The Mormon Backstabber

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I have to admit Liam Call was one of the most talented interns to work for me during my career.

As I had mentioned previously, Liam was a strong writer and showed a great deal of promise in media relations. In fact, he was a better writer than most of the more experienced executives at our agency. I appreciated his help a great deal at our agency’s L.A. office.

Liam also showed enthusiasm to learn more about PR. Yet, as with all of our interns, his enthusiasm eventually waned, as he discovered the full nightmarish nature of Lulu and her pathetic agency.

On the surface, Liam seemed the perfect intern, as he never complained and even worked late. I had no qualms about going to bat for Liam to urge Lulu and Miriam to hire him as I detailed in the previous chapter.

Sadly, even Liam proved ultimately a disappointment, and my private nickname for him was the Mormon Backstabber.

Liam’s clean-cut appearance belied a darker, disloyal side.

He was a tall, a little over six foot, skinny and gawky 24-year-old from Salt Lake City.

Liam actually reminded me of a skinnier version of the TV character of Kenneth, the NBC page, on the sitcom, 30 Rock.

Liam really laid on his sincere Mormon bullshit thick with a fake smile and sincerity.

Let me get this straight — I had nothing against his religious beliefs. I just feel that like politics, there is no place for religion in the workplace. It is potentially divisive.

A couple of times, Liam tried to push some Mormon propaganda films on me and even suggested a historical book about the Mormon Church, but after I told him I wasn’t interested, Liam kept his religious beliefs to himself.

Liam seemed to have a good sense of humor and was smart, but honestly, we had little or nothing in common. I also knew when I occasionally used profanity in response to Lulu’s craziness, it bothered him and he secretly hated it.

My main criticism of Liam’s work was that sometimes he would not listen to my instructions on an assignment and do his own thing, pissing off Lulu or our client. I yelled at him a couple of times as a result and later regretted it. I always hated it when my bosses yelled at me, and now, I did the same to Liam.

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Liam admitted to me late in his time at our agency that he had panic attacks. One morning he came in late and revealed to me that he had a panic attack and couldn’t get out of bed.

I told him that all the stress and responsibility was on me at the L.A. office and that he had nothing to worry about. I now realize that was the wrong approach as panic attacks go way beyond work stress. It could be a deeper psychological condition stemming from his family situation or home life.

I believe now that Liam resented the stress he was under at work and felt I was abusing him because of my profanity and occasional outbursts. Liam mentioned several times that I reminded him of a boss he had when he worked on a presidential campaign that used to curse him out and then I felt even worse.

Still, I never suspected for a long time that Liam was bad mouthing me behind my back, but I eventually realized, there was no denying it.

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My first sign that something was up involved a young blonde woman in her mid-twenties, who worked at a law firm that we shared our offices with. She was friendly initially toward me, but after I saw Liam speaking with her a couple of times, her attitude completely changed. She used to greet me with a hello and smile, and now she ignored me and even gave me a dirty look.

I got the same reaction from an African woman, who worked a couple of offices down from ours. She was also friendly toward me until I saw her speaking with Liam.

Soon after, the African woman started giving me hostile looks and would avoid me like I had the plague when she walked past me in the hall. One time, I held the elevator door open for her, and she walked past without even acknowledging me.

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I have to also mention that Liam was in the middle of a divorce, and must have imagined himself as a ladies’ man as he was talking to most of the women in our office. So, you can imagine how I was hated by almost every woman on our office floor because of Liam’s backstabbing and they didn’t even know me.

Liam’s garrulous nature truly hid an ugly, backstabbing soul.

I am not sure if Liam tried his backstabbing bullshit with my co-workers at our agency, as he knew they already hated him from his review. I initially thought my colleagues despised him to get back at me, but I think it went further than that.

Liam’s backstabbing ways showed up again during one of the final work events he helped me with. As I mentioned in an earlier chapter, Liam and I had to support an early morning satellite TV tour for our housewares client. Everything went well initially until I noticed Liam speaking privately to several of the support staff at the satellite studio. As the tour went on, these employees became standoffish and unfriendly toward me. It started to impact my ability to do my job. They had suddenly lost respect for me, which made the event more difficult to manage.

Then near the end of the satellite tour, Liam tried to take over managerial aspects of the shoot and began advising our client’s spokesperson on how to talk about our client’s products. Lulu and Agnes had stressed that they only wanted me to work with our client’s spokesperson and managing the event. I finally had to pull Liam aside during a break in the tour, and tell him to back off and let me handle any consultation with our client’s spokesperson as that is how Agnes and Lulu wanted it and he wasn’t qualified to do so.

Liam was apologetic, but for the first time, I didn’t think he sounded sincere. I knew I couldn’t trust him anymore.

Also, when we left, the studio employees were friendly toward Liam and cold toward me. I had only just met them and gave them no reason to despise me. It was crazy. The backstabber had struck again.

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Liam left our agency a couple of weeks later and said he wanted to return to school to get his MBA. I couldn’t blame him as working with Lulu could scare off even the most enthusiastic PR executive.

When I look back, I realize I had also engaged in backstabbing my bosses through the years. Now that it had happened to me, it made me realize just how unprofessional, insincere, and counter-productive backstabbing your boss or employer really was.

Backstabbing poisons work environments.

So, even though I admired his talent and work ethic, I was not sorry to see Liam go.

 

 

Cage Boy

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Lulu’s husband Lorne Whitney was also a piece of work. I privately called him Cage Boy as he used to be a UFC fighter years before. It was also a reference to his in-your-face management style I had the misfortunate to experience my last couple of years at Lulu’s firm. The worst thing of all is that Lorne was another obnoxious fool who knew nothing about public relations but he would still try to manage me on campaigns even though he wasn’t my boss.

Lorne was a tall, bald Caucasian man in his early forties with a muscular physique that he had maintained since his fighting days. He still looked the part of a fighter. Lorne seemed strangely distant when I first met him. I remember Lulu telling me that he hated to socialize, and not to take his cold attitude personally.

My first troubling encounter with Lorne occurred shortly after I joined the Yilmaz Agency. My small business magazine contact was looking for a cover story of their Orange County edition and asked me if I had any candidates. This was the same publication that featured our airline client in a cover story I detailed in my earlier blog about her photoshoot meltdown.

I ran the editor’s request past Lulu and she suggested Lorne would be a good candidate for the article. I arranged for Lorne to be interviewed for the story, and when the cover story came out Cage Boy was blown away. He sent me several emails praising me and he eventually had the article framed at his office and home.

“He’s never had anything like that,” Lulu said. “He wants to do something for you.”

I told her that it wasn’t necessary as I was just doing my job and trying to help her and him out. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but Lorne did.

I soon discovered the dark side of Lorne after he invited me as his guest to watch a UFC fight event that his company was putting on a Saturday night. I thanked him but I told him I already had plans and couldn’t attend. I actually didn’t have plans, but there was no way I was going to spend Saturday night with Lorne and Lulu after another horrible and stressful week at her agency. Fuck that. And on top of that, I am not a UFC fan.

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Lulu assured me that I didn’t have to go and it was OK if I had other plans, but I guess it was important to Lorne that I was there. He apparently was insulted that I had refused his invitation. After he sent me a short email saying that he understood and it was no problem, I never heard from him again for a couple of years. I didn’t care as dealing with his wife was bad enough.

As I soon discovered, no good deed went unpunished when it came to Lulu and even her family.

Fortunately, Cage Boy didn’t work with Lulu’s agency in my first couple of years there, as he had started a TV UFC company. Through years of public relations help and advice from Lulu, before I joined the firm, (not to mention free PR help from the agency staff), his UFC company was acquired by a large corporation for hundreds of millions of dollars. So now Cage Boy was rich, and he bought a huge home for him and Lulu in a gated community.  No doubt the money made him even a bigger asshole. Not surprisingly, he was forced out shortly after the corporation bought his company. Then he started hanging out around our agency, pretending to be a cool entrepreneur.

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Lulu told me she wanted Lorne to help us out to find clients and he started to join me and Lulu on new business meetings. Lorne would try to leverage his UFC business success to our potential new clients, who seemed impressed at first. Several clients that we secured from Cage Boy’s business leads soon realized he was clueless and it was all a front.

Lulu, unfortunately, started including Lorne in our agency’s client work. Lorne would say that “he knew nothing and that we were the experts” and then he would proceed to tell us how to do our jobs, specifically how to write pitch letters and press releases and new business proposals. He would put on the act that he was knowledgeable in business and PR but it was all an aggressive lie.

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Lorne was right – he knew next to nothing when it came to public relations writing, media and client relations — and he should have listened to our expertise. I wondered what he was doing there as he was only making a horrible situation worse.

The trouble began when Cage Boy edited and drastically revised our press release and pitch letter for a VPN client he helped us land. Cage Boy turned our creative but solidly written copy into slick bullshit writing full of hyperbole and claims. It resembled bombastic advertising copy, and he even included exclamation points, which I hate as you know from my previous blog.

He would tell me that my original version was great and that we were the experts of PR writing and then he would foist his lousy, hyped up copy on us. I didn’t know what to do as Lulu seemed to think it was OK.

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Then things got even more stressful when Cage Boy demanded we write five different pitch letters for our VPN client which was just fucking overkill. My team members in the Chicago office flipped out and I had to reassure them it would be OK, but I had to wonder.

Two days into the campaign, things took a turn for the worse when Cage Boy started pressuring us about securing media results.

“We got get them results right away or we could lose the client,” Lorne said in a panicked phone call.

“Lorne, we just launched the campaign. We have some promising responses, but securing media results takes time.”

“I know…but we have to be three steps ahead of the client,” Lorne responded. “You guys have to be more aggressive. I want a report every day on how we are making progress.”

“OK. The team is following up with the media and doing our diligence to uncover opportunities,” I said, thinking this guy was a fucking idiot. “We’ll keep you posted.”

I mean, come on. Cage Boy fucked up our PR materials and now he’s hounding us for instant results.  It doesn’t work that way. Media relations and PR were not like fighting in a fucking cage. You can’t finesse the media with a takedown move.

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Two weeks into their media campaign, our VPN client became unreasonable expecting instant coverage from top media such as the New York Times, L.A. Times, etc. They did this even though we had already received interest and coverage from several top tech publications including Mashable and TechCrunch.

Lorne didn’t defend our team’s work to our client and doubled down on his aggressive efforts to pressure us into securing media coverage. And, of course, Lulu didn’t support us either.

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Soon after, we lost the client over an email pitch fuck up by Chicago account executive Marissa Aslan (that I will describe in a later blog) and was relieved as I thought I wouldn’t have to work with Lorne again.

Unfortunately, one of Lorne’s business leads was the online video company that I mentioned previously had hired us to launch a PR campaign. Lulu wanted Lorne to take a hands-on role on the account, which led to more of his noxious micromanagement and pressure tactics. At times, working with Cage Boy felt like I was trapped in some horrible chokehold move. It was a deflating and suffocating experience as my long-time PR expertise was ignored and my creativity was stifled.

Then Lorne took it a step further as he tried to tell me how to speak to our online video client about a Wall Street Journal interview I secured for them.

I told our client that it took some convincing from me to get the reporter to sit down with an unknown startup company in a crowded tech space – online video – that was dominated by YouTube. I felt our client needed to know the work that went into securing a meeting for them with a writer at one of the top financial publications in the world. Our client’s CEO grimaced when I told them the writer was busy and almost canceled the meeting, but I persuaded her to sit down with them anyway at the paper’s New York offices. It was no surprise that our client was typical of many startups I have worked with where they think they have the greatest product or service ever invented and the media should just fall over themselves to cover them. Such delusional business attitudes run rampant in the tech world as I have discovered during the years. I’ve come to believe it is part of the DNA of those entrepreneurs that launch tech startups.  Apparently, this understanding eluded Cage Boy.

“You never tell a client something like that,” Cage Boy snapped when we got the elevator after the meeting.

“Lorne, I believe in being honest with our clients letting them know what the media thinks about their companies. I am not going to lie to them,” I responded.

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Who the fuck was this idiot? I thought bitterly as I struggled to control my anger. How would he know? Had he ever handled public relations at an agency? It was bad enough I have to deal with Lulu’s ignorant bullshit about PR and now I had to endure her husband’s moronic crap, too? I had been working closely with PR clients for decades and I knew what I was doing.

Lulu agreed with Cage Boy.

“You have to be more careful in speaking with clients,” she said.

Because of that incident, I was not allowed to attend any more in-person meetings with this client.

It also explained Dane Flynn’s hostility toward me concerning this client when he joined our agency a few months later. Cage Boy and Lulu no doubt told him about this incident with our client.

After a while, there were rumblings of discontent from my colleagues the Chicago and New York offices about how difficult Lorne was to work with. I also mentioned to Lulu that I felt Cage Boy was in over his head when it came to public relations work and I would prefer not to have to work with him directly.

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Lulu actually listened to us this time, and she decided that Cage Boy wouldn’t be involved in the day to day client work anymore and would only help us in new business meetings and searches.

I was more than a little relieved I wouldn’t have to work with Cage Boy anymore. After Lulu sold her agency the following year, Cage Boy wasn’t part of the deal. Last I heard Cage Boy was trying to put together a union for UFC fighters and he was getting pilloried by the sport’s leaders for being an untrustworthy scumbag who knows nothing about the fight business.

Mmmm…sounds familiar.

Cage Boy even put on a big showy press conference in the L.A. area to announce his lame UFC union.

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Even though I was actually based in L.A., Lorne preferred to work with people in our agency’s Chicago office and I was not involved in helping promote Cage Boy’s press conference. I knew by then Cage Boy was not too happy with my criticism about his work and attitude that I had shared with Lulu.

I didn’t care, though. It was just as well. From what I could tell nothing ever came from Cage Boy’s efforts. No surprise there. Cage Boy was like so many other clueless buffoons I had encountered during my PR career – so full of themselves and lacking in any real talent.

Cage Boy seems a fitting moniker for him in more ways than one.

 

 “I’m Full Greek”

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Of all of the smug and arrogant Millennials I had the misfortunate to work with at the Yilmaz Agency, Agnes Lekkas was in a class by herself.

Agnes, who was in her early twenties barely a year out of college, looked like a plainer, heavier version of the “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” actress Nia Vardalos. Unfortunately, as far I can tell, Agnes didn’t have much of a sense of humor. What wasn’t funny was just how arrogant, condescending and difficult to work with Agnes turned out to be.

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I got my initial sad insight into this pretentious freak’s character during my first visit to the Yilmaz Agency’s Chicago office shortly after joining the agency. I had noticed Agnes had connected with me on LinkedIn and she said she was looking forward to meeting me during my visit. Agnes seemed nice at first. What a fucking joke.

After a horrible first day of my visit to the Yilmaz Agency Chicago office, where I had to experience in person the fools I was talking to daily on the phone with the sinking realization I had made a serious career mistake, I went with the team to a nearby bar. Strangely, most of the young staff, who had finally met me in person, remained standoffish and unfriendly toward me. Actually, they were borderline hostile even though they barely knew me. It felt like they had already judged me as another idiot. I was nice to them and gave them no reason to hate me, but I think they were angry at Lulu and taking it out on me. In fact, all of them, except for Lulu and Miriam, were young and barely out of school. It was like being at a bar with a Millennial clique but this was far worse. I had to work with these arrogant creeps.

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At some point, as I drank a beer (I didn’t order wine as I figured they might think it was a snobby, California thing to do) and wondered what I had got myself into, Agnes struck up a conversation with me. She wondered about my background as I look Greek, but I don’t have a Greek last name. I told her I was half Greek as my father was English and my mother came from Greece.

“I am full Greek,” Agnes remarked smugly.

I smiled at her, but I didn’t know what to exactly say to her strange comment. Congratulations, you arrogant fuck? Agnes’ response actually felt like a putdown, and yet it gave me a keen, early insight into her creepy, condescending nature.

I mean I was only “half Greek?” Was it a euphemism for her thinking I was only “half a person?” or “half a PR executive?” I don’t know. I never asked her, but let’s just say we didn’t have much to talk about after that. Even when she left and said she was looking forward to working with me I knew that was just a lie.

The “working part” with Agnes was even worse than I could have possibly imagined. Naturally, one of her close friends at the agency was the queen of the paper pushers, Molly Paulson. They were as thick as thieves in their mutual incompetence.

Agnes thought she knew a lot about public relations like Molly did but Agnes was mostly clueless when she started working on my team for our sports app client.

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Like many of her colleagues, Agnes was a mediocre writer, who drafted pedestrian press releases and lame, uncreative pitches.

Yet if you challenged her and tried to help, she would get defensive. I edited and marked up a couple of her lame press releases initially and she got offended. Unfortunately, Agnes didn’t listen as she continued to make the same writing mistakes despite my suggestions. So I just began to rewrite all of her writing and she eventually complained to Andrew, who was also on our team and told me she was frustrated with my rewrites, and even to Lulu. However, much to her disappointment, Lulu sided with me and told Agnes to improve her writing and to listen to me. That didn’t go over too well with Agnes, and it was the start of the rift that developed between us. There were other frustrating incidents where she would actually try to lecture me about media relations when I wondered why she wasn’t delivering results and doing basic follow up with the media. I mean I had been securing top media placements for decades. What was this idiot going to tell me about media relations?

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Maybe it was because it was me, and she regarded me with little or no respect, but Agnes always seemed to be talking down to everyone, even Lulu, during meetings and conference calls. Agnes was so fucking full of herself, it was almost laughable.

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Actually, after her dumb remark at the bar, I knew she was another fool that was going to make my job more difficult, but I had held out hope that my first impression could be wrong. It sadly wasn’t.

I began to dread working with her. Fortunately, after we lost the sports app client a few months later, I didn’t have to work directly with her on many clients at the agency.  However, every once in a while, Miriam and Lulu would bring us together on a project and I would be reminded of why I hated working with her.

After another horrible and draining 12-hour day, I finally arrived home to an email request from Miriam. She wanted me to help Agnes with a pitch for the Yilmaz Agency’s upcoming 10th Anniversary Party. I was exhausted, but I reluctantly agreed to help even though I knew it would probably be a nightmare if Agnes was involved. I soon discovered much to my dismay I was right as Agnes basically assigned the pitch to me with little or no supporting information. I had no press release or background to work from to develop the pitch as Agnes said it wasn’t ready yet to share. I asked her for more information, but apparently, she had checked out for the night as it was getting late in Chicago. So I had to cobble together a lame media pitch out of some information on our agency website and Lulu’s bio after midnight when I was too tired to even see straight. Agnes was of no help at all just essentially dumping the pitch assignment on me and bailing. Something she did other times as well. The phrase lazy Millennial came to mind as I furiously worked on the pitch. Even to this day, I would never dump an assignment on a colleague or an intern that worked for me without background information, a bio, and at least details about the event.

After I finished the pitch, I sent a brutal email to Miriam about how Agnes simply dumped the pitch on me with little or no supporting materials and it wasn’t the first time she had done this bullshit. Miriam asked if I had emailed Agnes about my concerns and I told her I asked for more information and received no response. I was not Agnes’ fucking manager. It was up to Miriam to confront her about her lazy behavior. I also knew Agnes would only get more pissed off if it came from me.

The following day Agnes sent an email thanking me for the pitch, but said she had to make a lot of edits. I told that’s OK as I didn’t have a lot of information to go on. I am not sure if Miriam ever brought up my concerns. I kind of doubt it.

A couple of years later, Lulu requested me to take Agnes’ place in managing an early morning satellite media tour for our housewares client. It ended up being a crazy all-nighter for me. I  had to leave work at 7 p.m. and try to get sleep for a few hours before getting up around midnight to head to a studio in downtown L.A. to work until 8 a.m. the following morning.  The day before I had to endure pompous phone conferences about the products with Agnes. In stark contrast with the 10th Anniversary pitch, she bombarded me with too much information. So fucking typical. I could never predict in what way Agnes was going to annoy me. So I had to essentially spend all night babysitting a difficult prima donna celebrity chef that was the company spokesperson on a satellite tour. Now mind you while I doing this, my own clients were being neglected and were complaining. Agnes was hardly appreciative or supportive of this fact, which didn’t surprise me.

The low point of the night came after the celebrity chef had messed up some of the product messaging for the company’s blender product in the first couple of TV segments and our client complained and called Agnes. She called me on my mobile phone and asked me rudely what was going on. I told her I had reviewed the messaging with the celebrity chef and she told she was OK with it.

“Jake, you got to get tough with her,” Agnes said sharply.

“I will. No worries,” I assured her.

“You better,” she said rudely. “The client is not happy. I am depending on you.”

Then she rudely hung up.

WTF?! I am doing Agnes a fucking favor taking time away from my sleep not to mention my clients and she is getting rude with me?! Unfortunately, the chef still didn’t care and stubbornly wouldn’t listen to me. Yet I must have got through to her somehow as the chef performed well to the client’s satisfaction for the rest of the tour.

After the satellite tour was over and everything went well, Agnes called to thank me for handling everything, but she never apologized for her ugly outburst. I was done with this freak after that.

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Sadly, Agnes continued working at our agency and I couldn’t avoid her entirely.

My last idiotic working encounter with Agnes came late in my stint working with Lulu after her agency had been purchased by a Chicago agency.  Agnes was managing a difficult weight loss client – having Agnes manage anything was already a nightmare proposition – and Lulu added me to the team as a media relations expert. I had experience working with weight loss clinics in the past so that was why Lulu tapped me for this. However, I knew something would inevitably go wrong and I would butt heads with the fool, Agnes.

After our team struggled for weeks to secure a story about our client opening weight loss clinics in San Francisco area grocery stores, I landed a huge story in one of the top newspapers in the area. The story actually ran on the front page of the business section of several the publication’s newspapers. I thought it was a major placement for our client, but Agnes was not happy with it, particularly as there was a factual error, but also our client criticized the “sarcastic tone” of the article. Our client asked us to contact the reporter about fixing the error, but they also wanted us to confront the reporter about changing her sarcastic tone and reposting a new, more positive article.

I refused and told Agnes I will ask the reporter nicely to fix the error in the online editions, but I will not ask her to change her story’s sarcastic slant. We are not in the censorship business?!!

“I know,” Agnes said. “You don’t have to do that, but we won’t tell the client that.”

“What do you mean?” I asked her. “We’re just going to lie to our client?”

“It’s not lying. We’ll just tell her we followed up and the reporter refused,” she said.

“OK. I don’t agree with that as we should always be transparent with our clients,” I said.

“I know, but they won’t know anyway,” she said. “Just try to get the factual error fixed.”

I got the error fixed in the online version of the article, the reporter had no problem with that, but I never mentioned to the writer our client’s dismay about her edgy writing style.

I was not going to completely abandon what little PR principles I had left for Lulu and Agnes. That, fortunately, was my last encounter working with Agnes.

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In the end, Agnes was “Full Greek” as she so proudly declared, but to me, she was actually “Full Idiot.”

Exclamation Points In Pitches and Press Releases!

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Another one of my big pet peeves in public relations is when my colleagues have used exclamation points in press releases and media pitches. It seems like overkill to me, and even worse appears cheesy and hokey like marketing, sales, and advertising copy.

Why is it a big deal?

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I can only imagine media people getting a lousy pitch or lame press release full of exclamation points and laughing and mocking the PR practitioner or agency to their colleagues before deleting it. There’s no worse way to ruin your reputation as PR practitioner than with bad writing, but then you add in exclamation points and it can only make you look worse.

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My goal in public relations is trying to write as much as possible like the media in my public relations writing. The media are the main audience of our press materials after all. Do you see news and feature articles from the top publications full of exclamation points? No. The best journalists and their editors know better.

Now I have no problem with fiction authors using exclamation points in their prose where appropriate. I just think it has no place in public relations writing.

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So it is no surprise when I joined the Yilmaz Agency, the team’s pitches and press releases used exclamation points quite liberally. I would take the exclamation points out in my editing and my colleagues – mostly clueless Millennials — would put them back in even after I told them that they were not needed in PR writing. Even Lulu didn’t get it at first. I mean for years she must have had lame press releases and pitches go out with exclamation points all through their copy.

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The worst culprit was the whiny Millennial, Andrew, who worked in the Chicago office. His writing was bad enough as his pitches and even press releases read like lame, slick marketing and sales copy, but it seemed he couldn’t write a sentence without using an exclamation point. It was crazy. And he was also the most resistant to my suggestion to remove them even when I used to edit them out and include a comment in the word document of why I removed them.

When Andrew left our firm a few months after I arrived, he was still stubbornly including exclamation points in his copy, which I frustratingly would have to keep removing. I think it was doing it in defiance after a while. I can only wonder if this fool is somewhere at a company or agency still writing lame copy with exclamation points, oblivious to how he is marring his PR and client’s business reputation through a small, but important punctuation choice.

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Even Lulu finally agreed with me when I told her it would make us look foolish to the media and didn’t object when I removed the offending exclamation points from our agency’s PR copy. If there is one positive thing I did at Lulu’s lame agency, it was influencing her and our team to stop using exclamation points in our copy. A small victory, I know, but at least it was something considering the hell I went through at her agency.

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Now clients through the years have also been a nightmare about using exclamation points in their press releases. Some have balked about me removing them until I explained that it could make them look bad to the media and were better used in marketing or advertising copy. Recently, I had a sports app client send me back editing revisions to his press release and he added in exclamation points to emphasize claims he couldn’t prove. So my challenge was to urge him to not only take out the claims but also the embarrassing exclamation points. After some convincing, the CEO, who was a nightmare that listened to no one, backed off when I told him we not only don’t include unfounded claims in our press release, but we never use exclamation points. He only agreed when I stressed that it could hurt his reputation with the media.

I have had to remove exclamation points along with bad, hyperbolic writing from my client’s press release edits more times than I can recall.

It may seem like a small thing, but everything you do down to a simple choice of a punctuate mark can damage you and your client’s reputation with the media and business community.

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So to avoid looking like a PR fool that the media mocks, don’t use exclamation points in your PR writing!!

There. I used even two exclamation points, but this is a fictional blog after all.

Brainstorms To Nowhere

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Like everything else, brainstorming sessions were also bizarre and frustrating at the Yilmaz Agency. In fact, I am not even sure if you could call these meetings brainstorming. It was more like a stressful idea challenge that went against all the notions of what brainstorming is supposed to be.

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In typical brainstorming sessions I had participated in the public relations industry, everyone would throw out ideas for a client campaign, product name, etc., and it would lead to further creativity. These were not fully formed ideas which is supposed to be the point of brainstorming. The best ideas or brainstorms could be combined to find an even better idea. I guess the other phrase is “spitballing” or essentially throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks. This I believe is why whiteboards are so popular at many agencies I worked at as it is easy to put down the initial rough ideas that could eventually comprise more expansive concepts and campaigns.

The Yilmaz Agency’s lame brainstorming meetings would usually start when Lulu, Miriam or someone on the team would ask to brainstorm for new ideas for a PR campaign. We would be asked to bring one or two ideas to the meeting. This seems simple enough, but as I soon discovered these ideas were already expected to be fully formed concepts. This already is not how brainstorming was done at other agencies I worked for.

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If you didn’t work out every angle of your idea, you would incur the wrath and criticism of Lulu, Miriam, and my colleagues. Molly Paulson was the worst, especially if it involved her airline or housewares clients. Molly would grill us over every aspect of our idea we brought to the meeting, expecting us have thought through every aspect of our contribution.

I believe this attitude actually inhibits creativity and is counter-intuitive to effective brainstorming. You want to share your ideas among the group so that others can build on them, not tear people down for not having a complete and finalized ideas. Molly would actually make us feel bad and uncreative if we didn’t have completed ideas to submit.  She would act put out and would embarrass us in front of the group. This was particularly hard to take from a paper pusher who was uncreative in every aspect as a PR practitioner. She also was awful in brainstorming ideas, offering lame ideas that she thought out every aspect of. Then she would shame us because we hadn’t done the same. In typical brainstorming, there are no bad ideas, but this was hardly like other brainstorming exercises I had participated in.

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Lulu, like Molly, was also hyper-competitive in our agency brainstorms. She was always out to get the best idea and to show up the rest of the agency. I will give Lulu credit here as she was a lot more creative than Molly, but their attitudes were still not conducive to bringing out the creativity in our entire agency.

I did most of these brainstorms over a conference call, which I don’t know was an advantage or disadvantage. However, at least I didn’t have to see Molly’s or Lulu’s expressions if they hated my ideas. I could already hear it in their voices.

I began to dread these brainstorming meetings, to be honest.

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I voiced my frustration about our agency brainstorms to my intern at the L.A. office, Liam Dahl, a Mormon backstabber, who I will write more about in a later blog. He said that what we did resembled “pitch meetings not brainstorms.” I had to agree. It felt like we were expected to have a complete idea even before we brainstormed for it. It was like what people have described pitching for movie deals or large PR and advertising clients. However, that is not real brainstorming to me. I don’t know what it was.

It actually made me resent being creative and I hated being made to feel inadequate if I didn’t spend hours coming up with the perfect idea for one of Molly’s fucking clients. I had a lot of clients of my own I needed to spend time on, too.

brainstormingnew3So, I began to offer very little at these brainstorms, as it is what Molly would do creatively on her own account work — provide next to nothing useful and just allow the rest of us to step up and provide ideas. I wanted to save my creativity for securing top media placements for my clients. I no longer fucking cared about it after a while and defied them to fire me over not providing extensive brainstorming ideas. I knew Molly bitched about it behind my back, but at least I kept my focus on what mattered – keeping our clients happy not proving I was, in fact, creative to freaks like Molly that didn’t have a creative bone in their bodies.

Crazy.

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Nothing at the Yilmaz Agency was simple or made any real sense. Brainstorming was supposed to be fun and creative, not stressful and ugly. It was like existing in a public relations “bizarro” world or an ugly work Twilight Zone episode that never ended.

 

 

Maurice Lemons – Worst HR Person In The World?

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 Unfortunately, I have had to deal with some lame human resources people during my PR career, but I think Maurice Lemons, who worked for Lulu when I joined the Yilmaz Agency, was by far the worst. It’s not even close.

It wasn’t just because Maurice was generally incompetent, and sometimes simple requests like office supplies or computer repair were ignored or took numerous requests to get responded to.

Maurice had a bad, standoffish attitude and it always felt like you were putting him out if you asked for anything even the most simple requests. It was even worse for me working in the L.A. office as I couldn’t just walk over and confront him. He could easily ignore my calls or emails as he did and I would eventually have to go to Lulu or Miriam to force him to do his fucking job.

I only met Maurice once in person when I visited the Chicago office shortly after joining the agency. He was a thin Caucasian man in his late forties. In person, Maurice was as I expected, as he was unfriendly and didn’t have too much to say. He was especially skittish around Lulu even though he was a complete fuck up at his job.

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Honestly, working for Lulu was undoubtedly a factor in Maurice’s lousy job performance, as she hardly inspired her employees. Frankly, Maurice just didn’t care. Shockingly, neither did Lulu. She attacked the rest of the office over every little mistake, but she looked the other way when it came to Maurice’s glaring incompetence and absenteeism. Maurice missed at least a couple of days of the week saying he was too sick to work. This was probably true as Lulu told me he was battling cancer. Actually, Lulu was afraid to fire him because of his cancer diagnosis.

Let me be clear — I have great sympathy with anyone fighting cancer and other life-changing diseases. Work is not more important than our lives no matter what Lulu and other bosses I worked for believe. And this why all of us at the agency cut Maurice slack for almost two years, although it was apparent, he had completed checked out of his job.

I asked Lulu why couldn’t Maurice take a few months off with salary to fight his cancer full time.  Although Maurice showed up for work, he struggled to pretend that he cared anymore. You couldn’t blame him even if it was unprofessional, but professionalism was pretty much non-existent at Lulu’s agency anyway.

We could have brought in a temp to fill his position as he focused on his health. That would have been the right thing to do for everyone involved, but Lulu never considered it. I think she was worried about paying Maurice a salary while he wasn’t there. She would rather have him tough it out and neglect his job duties not to mention his health. Profits over people. No surprise there.

Lulu’s hypocrisy of letting Maurice getting away with taking a paycheck for a lousy work performance undercut her management authority with the rest of us. It was like she has two sets of rules, one for Maurice and one for the rest of us. Our staff got no leeway from her if our performance was not up to her standards. She even fired some competent people while Maurice was still there, which only further damaged what was left of our agency morale.

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Maurice was an overall lousy HR person, but as a travel planner, he was a complete fucking disaster. Not sure why Lulu and Miriam didn’t realize it earlier as he screwed up their travel plans, too.

Maurice’s first travel planning fuckup for me happened on the way back my first visit to the Chicago office.

Lulu was on the warpath after our sports app client requested we put together a social media plan and we were behind schedule in delivering it to her. Lulu was unhappy with the first draft developed by our social media manager and she wanted me to rewrite it. She insisted that we get it to our client the next morning. Lulu didn’t tell me this until I was about to leave for the airport. I told her I would work on it during my plane flight home and get her an updated copy. Only one problem. That idiot Maurice booked probably the worst airline in the business for my return trip (probably Lulu being cheap, too) and they didn’t have Wi-Fi on the flight so I couldn’t work on the report until I got home later that night. I was so fucking pissed.

Even worse, when I landed I was bombarded with questions and requests from Lulu and other clients. Then on my drive home from LAX, the 405 was partially shut down and I had to take a time-consuming detour and didn’t get home until after 10 p.m. I was tired, hungry (I hadn’t eaten except lame airline snacks) and I had to rewrite the report and work past midnight and didn’t get to bed until close to 3 a.m. So I was exhausted and angry when I got back into the L.A. office the next morning. I called Miriam at the Chicago office and blasted Maurice for his booking me on a flight with no Wi-Fi. Of course, Maurice didn’t take my criticism too well and became even colder toward me than he already was.

Despite my bringing up Maurice’s lame performance, nothing changed.

A few months later, during a trade show trip to Denver for our e-commerce company client, Maurice’s travel planning incompetence struck again. He booked me in an awful hotel many miles from downtown Denver where the show was being held. At least, the hotel had Wi-Fi but it didn’t work very well. Also, it was embarrassing when I walked back from dinner with my client and found out they were staying at a nice hotel right across from the convention center where the show was being held. They asked me why I hadn’t done the same and I had to admit I didn’t know. It was so embarrassing and made our agency look cheap to our client. Both flights to and from Denver were also budget flights without Wi-Fi so I couldn’t get any work done. When I got back to the office, I drafted a long email to Miriam and Lulu and basically told them that I would handle all of my future travel plans and not Maurice. That didn’t go down well with Maurice either, but I didn’t care as Maurice didn’t care enough to set up simple travel plans without fucking it up.

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However, it wasn’t until Maurice fucked up one of Lulu’s business trip plans to New York and she missed an important flight and meeting that it all finally came to a head. He had also failed to remind Lulu about some important business taxes that needed to be paid after forgetting to relay the notes from her accountant.  So Lulu got hit with a nasty tax penalty as a result.

At last, Maurice was fired soon after for his overall horrible job performance, but it was too little, too late. Lulu’s credibility had been damaged with the rest of her staff.

As far I know, Maurice never sued Lulu. Despite his struggle with cancer, Maurice still had no viable case as he stopped performing his job in any kind of competent way long ago.

Sadly, the HR troubles at the Yilmaz Agency only continued. Lulu hired an African American woman named Bryanna Taylor to take over as HR manager at our agency. She seemed nice enough and was responsive to requests. However, something happened during the Chicago office’s move to new offices. Lulu was unhappy with how Bryanna had handled the move logistics and fired her soon after. It was abrupt and shocking as she had waited years to get rid of that loser Maurice.

Finally, in my last year at Yilmaz Agency, we got a competent HR person named Judy Davis, who actually started out as a temp. Just hiring a temp like Judy or trying out several people, could have shown Lulu and Miriam right away how lame Maurice was and maybe they wouldn’t have spent so many years supporting this fool.

I still can’t wonder if the clueless wonder, Maurice, is somewhere inflicting his terrible work performance on another company. I mean when the HR is bad at a company, things can only get worse.

Admittedly, Lulu brought the bad out in everyone, but I can’t even blame her for Maurice’s lame job performance.

 

 

The Paper Pushers

It's a big misconception. Everyone thinks hell is all fire. Actually, it's all paperwork.'

I call them the “Paper Pushers.”

It is my private name for my colleagues in the public relations industry through years who are great at performing administrative tasks, coordinating accounts, and editing, but they can’t write worth a shit and overall lack creativity.

They are great at “pushing the paper” and making sure they stay on top of tasks, crossing every t and dotting every i, but they are pretty much useless when it comes to thinking out of the box and coming up with creative angles for PR campaigns, media pitches and press releases.

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Actually, they are mostly glorified administrative managers, but of course, they would never admit this.

They typically stay quiet during brainstorming sessions, offer little or nothing, but the paper pushers are quick to attack others’ ideas, though.

meetings-idiotHonestly, they wouldn’t last long in my previous profession of journalism where bad writing is generally not tolerated and will hold you back in your career.

It is hardly surprising the paper pushers have done well in the public relations industry, which is a sad commentary on what the business cherishes – slick, management over creativity.

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So, naturally, I have butted heads with my share of paper pushers during the years. They have rejected my creative ideas, gutted my pitches and press releases, and removed anything creative or interesting and replaced it with slick corporate writing. The kind of boring writing that ends up in the media’s spam and trash folders.

Admittedly, I prefer the creative side of public relations, finding interesting angles to intrigue the media through my writing and securing media coverage over the boring administrative task and client relations side of public relations. That doesn’t mean I am not capable of handling those tasks as well, but I just enjoy being creative and pitching the media more than pushing the paper.

I have worked with many paper pushers during my long career, but two past colleagues come to mind to illustrate my frustration working with these uncreative types.

As mentioned in an earlier blog, Molly Paulson was an uptight, paper pusher who ran the New York office for Lulu at the Yilmaz Agency. She also managed two of the largest clients at agency, an airline and housewares company.

Molly, who was in her early thirties, had an odd looking face and huge green eyes. She also had this bizarre wide-eyed expression on her face most of the time as if she was constantly surprised by everything that occurred. Now I realize it was probably a way for her disguise her contempt for me and many of my colleagues.

Molly wasn’t a dumb Millennial as with many of my colleagues at the Yilmaz Agency and had worked a number of years handling mostly music public relations. However, sometimes I had to wonder when she would suggest a strategy that made no sense, particularly when it involved writing or media relations.

Molly would constantly try to pick apart anything I would say.  It was subtle, though, as she pretended to be so nice when she first joined the firm, but I learned it was only an act to get something she wanted such as help on a project. She was no fucking ally. I believe she undermined and backstabbed me during my years at the agency. Unfortunately, it was hard for me to know for sure as I worked alone in the L.A. office during most of my time at the Yilmaz Agency.  Her contempt for me still came through in emails and our phone call and phone conferences. I dreaded working on accounts with her and was happy when I could avoid it.

Molly constantly questioned my writing — although she couldn’t write worth a shit – and my management skills. Molly was always looking for things I missed or a strategic decision I made she didn’t agree with. She actually told Lulu that she didn’t respect me and didn’t feel I brought a steady, experienced management approach to the job even though I had a lot more experience than she did in every area of public relations.

“Molly doesn’t feel you bring a strong enough management presence to the job,” Lulu told me.

I naturally was pissed off as I thought Molly was an uncreative public relations hack who did nothing more than provide empty, slick management skills to her position. She lacked real vision and creativity and hid this is busy work.

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Molly would also get frustrated when she thought I wasn’t handling an account as she would. She put me in charge of the U.S. media relations for our airline client and then questioned my every move. We butted heads eventually as she was clueless to effective media relations strategy on the account. At one point, we set up a schedule to reach out to the media with a different pitch almost every week. The problem is that we were pitching the same media over and over and they were getting sick of getting bombarded from our pitches and client news. A number of our media contacts began complaining to me about sending too many pitches in a short time. I told Molly this and she ignored me. It was when I realized Molly knew nothing about media relations strategy. She approached media pitching as she did every other part of her public relations job — she pushed the paper. The only problem is that you must avoid pissing off the media at all costs and sending them constant client news with no sense of timing is a sure fast way to get ignored. This is death to a publicist.

Yet it was Molly’s lack of creativity that stuck with me. I would work to come up with creative angles for our airline clients pitch letters and press releases and she would pick them apart and rewrite them into boring, cliched angles that had little or no chance of being picked up.

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I was relieved when we lost the airline client as I wouldn’t have to work with her micromanaging ass anymore. As you could imagine, both Lulu and Miriam loved that Molly had an obsessive attention to detail, but I thought Molly (as with Lulu and Miriam) always missed the bigger picture – the importance of securing media results for our clients and building their brand presence.

Unfortunately, before Miriam left, she put Molly on the team of a Canadian audio manufacturing client I was managing. Although she was only on the team to reach out to the so-called music media she had contacts with, Molly quickly questioned everything I did on the account. She wanted us to send out more pitches on the account even if we didn’t have any news to share. It was our airline client all over again. I was frustrated but this time I ignored her suggestions as she had mine. I was running the account after all.

Yet it soon became obvious Molly was also truly miserable at media relations. I knew this from working with her on the airlines and housewares clients, but in those cases, she could hide behind her administrative duties and spending a lot of time running these accounts as a reason for not delivering results herself.

After several months, Molly couldn’t secure a single placement for our audio client even though she boasted about having great contacts in the music business and that’s why she wanted to be on the account. By contrast, I had no trouble obtaining numerous high-profile stories for our audio client and I knew this really pissed Molly off. She eventually used the excuse of her heavy workload to stopping working on the account. I knew she really was embarrassed that she couldn’t deliver media relations results on an account in an industry she was supposed to be a past expert on. I had to wonder after that if anything she said was true and that her past experience was a complete lie.

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Molly also wasn’t as bright as she acted. Heavy technology accounts put her off. When Molly was put in charge of running a Turkish tech client – after a dumb Millennial that managed the account left for another firm – she was in a panic. She was having trouble understanding the client’s technology which was essentially business to business payment software for companies.

Suddenly, after years of being snotty toward me and stabbing me behind my back, Molly was very nice to me again. This time, though, I knew it was because she needed my help to help manage the Turkish tech client even though she would never admit this. Although that didn’t stop Molly from trying to micromanage me and rewrite all the pitches and press releases I had written for this client. She did this even though she knew nothing about the technology. Despite her paper pushing efforts, though, we eventually lost of the account anyway.

Sal Ramirez was another paper pusher that had the misfortunate to work with at my first PR agency early in my career. He was one of the worst writers that I have ever worked with, that is until recently when I started working with Millennials. He was even worse a writer than Molly. In fact, Sal had trouble with basics of press release writing, but he was not someone who just come out of school and had been working for an agency for years before joining our firm. I remember a friend of mine at a local newspaper lamenting how he received a press release from Sal that had none of the essential information you would expect from a press release – the where, what, why and how. It was such an embarrassment for our agency, but unfortunately our boss Jimmy Mears didn’t care. He liked Sal’s administrative skills and would tap me for the creative, brainstorming tasks.

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Sal would also ask me for help in rewriting his press release and pitches and adding a more creative flair. I, of course, I helped him as I am a team player, but Sal never seemed all that appreciative. Worst of all, he never seemed to improve and was still a crappy writer when I left the agency a few years later.

Clients liked Sal as he was solid in handling accounts, however, he was constantly coming up short with media relations efforts and I would have to be brought in to try to obtain coverage and save the account. It was ridiculous after a while as his accounts were always in “media relations trouble.”

Sal, like Molly, was also terrible in brainstorming sessions, providing little or nothing useful. Many of his ideas were clichés or borrowed too heavily from Hollywood movies. Yet he never hesitated to criticize other’s ideas, particularly mine.

I didn’t mock him or criticize his lame ideas, though, but no one ever used his suggestions and he knew down deep they were terrible.

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They say there is no such thing as a bad idea in brainstorming, but I believe Sal was an exception to the rule.

When I left the agency, Sal was determined to show me up. He and an obnoxious jock intern named Lance teamed up to come up with ideas for an upcoming obesity clinic’s event in San Diego where people would turn in their previous large pants to show off their weight loss. They came up with all of these odd and crazy ideas and taglines. Some were good, but mostly it was overkill. I even bet Lance came up with most of the ideas, Sal was so proud of what they came up with. Even though he didn’t say it – Sal was implying they didn’t need me for creativity anymore. He did this once in all of my years at the agency.  By contrast, I tried to bring a strong level of creativity to every account and do the same today, not just once in a blue moon like Sal.

Paper pushers or uncreative gutless wonders like Molly and Sal – that I have found at every agency or company I have worked at — are just more a reminder that I am in the wrong business that rewards slick, management skills over creative vision.

Team Juicing?

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Lydia was at again this week with her lame definition of teamwork.

First, there was her lame “Team Lunches.”

Now it is…Team Juicing?

One recent morning — around the time I wanted to head over to Starbucks for a late morning coffee — that freak Lydia invited MBA Boy and other team members — all millennials except for Code Boy  — to walk over to some local fucking juice place — right in front of me.

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It was no surprise as Lydia has no sense of manners and is completely clueless about building real team camaraderie and teamwork.

No doubt it was MBA Boy’s time to bash me, which is also hilarious as he has little more PR knowledge than Code Boy and Lydia to say anything.

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I constantly have to clean up his mistake-ridden press releases and pitch letters and deal with his lack of any strategic sense.

They also invited this strange freak called Nanci — another unfriendly Millennial intern poisoned by Lydia. All I know is that she fucked up a serious research project for a client — right before their campaign launch.

It was for a lame sports app bracket client. They claimed to be the only one to do what they do — but that was not true.

Nanci missed this in her competitive analysis research. After that critical fuck up, which I barely caught and shared with the client in time, I wanted nothing more to do with her.

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So “Team Juice” runs or “Team Lunches” or whatever you want to call it is pretty typical of this place and the diseased lack of social support I receive.

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I guess it is just me but I believe if you invite your colleagues to lunch or coffee, etc. you either invite everyone in the office or you don’t do it. Such clueless behavior is bad for workplace morale.

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Our agency has sadly become a Millennial bozo party of people who have no clue what business is, how to run it, and how to create a real team.

I fear for the future. I really do.