Real estate website admits it erred in sending Robin Williams email

An alert from ListedBy broke the news of the comedian and actor’s death. Management realized it had overstepped and issued a mea culpa.

Imagine my surprise when amid the flood of tweets and Facebook posts and emails about the death of actor Robin Williams, I spotted an alert from real estate auction website with this headline: “Robin Williams Dies of Apparent Suicide.”

The comedy genius died in his home, but other than that, what does this tragedy have to do with real estate? Absolutely nothing. I was puzzled and disappointed: Was trying to capitalize on the death of the iconic actor?

Even‘s email noted the disconnect between real estate and Robin Williams’ death:

This obviously is not directly related to real estate, but sometimes news transcends topics and when something so shocking happens we feel it our duty to report to our hundreds of thousands of members. As a long time Robin Williams fan we grant our sincere condolences to his family and it is a reminder for all of us how important every day is.

Unless you’re CNN or The Huffington Post or TMZ, leave news like this to the news pros. is not part of that crowd, and should have stood on the sidelines.

Wisely, soon realized the error of its ways. Not long after the email reporting Williams’ death went out, the website rushed out an apologetic follow-up email:


I wanted to run in to the office even at this late hour and make sure we issue a prompt apology. Earlier tonight we sent out our wkly newsletter including the news of Robin Williams death. We used our same newsletter template we always use for sending out breaking news and while it was potentially a vocal minority we did receive a couple dozen emails that felt it was simply not tasteful and not our place to send out an email like this.

In hindsight we completely agree and understand why this was not a good idea to send and we want to issue our most sincere apology to all our members and anyone who was in any way offended by this.

It was simply an issue of us ourselves as human beings receiving the news about half an hour before we were trying to select the “news of the day” to send out to our members, and being that we were sincerely extreme Robin Williams fans it seemed like there was no news we could think of that was more important than this. In hindsight again though we realize we actually could have negatively represented the man we intended to honor and for that we are very sorry. It again was a very fast paced decision from someone that really was shocked by the news and we hope you as members forgive us if this was in bad taste. As an extra part of our apology and to try to accomplish our initial goal of honoring a great person who was such a big part of American culture for so long we will be making a donation this week to his charitable foundation. Thanks again for your understanding our human flaw on this send [sic] and from now on we’ll just stick to real estate when it comes to reporting the news!


The Team

(Although not explicitly stated, the “I” at the outset of the apology email presumably is Stephan Piscano, co-founder and CEO of

While it’s lacking a handful of commas and hyphens, this email is a good example of a new-media mea culpa. apologized for the ill-conceived initial email (perhaps a bit too profusely), explained the poor rationale behind the first email, promised something similar would never happen again, and even took the extra step of pledging to donate to Williams’ charitable foundation.

The lesson here: Don’t venture into “breaking news” territory when you don’t belong there. And if do you figure out you’re in the wrong place, get out as quickly as possible and take ownership of your screw-up.

John Egan is editor of The SpareFoot Blog.

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