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The 26-Pixel Tragedy

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 by Slaughter Development

Brody PR, a 20-year old public relations firm, recently made a small mistake. In a few seconds, someone clicked the wrong box and may have destroyed the reputation of the entire company.

As reported by local tech blogger Douglas Karr, as well as on the Social Times, ZDNet, and 25+ other blogs around the web, this is a story of a single email. It was an unsolicited, commercial message sent to a few hundred people, which makes the message “spam.” Brody PR sent the advertisement to some highly-influential members of the online community. Unfortunately, they included all the email addresses on the CC line in the message.

That’s an error of only 26 pixels which managed to anger hundreds of important people. Douglas Karr writes on his blog:

It wasn’t bad enough that it was SPAM, it also openly provided the list of recipients with everyone else’s name and email address. Ever heard of BCC?

I don’t know Beth and I don’t know Brody PR, but I’m going to let them know, as well as all their prospects and clients, that they deserve the huge backlash that they are currently getting.

Although Brody PR has tried to issue a few individual apologies, it’s clear that serious damage has been done. The social media community is now actively discussing the outcome of this case, but at Slaughter Development we are more interested in the process which lead to this issue in the first place. How could a 20-year old PR firm make such a rookie mistake?

Although we don’t have access to the internal workings of Brody PR, it’s easy enough to guess at the likely culprit: Brody PR probably has no established process for distributing information by email. This problem is not unique to the PR world. Earlier this year, The Methodology Blog reported that 29,000 college applicants were accidentally sent acceptance letters via email. This is better than the Muncie Fire Department, who is just realizing that email might be a more cost-effective way to deliver reports than driving them across town via fire truck. Workflow issues are a challenge for every organization. The story of Brody PR is likely another case where a lack of defined process lead to disastrous results.

Slaughter Development helps organizations before they have a crisis by helping to establish great workflow. We teach individuals and teams how to design business processes to ensure that procedures are robust and reliable. Don’t let a 26-pixel error destroy your reputation. Contact Slaughter Development today!

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Like this post? Here are some related entries from The Methodology Blog you might enjoy:

Gmail Priority: A Sad Tragedy - The latest news from Google is an upgrade to their popular email service, Gmail. Now, instead of just one Inbox, users get to have two. This is a terrible idea.
Read on »
Productivity at blogINDIANA - Attention Hoosiers! Writing a blog and spending your time judiciously can be compatible. Learn more about it at blogINDIANA, August 13th-15th. Read on »
Reply-All for Gridlock - State Department employees have been warned not to use the “reply-all” feature on their email programs, as a recent message storm nearly took down a major internal communication systems. According to the Associated Press, an accidental press of the shift key will invoke unspecified “disciplinary actions.” Read on »
Want to learn more? Register now for the 2011 Productivity Series

6 Responses to “The 26-Pixel Tragedy”

  1. Douglas Karr Says:

    While I think BCC would have masked the issue, it’s still not the appropriate solution. The CAN-SPAM act is clear that commercial email must require an opt-out mechanism. In addition, best practices require an opt-in mechanism. It’s just bad PR, plain and simple.

  2. rslaughter Says:

    Thanks for your comment, Doug!

    You’re right that BCC would have masked the problem, but not conformed with the legal requirements of the law. Our point is not that Brody PR should have used BCC but that they probably don’t have a process for sending commercial messages. If they did have a documented, well-designed process, they would likely not have made the error that has inflamed so many people in the blogging and social media community.

  3. Twitter Trackbacks for Slaughter Development » Blog Archive » The 26-Pixel Tragedy [] on Says:

    [...] Slaughter Development » Blog Archive » The 26-Pixel Tragedy – view page – cached Home > The Methodology Blog > 2009 > August > 19 > The 26-Pixel Tragedy — From the page [...]

  4. Lorraine BAll Says:

    With so many simple, inexpensive email tools available, you have to wonder why they they chose to do it this way?

    I could understand if they were a construction company or a dentist, but they are in the communication industry. As a client, I am not sure I would have much confidence in their ability to stay ahead of any curve on my behalf

  5. rslaughter Says:

    Thanks for your comment, Lorraine!

    It is surprising Brody PR did not make use of an email service provider or an email marketing software application. Although these options would certainly increase productivity, they do not eliminate the need for a sound workflow. You can use tools to achieve great results or to injure yourself more efficiently.

  6. Greg Spears Says:

    Most organizations fail to put clear email guidelines in place. Our people all had to read the email productivity book: The Hamster Revolution. Then we made clear decisions about commercial email but also email etiquette, how to write a email, how to get control of info that we store, etc.


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