PR prof: My 5 professional blunders

A candid reflection with useful lessons for any professional.


I am proud of my public relations agency career accomplishments. However, my achievements certainly didn’t come without a few mishaps over the years. Here are a few of my early career missteps and what I learned from them.

1. “This client is a jerk!”

Uh-oh, did we end the conference call connection? No.

Thankfully, the secretary was the only one still on the other end of the line. Since she was someone with whom I had developed a friendly working relationship, she laughed. I suspect her boss wouldn’t have been so amused.

Always double check that you hung up the phone before a conference call debriefs. The same goes for emails. Don’t say or write anything in an email that you wouldn’t want copied and retweeted. And be nice to everyone at an organization, from the receptionist to the cleaning lady.

2. “The cruise ship has a variety of pubic spaces.”

We meant to say public space, but spell check didn’t help us here. Proofread by reading out loud, line by line.

3. “Now calling order 96.”

Site inspections are key. In this case, the oceanfront restaurant we selected for an event (across the country) turned out to be in an industrial shipping area with paper napkins and checkered table clothes. Internet research alone might not tell the entire story about a venue. Be sure to visit event sites in person.

4. “Hello Mr. Smith, The New York Times is an ideal outlet for our story.”

Problem was I had dialed Mr. Jones at The Daily News—and proceeded to panic and hang up on him when I realized I got it wrong. Not cool. Double and triple check media lists, email blasts, etc. One of Journalists’ biggest peeves is when PR people call or send information to the wrong editor or reporter.

5. “Rebecca has a horrible work-ethic. We won’t ever promote her.”

I didn’t know Rebecca was standing behind me. Ouch. As a junior manager at the time, I made an unprofessional comment to a colleague. Following this embarrassing mistake, I always addressed performance issues directly with the employee, in private and in a constructive manner.

Over the years, I developed more finesse when dealing with clients and colleagues. Learning from your mistakes and taking responsibility for improving your interpersonal and professional skills is essential. The ability to laugh (after you’ve cried) and move on is wise, too.

Lorra M. Brown is an assistant professor of public relations/professional communication at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. She serves as the internship coordinator and advisor to the Student Public Relations Association. Prior to her faculty position, she held senior-level positions at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide and Weber Shandwick Worldwide.

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