The danger of email and text, especially to a reporter

It is now big news that Johnny Manziel’s attorney, Bob Hinton, accidentally sent a lengthy text message to an Associated Press reporter about his client’s case.  The text was meant for Hinton’s co-counsel, certainly not the media.

When Hinton was asked about the text by the AP, he was unaware he had mistakenly sent it to one of the biggest media outlets.  Further, it contained legal strategy and facts about the case — information no lawyer wants to reveal publicly.

Hinton tried in vein to claim the text was privileged and threatened to sue the AP if they released details of what he wrote.  The AP wasn’t scared off, printed the contents, and it spread throughout the internet within seconds.  A day later Hinton was off the case.

This inadvertent mishap underscores what I have said many times.  In our digital age where information is sent, received and spread immediately via email, social media and texting, everyone must use extra caution when communicating.  We do it so often, and so rapidly, that sending a confidential message to the wrong person is an often and easily made mistake.  Just hitting “reply” in an email and you could be sending a private message to someone unintended.

That’s why we advocate the “three second rule.”  Our “three second rule” is before any email, text or social media post is triggered, we take three long seconds to look at who it is being sent to, whether there are any attachments that shouldn’t be there and the content.  The worst thing someone can do is respond immediately either in haste, anger or because there is a deadline involved.  The odds of making an honest error is just too great — as Mr. Hinton realized.

If you want to be really paranoid, as we sometimes are, when we send an email we do not insert any recipient in the address bar.  This will avoid sending an email accidentally before we finished it or have a chance to think about it.  The worst that can happen is the email system will tell you it can’t send the email because there is nobody listed to send it to.  So we write our emails first, think and examine them, then manually insert the recipient(s).  We don’t forward or reply too often, and when we do, we remove the recipient name then re-insert them manually to avoid what happened to Mr. Hinton, and I am sure countless others.

Give the “three second rule a try.”  You’ll be glad you did.



Why do smart people say stupid things on Twitter?

It appears to happen every day.  Someone in the public eye — whether a successful businessperson, politician, entertainer or other — sends out a 140-character tweet and within minutes tries to delete it because of the backlash it causes.  More than one smart, public figure has lost his/her job or come under intense criticism for using social media to vent, and not first using their brain.

When Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was fired, Trump advisor Michael Caputo tweeted: “Ding dong the witch is dead!”  Hours later he was gone as well.

When Justine Sacco, corporate communications chief for InterActive Corp tweeted:  “Going to Africa.  Hope I don’t get AIDS.  Just kidding.  I’m White!” upon boarding a flight to Africa, was fired before her plane landed on the continent.

How can people, especially PR, and communications strategists who are supposed to be so savvy, be so stupid to say these things on Twitter?  Not to mention how can they think them at all?

The motto for everybody, whether in the public eye or not, is to be extra cautious with everything you put in writing.  Even former Secretary of State Clinton felt a sense of security with her private email server, and we’re seeing how that has worked out.

That’s why more and more people are using that thing called the telephone.  If you don’t want your words to come back and haunt you — the best thing is to not say them at all.  If you must say something in total confidence, use the telephone.

Twitter is one thing, because the user intends for it to be public.  But emailing is another.  Email has become our primary source of communication and people use it with a sense of confidentiality and security.  What more people should realize is that once something is put in an email, that record can be forwarded to others, or attached to a string of communications unintentionally.

The lesson here is common sense.  If you’re going to tweet or email, never do it in the heat of the moment.  If you need to get something off your chest, first take a few hours to cool off.  Chances are you will realize that lashing out in public or in writing will often do more harm to you than the person(s) you are venting at.


Staying on message: A basic PR lesson

You undoubtedly have heard the phrase, “stay on message.”  It is currently being used widely by the Republican leadership to advise Donald Trump who, it appears, will be the Republican nominee for the 2016 presidential election.

What does this mean in terms of public relations, marketing and branding?  Or is it just a meaningless cliche?

In the world of politics, messaging is tested over and over again, day in and day out.  Pollsters and advisors want to know what issues resonate with certain segments of the public.  When the statistics fall in line, they advise the candidate to focus on those messages — at least in that State or to that group.

Trump is a different animal, it seems.  He speaks his mind to whomever, with some notable exceptions.  Lately, he has been going way, way off message by pounding a Federal judge hearing a case against Trump University.  While one would think capturing the presidency is foremost on his mind, he seems obsessed with this case, which he could afford to quietly settle and make it all go away.

So during precious airtime, when he could be delivering messages about the economy, foreign affairs and a million other issues that impact Americans’ lives, he spends it blasting the judge as being “unfair.”

This has not gone unnoticed by the Republication leadership who are screaming and yelling for him to stop with the judge and “stay on message.”  You only get to be president once, maybe twice in your life, and why squander the opportunity over a court case that is essentially meaningless to him.

But in the case of Donald Trump (our firm is apolitical and doesn’t do political consulting) it is obvious his emotions get the better of him and he simply can’t control his impulses.  When he gets angry, when he feels wronged, he lashes out.  And it is obvious he doesn’t care where the chips fall.

There is a lesson to be learned for all companies and organizations in this.  Staying on message means keeping focused and maintaining a connection between yourself, your organization and your audiences.  By wandering off message, for whatever reason, you are loosening or cutting that connection and losing the attention and support of your audience.

Find out what messages resonate with your target markets and audiences, and when you have opportunities to communicate to them, don’t waste those precious opportunities on trivial matters.