Comms anonymous: Workplace horror stories to keep you up at night

Communicators and PR professionals share their most harrowing moments and horrors on the job

Two jack o lanterns aglow in the dark on a story about comms horror stories

Comms professionals are master diplomats, crafting legal-approved, perfectly tailored, brand-honed messaging that balances the priorities of executives, managers, employees and external audiences alike.

As a result, you often don’t hear much about the horrors that lurk behind the scenes, the complex interpersonal twists among stakeholders, and the frightening uncertainty that can stand in the way of results.

That’s why we’ve asked communicators to spill their tea — in secret — via an anonymous form (and we’re hoping you will too).

In what may come to be a recurring column of “comms anonymous” tales, discover stories of the dastardliest, most chilling and most relatable moments from the secret files of the comms world.




We’ve all made awkward gaffes on the job — sending emails too soon, freezing up on an important call, typing “pubic” instead of “public.” I’m, er, definitely not speaking from experience.

One communicator told us they sent out a press release to reporters “with the entire email thread of edits and back and forth from my team below it.” EEK!

Another comms horror story that made us cackle: “I once left a voicemail for a journalist and closed with ‘love you, bye’ out of sheer habit. Needless to say, she did not call me back!” (Don’t worry, we journalists don’t get enough love. I’m sure she appreciated it.)

“My first attributed quote ever came in my earlier days when a journalist caught me off guard on the phone,” wrote another comms pro. “He was prodding with the same question over and over to which I responded repeatedly with phrases like, ‘I’m not sure. I don’t know. I am not privy to that information.’ I let him know I had to get off the phone and he asked me one last time, the same question, to which I responded, ‘I literally have no idea!’ You can guess which of those responses ended up in the story.”

Toxic terrors

We’ve all had that monster manager or execrable executive plague our day-to-day at some point in our careers. For instance, there are the bosses who think they know how to do your job — but their perspectives are from the wrong century.

One responder shared a story about their boss, a CEO who had worked in PR 20 years prior. “He would regularly insist that I follow up on unanswered email pitches to top-tier outlets five times,” they wrote. “I eventually told him I would give him my contact and he could follow up himself, but I wouldn’t allow myself to get blacklisted for spamming them.”

But this bosszilla didn’t stop there: “Same boss blared CNN during the Trump era all day in the office, said I could have two weeks of maternity leave and then had to work from home, wouldn’t let me hire anyone to cover me during maternity until it was too late to train them, then said I could have a generous six weeks off and called maternity leave ‘a vacation.’ Needless to say, I never made it back.”

Ever had a boss who had no concept of professional boundaries? You’re not alone.

“I was running executive communications for an organization’s CEO, including creating content for her social media,” one communicator related. “One day she complained that I don’t post about her enough on my own personal Instagram account … She fully expected me to be sharing her weekly activities and successes on my personal social accounts.”

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.” Your name and information will not be collected, but will vanish into the ether, never to be seen again.

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