Words with Friends

Twelve years ago I was an Account Executive with Clear Channel Radio, creating multi-media marketing campaigns for a wide variety of clients. Back then people still made phone calls, probably more often than they sent email. And nobody knew what a text was. It was a time of transitioning technologies.

I’ll never forget what happened one day when a client (let’s call her Sally) sent an e-mail to one of my co-workers, Bill.

“Hey Bill, do you think I could get a couple of tickets to the Jimmy Buffet concert in April?”

(Now, you have to understand that if you were a reasonably big client, and you bought a lot of advertising, it would be an easy wish to grant.)

So Bill began to forward the message to his manager for permission. He wrote, “What do you think?” and expected a reply like, “Sure, no problem. Tell Sally I said HI.”

A few days went by with no reply from the manager. Worse yet, Sally and Bill had not talked in as much time. Then it got bad. On Friday afternoon a fax came in for Bill, with a letter demanding the cancellation of an upcoming large ad campaign… signed Sally.

Bill could not believe it. “How can this be?” he asked me, “One day she’s happy and wants to go see Jimmy Buffet. The next thing you know she’s canceling her campaign!”

So Bill and the manager investigated, and found the problem: When Bill wrote “What do you think?” in an email, he accidentally hit REPLY (instead of FORWARD) and sent the message back to Sally.  It was clear that Sally must have mistaken the “What do you think?” comment as a sassy, almost smart-aleck comment.

Fortunately, the relationship eventually got repaired, but not before Sally had already committed her campaign dollars to a competing radio station.

Fast forward to 2012… Have things changed or gotten worse? Mobile phone carriers report that today people use mobile data FAR more than they make phone calls. At home, people are shutting off their landlines and throwing phones into e-waste.

Face it: Our long and meaningful conversations have become short and snappy tweets and facebook updates, all too often clicked in a rush at the stoplight. Never has it been more important to choose the rights words, deliver them to the correct person / audience, and carry the appropriate tone.

Please share your thoughts and comments below.

by Thom Hiatt