Comms anonymous: More workplace horror stories to keep you up at night

What’s a good horror story without a proper sequel?

Comms pros are experts at presenting polished messaging to their organizations, and the world at large. But you don’t often see the trials and tribulations that take place behind closed doors that aren’t often talked about.

Earlier this month, Ragan’s director of content Jess Zafarris shared some of the results of an anonymous survey asking comms professionals them to share some of their most frustrating, embarrassing or otherwise wacky experiences working in communications. The results didn’t disappoint.

If you’ve got a particularly painful, entertaining, embarrassing or cringe-worthy experience to share, tell us about it via our anonymous form, and your harrowing tale may be featured in a future edition of this column.

Lacking leadership

No matter the industry you’ve worked in, you’ve probably had a boss at some point along the line that you simply didn’t see eye-to-eye with. But did you work with anyone quite like some of the bosses we heard about in these survey responses?

One respondent’s leader thought cutting some jobs would help “shake things up.” Surprise — it didn’t work.

“I once had a CMO insist that I let 15% of my staff go,” the respondent said. While layoffs are an unfortunate fact of life sometimes, this executive wasn’t interested in learning about the performance of the people on the team before choosing who to cut.

The respondent said that the boss instead decided to relieve the communications professional  of their duties.

“When I refused, I was let go. He didn’t care who was to be let go and didn’t even know most of the people’s names,” they wrote. “It was like a scene out of the movie ‘Horrible Bosses.’ Six months after this happened, the CMO was shown the door for running the marketing department into the ground.”

In another story about bad bosses, a respondent shared an anecdote about working to get a celebrity to show up to an event in New York City. The boss then complained that the celebrity’s availability was a mere 20 minutes.

“No acknowledgment of how difficult it was to even get the star at all!” they wrote. “How rides for the star had to be coordinated, paid for and our event timing had to be perfect. And no thanks for those of us who had arranged this all this.”

Although the respondent handled the event well and all went smoothly, the final part of the story is the real kicker.

“Who do you think grabbed [the celebrity] for a selfie? Yes, the ungrateful boss,” they said.

A big deal over a small omission 

In any line of work, you’re going to make mistakes. But sometimes those mistakes can make for a funny story when you’ve put enough time in between them and yourself.

Take for instance one respondent’s story of how omitting one ampersand from their client’s name ended up getting them fired as PR representation.

“I was very junior at a PR agency and put on a new account team with no onboarding,” they wrote. “The next day I was asked to pitch a new study being published by our client. I couldn’t get anyone to review my work and under the gun, so hit ‘Send’ on some tailored reporter pitches.”

That lack of oversight came back to bite them in a big way.

“A couple of hours later, a senior leader comes over to let me know we’d gotten fired,” they said. “A reporter I’d emailed had asked the CEO what idiot was going their PR because I’d used an ampersand instead of spelling out the word ‘’and’ in the client’s name. We got fired because no one would take a minute to review my pitch the first day on an account.”

If these accounts have given you flashbacks, feel free to share more comms horror stories via our anonymous form, and you may be featured in a future edition of “Comms Anonymous.”

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.


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