventually, be an asset to the industry), you elected to make this a "teaching moment."
I hope others follow your lead. One of the more depressing elements of social has been the advent of the group cries for people to be sacked after making one mistake. It makes me thankful that I had tremendous mentors, and that I started out in a far more forgiving environment.
@jenzings Thanks, Jen! And yes, I completely agree. If we keep flogging people for making the same mistakes, we're just going to perpetuate the horrid image our industry has. And I think we could all stand to be a little more compassionate these days... particularly when it comes to someone new to our work & field.