Earlier today yet another Twitter brouhaha erupted when a Canadian marketing professional named April Dunford was allegedly verbally attacked by David George-Cosh, a National Post tech reporter, after she apparently wouldn't take his phone call. Ian Capstick does a nice job of rehashing the battle on his MediaStyle blog so I won't go into it other than to say... Dunford is no victim (hence my "allegedly" statement). Both parties behaved quite badly.
My quick summary based on Capstick's post: George-Cosh reached out to Dunford regarding a story he was working on and she took a day or so to get back to him. He was, according to Dunford's Twitter stream, rude to her during the eventual call back, so she expressed frustration in a tweet. It was clear to George-Cosh, it seems, that she was talking about him since they'd just hung up the phone. Her defense was, and I paraphrase, "Dude, I didn't say your name." George-Cosh swore. A lot. She put on a show of trying to calm him. It ended... poorly.
Some might say this is where everything went wrong. I think it went wrong from the beginning. Dunford's excuse of "I was busy and didn't have time to call the reporter back" shows a lack of urgency on behalf of her client. Sure, sometimes a client doesn't want to be included or comment on a story, but as a public relations professional she should know better than to avoid the press. She should also know better than to adopt a holier-than-thou stance about calling him back. Other tweets of Dunford's show passive aggression and condescension that even the most patient people might find akin to nails on a chalkboard.
George-Cosh's side is a little bit easier to digest. Yes, he F-bombed the heck out of this woman. I think his freak-out and his own alleged holier-than-thou-I-am-the-media comments were unacceptable. He shouldn't have reacted the way that he did in public and kudos to his publication for apologizing for the behavior. But I can see why he'd be annoyed and as a former PR / current marketing professional I don't believe Dunford handled this like a pro. I don't mean to sound unsympathetic. I wouldn't want to be sworn at like that. I would also try really hard not to ignite a situation like that -- and after his FIRST tweet I would've remained silent and taken it to the phone or some other medium.
What's bugging me about all of this -- as Todd Defren called out tonight on Twitter -- "he was incorrigible, she was unprofessional." And many comments in Capstick's blog post (other than those made by a very smart Caitlin Fitzsimmons) were sympathetic to Dunford. April Dunford herself commented but didn't appear as sorry as she claimed to be. It was more of a "I wish this would go away" rather than a show of accountability.
The reason I am even writing about this? The "lesson" that is being passed around the socialsphere tonight is about "watch what you say on Twitter." I am sort of sick of this lesson, truth be told. We're grown-ups. We're professionals. Watch what you say everywhere. What this is highlighting are two things that I have droned on and on about in this blog over the last handful of months:
- Social media is merely shining a huge spotlight on bad PR people / poor PR practices that have always existed
- There are still a large amount of mainstream journalists and bloggers who have no idea how to work with PR people
When it comes down to it I think both behaved despicably. He's positioned himself to me as a journalist without much credibility and she's positioned herself to me as a consultant I would never want representing my company. This is not a Twitter lesson. This is a business lesson. Take it to heart.
Update 2/12/08 8:08 a.m. - Dunford clarified in the comments that she is not a PR person. My response was, essentially, that those folks branded as marketing professionals should always consider PR tactics when communicating publicly.