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Public Relations Perils: Be Careful Before You Hit Send on that Email

Every so often, I undertake what I call my “Email Dump.” This is where I go through the approximately 12,000 emails that have piled up in my inbox and decide what I can finally delete for all eternity. Unsurprisingly, there a lot of press releases and public relations communications among the emails now languishing in my “trash” folder.

Sorting through emails is like going through a scrapbook, sometimes a very funny one. I was amused to find out that a former roommate of mine still has my golf clubs–five years later. It was also nice to be reminded that on my birthday, I missed my deadline to file a story. And then there was Columbus Day. when I sent off a series of time-sensitive emails, only to find out that the recipient’s entire company had closed for the day. But the most fun I had was reading all of the emails from public relations reps.

No less than 100 times, by my own count, was I addressed by the wrong name. I was called Dan, Dave, Joseph, Bernie, Bob, Robert, Henry, Jennifer (!?), and my personal favorite, Sherman. (Who happened to be my first dog.) My last name somehow turned into Silverstein, Silvermen, Silverstine, Silvers, Slivers, Jackson, Herbert, S., Smithers, Goldstein, Barry, and mostly strangely, Chang. There were also number of emails that I was never supposed to see.

In one case, after a rather testy conversation with a public relations rep, I was informed that I am a “major as*****” and a “pain in the butt” to deal with. Sadly, the writer meant to send the email to her boss. After I responded with a terse “why thank you,” the PR rep quickly fired off an apology where she addressed me as “Mr. Silversmith.”

Some weeks later there was another incident in which I was the unintended recipient of email. A corporate communications executive for a very large company had set-up a call between myself and the company’s Chief Executive Officer. After the call wrapped-up, I received an email from the corporate communications executive that was addressed to the CEO. The email simply read, “Great spin job, I think he bought it.” A few hours later I received an email from the corporate communication executive  asking me to destroy the email. I’ve yet to do so.

One of my favorite emails was from a representative for one of the world’s largest technology companies; the day a story I written on the company went to press, the public relations rep informed me the company would have no comment and asked whether I’d consider holding the story for a day.

Another email, from the head of corporate communications at a Wall Street firm, informed me that the company was considering suing me because I hadn’t contacted the company for a direct comment for a story I’d written. When I quickly inquired about what story they were referring to, I was given a link to a story that appeared in a publication I’d never heard of, published almost six months earlier; the story merely included a section of a column I had written almost a year earlier, appropriately credited. When I pointed this out, the public relations rep retracted the threat of a lawsuit but warned me that “any further disparaging public comments regarding the company would be taken seriously.” I responded with a two-word response. The second word was “you.”

Among the thousands of emails there were plenty that made little to no sense. One PR person apparently felt it was important to inform me time and time again that I had not RSVP’d for an event where I was a featured speaker. When I kindly informed the PR person of this fact, and also that I was listed in the email as a featured speaker, I was told I’d still need to RSVP or risk being denied entry. I promptly sent an email informing the person that due to a speaking engagement, I would be unable to RSVP for the event.

Some of the stranger exchanges I’ve had with public relations reps resulted from failing to include their company’s name in an article. Every so often I’ll write preview or wrap columns about certain business sectors or ideas. Lack of space usually means I can’t mention every company involved in a certain industry. After writing a recent article previewing the telecom sector, one public relations rep wrote to jog my memory:

“Hey idiot, how could you forget us?”

Almost a year earlier, to my surprise, the same public relations rep had praised me for including their company in a report on potentially failing telecoms:

“Nice job bozo.”

Amazingly, I’ve never spoken to this particular public relations rep. Believe it or not, I have no plans to do so now.

Among the other gems in the treasure trove of public relations emails were various nonsensical press releases. In one case, I was sent a press release informing me that the company was issuing a press release three days later. The first press release simply announced the second press release; the second press released covered a topic unworthy of even a single press release.

One small technology company sent out a press release informing journalists that it’s company had changed it’s name. A good idea, except the press release didn’t include any mention of the new name. This was to be the best of the awful press releases, until I stumbled upon this headline:

“2007 Wasn’t A Very Good For Our Company and 2008 Isn’t Looking Like It Will Be Much Better.”

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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