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PR confessions

We all make mistakes, but owning up to them is another matter! Here eight brave PROs confess to stupid errors they have made in their careers. Learning from your own mistakes is useful, but learning from other people’s is even better!

I pitched to the wrong people, in the wrong boardroom 

James Bickford, managing director of research and advisory firm Reputation Institute: “Years ago, the first big pitch I was asked to lead, I assembled my beaming team, portfolio in hand for an inspiring rally cry. I ushered my senior colleagues into the vast reception of the prospective client. We were nervous.

“A secretary appeared and said with a loud echo booming across the atrium: “they are all assembled in the boardroom”. The doors opened and we bundled out into the awaiting crowd seated at an endless mahogany desk. Without a word, we sat and I stood, launching into a sublime monologue whilst forgetting to introduce everyone.

“Feeling confident until a man rose, appearing through the smoke of his cigar, grumbling ‘stop…. stop, stop.’ I froze – one of the creative’s boards fell to the floor with a rather dramatic thud. “This is all very lovely”, the man said politely, “But we are the board remuneration committee.” As he was telling the room this seismic revelation, the door swung open and the secretary apologised for inconveniencing the committee and ushered us out leaving our pitch boards behind. We never pitched.

“The lesson I learnt was that when we are involved with something with many moving parts we must remember it is the simplest of things that make the biggest difference – like introducing yourself before launching off.”

I moaned about my boss in an email which I accidentally sent to them

Hannah Fox, director of public relations at The Eden Stanley Group: “When I was at a very small agency I sent an email to my colleague about my boss (who we didn't like very much) but sent it to my boss by accident. Amazingly, she was very nice about it and I lived to tell the tale. There was a similar incident when a colleague wrote something in an email about finding a contact difficult to work with. The email conversation eventually turned to other subjects and became relevant to the contact, who was then forwarded the email and found the comment right at the bottom of the email trail.

“My mistake happened very early in my career and was a great lesson learnt – I never put anything in an email that I wouldn't want to be seen by that person. I have always shared the story with junior colleagues too – especially when they're frustrated with a contact or client. Everyone needs a rant but find a trusted colleague and do it in a quiet room – not in writing!”

I offered an interview with someone who refused to be interviewed 

Leah Jones, account manager at agency The CommsCo “One of my very first pitches in PR was to a leading technology publication, and the journalist came straight back asking for a customer interview. I was thrilled and emailed the client to ask if the customer was happy to do an interview. They declined, and when I shared this with the journalist he rightly came back with a blunt ‘no.’ when I asked whether he would go ahead with the story anyway.

“Since then, I’ve never pitched a press release or story without knowing whether a customer is available to talk to the journalist, and have certainly avoided pitching to any publications that are customer-story centric if a customer doesn’t want to be interviewed.

“Lesson learnt: in tech PR, it’s all about the user not the product!”

I was enticed by high pay

Lizzie Earl, director at agency Munch PR: “As an eternal optimist I don't believe in mistakes, only learnings, and I learnt a valuable lesson that the people you work with and the work that you do every day is more important than just getting the highest salary. When moving jobs earlier in my career I was flattered and won over by a bidding war and a big increase when I should have taken other role factors into account. It wasn't what I wanted or needed but, on the plus side, I did learn lots of new skills that I wouldn't have gained had I gone straight to the optimum environment for me and which have proved useful ever since! I'm always grateful for all experiences, and now working with the right people and doing fantastic work is something I value highly and strive for every day.”

I moved to a bigger agency 

Jeremy Page, senior account director at integrated agency Beattie: “Leaving Beattie for another agency was my big mistake. I saw peers in the industry moving around and thought the grass might be greener. Within 18 months I was back.

“Colleagues often move from job to job, but they lack the experience of long-term account work and the benefit of trusted relationships. For me moving to a bigger agency was totally the wrong fit. Bigger doesn't mean better!

“I left a mid-size ambitious and growing independent agency which was agile, innovative and setting the pace in the fast-moving communications era. I had enjoyed the hands-on approach and upon moving I suddenly felt removed from it all. What I'd failed to see was the undiscovered country on my doorstep – ripe with opportunities.

“I remember the experience akin to the first time I test drove my cousin's old army Land Rover. It was big and impressive, but ultimately slow and clunky – great for a bit of off-road driving but useless for a long journey.”

I was too afraid to ask questions

Candice Choo, senior marketing executive at “One of the first mistakes I made early in my career was holding back from asking questions. Particularly when you’ve just started a new job – eager to make a good impression and just get on with the work, I assumed that if I asked questions or asked for support, I’d be seen as a burden and look like I didn’t know what I was doing.

“What you don’t learn before starting your career is that asking questions shows initiative to get a better understanding of not only the task you’re doing, but also why you’re doing it. It means that you don’t miss out on the valuable lessons you can learn along the way – whether that be a more efficient way of doing tasks or seeing how your work contributes to the business’ bottom line.

“Naturally, everyone will tell you that you learn by your mistakes, but you also do by the questions you ask. So if there was one thing I could tell young professionals early in their career, it would be ‘don’t forget to ask’”.

I didn’t invest in professional relationships

Annie Brafield, account director at PR and marketing agency Cartwright Communications: “I know it sounds silly for a PR professional, but when I started out I underestimated just how important relationships are and I didn’t invest the time in building and maintaining them from the start.

“My first job out of university was an in-house comms role at a professional sports club, which meant I was able to meet everyone from business owners and senior professionals through to rugby players and coaches – and everything in between, but I really didn’t understand how important having an extensive network would be later on in my career so I perhaps didn’t invest in those relationships.

“Now, networking and building strategic relationships both for us as an agency on behalf of my clients is such an integral part of what I do now it is second nature and I realise how many great people I have met along the way and just how important it is to put time and effort into those relationships.”

I forgot to take business cards 

Leila Stocker, director of travel firm Turtle PR: “In my early days of PR, I sometimes ran straight out the office to media networking events, or jumped on flights to host last-minute press trips. One evening I was working late before I was due to attend a big industry networking event I was excited about. Perhaps so excited, I completely forgot to pack extra business cards in my wallet. On arrival to my dismay I had a total of two to hand, one of which probably had a number already scribbled on the back! I still spent the night happily meeting new contacts and discussing potential client features, but had to make sure I politely asked for their cards, even though not all had any on them. I then had to save numbers in my phone and scribble things down on placemats – not the most professional look! Lesson learnt – always be prepared with box fresh cards any given day of the week, as you never know when you might meet a new contact or potential new client.”

From the real howlers, such as slagging off people in emails they will see, to small errors, such as forgetting business cards, we hope these true confessions help you to avoid some embarrassing moments in the future. None of us are perfect, but it’s nice to appear professional.

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