sloth, one of the seven deadly sinsThis is a true story.

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:

Hello,

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!

It didn’t

… 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.

It did

… 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.

Yup.

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.

“OMIGOD OMIGOD”

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:

Hello,

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!

Image: dingler1109 via Flickr, CC 2.0

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps smart businesses make bank by taking their communications from corporate codswallop to community cool™. She is also the founder of The Social PR Virtuoso®, which provides online, on-demand training that helps you unleash your inner Social PR superhero. Shonali is mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke