This is the first entry in what I hope becomes a regular feature on my blog where I ask respected public relations professionals to share their horror stories. Why? Because we can benefit from understanding how our peers handled certain doom. And, like my friend Tracey Parry says, “It’s PR, not ER.”
Just like the first time you have sex, you never forget the first time a client swears at you.
Depending how you handle this life-changing event, it can become great barroom fodder down the road.
My first time happened in a car while I was driving home from work. (The yelling at, not the sex.)
I was working on a rather large mailing project for a client whose company was going through a major re-brand. But before they could announce the new name publicly, they had to let their partners and vendors know they would soon be known as Company X. The role the third party served for Company X determined which letter they would receive in the mail. (There were four different versions.)
My job involved making sure each contact person at each company would receive the proper letter. I was given four massive Excel files that contained the mailing addresses and contact person’s title at each company. I had to coordinate the project with a mailing house that would feed the information into a program that would then print out the envelopes and letters.
If one Excel cell was missing, or contained a phone number instead of an address, the entire run would have to be re-printed. And, as was often the case, the Excel files contained hundreds of mailing addresses. It was darn near impossible to ensure everything was accurate since I was merely acting as the coordinator on the project.
The day before we would finally give the mailing house the green light, I noticed an error in one of the files. If it wasn’t fixed, we would have to print an entire new set of letters and envelopes, costing my client a lot of money. I couldn’t afford to let it go by and hope for the best, so I called my client on my way home from work, knowing full well he wouldn’t be happy.
(It should be noted that we had a few false starts during this process as minor errors were discovered every day, it seemed.)
The shit finally hit the fan.
Me: Hey, um, Client? I know we were supposed to go to print tomorrow, but I noticed another missing bit of information in one of the Excel files, so we need to push it back another day.
Client: Are you kidding?
Me: Unfortunately, no. I’m not.
Client: F*ck, Brad!
It went downhill from there. I called my manager shortly after to explain that the client wasn’t happy. While the Excel files were not my fault, it was my job, as the coordinator of the project, to make sure all of the T’s were crossed and the I’s dotted. But I didn’t take it seriously. I thought, “Hell, since they’re compiling the information, it has to be fine, right?” But the client didn’t think so. He had grown weary of the constant back-and-forth he and I were engaged in; he just wanted this project done and he felt (rightfully so) that I was not as on top of the project as I should have been.
That call must have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, because I was removed from the account a few weeks later.
Clearly, not the high point of my PR career.
But I did learn a valuable lesson: The only person who you can hold accountable for your work is yourself.
When you go home at night, if you can honestly say that you did the best work you possibly could, and did it with integrity, that’s really all we can ask for.
It’s when you don’t give your work the proper focus that trouble abounds.
And clients start dropping “F” bombs on you.
Trust me. It’s not fun.