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The Final Word by Helen Roush

If you’re a football fan like I am, you might remember the Bridgestone Tires commercial that made its debut during the Super Bowl a couple of years ago.

You know, the “reply all” commercial.

The commercial begins with a coworker telling another coworker, “Oh no! You sent this email reply all. You hit reply all.”

This causes the sender of the email to absolutely freak out. He goes screaming out of the office and is still screaming his lungs out in his car as he wildly drives all over the place, frantically grabbing people’s computers, laptops and mobile devices.

He’s shown destroying a server room and confiscating hard drives, and when the sweaty, somewhat relieved coworker returns to the office, the coworker that told him he had hit “reply all” calmly turns and informs him, “You know, I was wrong. You only sent this email to me…” Laughing, he continues, “Can you imagine (had it been a reply all)?”

It’s a funny commercial, and the message Bridgestone Tires most likely wanted to convey was it’s good to have good tires – especially if you freak out after accidentally hitting reply all to an email you didn’t mean to hit reply all to and feel the need to speed all over the place in a wild attempt to rectify the situation.

However, to me at least, the commercial serves as a cautionary tale: Be very careful about what you communicate – especially what you put in writing.

In the commercial, we have no idea what the employee had written in his email, but it’s rather obvious he certainly didn’t want the message to go where he thought it went.

Like they say, “you can’t unring a bell.” Once you hit that send button, once you post something, once something hits cyberspace, there’s pretty much no going back. You have to live with the consequences. It can’t be undone.

This applies to everyone – from mid to upper management on down.

Since we’re in the pulp, paper and forest products industry, let me give you a real life example of this.

There was a newspaper publisher at a small, daily newspaper who had a bit of a fixation with a publication that he deemed as competition and a threat.

When he was eating at a restaurant one day, he noticed a stack of newspapers from his “competitor.”

This prompted him to pen the following ill-advised and potential incriminating email:

He wrote that his “competition’s” newspapers have “shown up…  There was a stack of them inside the entrance of one of our restaurants. I had the owner discard them. At sales meeting (sic) this morning, I told everyone to be on the lookout for them and to be sure to take them all if they find them anywhere here.”

He sent the email to his boss, a regional publisher. Instead of nipping the situation in the bud and telling the publisher that he had basically admitted to and encouraged theft, the regional publisher forwarded the email to a handful of publishers and ad managers within the company, telling them to be on the lookout for these newspapers in their respective markets and to keep their “eyes and ears open” and asked if the “rival” publication had contacted any of their advertisers.

Long story short, it didn’t take long for that ill-advised and potential incriminating correspondence to find its way to the “rival.” Apparently, not all of the regional publisher’s subordinates were as comfortable with the content of the emails as the managers were and apparently used the forward button to send the message directly to where the authors did not want to see it go.

The moral of this story is quite simple.

In today’s world, it certainly does not take long for a message to grow legs, sprout wings, and take off in a way that can cause immeasurable damage to a company – and a career.

It’s something we should always keep in mind before we hit that send button … or accidentally hit reply all.

Helen Roush is Vice President, Communications Sciences at Paperitalo Publications. She can be reached by email at helen.roush@taii.com.


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