I came across a social media networking/industry event in my Facebook feed the other day. The ad promised a great night full of fabulous speakers, insights and opportunities. It looked pretty interesting and I was quite tempted to go. The only problem was that the ad was littered with typos. TYPOS! We were going to be treated to Canapays (canapés) at a glamros (glamorous) venue with lots of netwoking. Yikes! I messaged the organisers and politely pointed out they might want to give their copy a bit of a proof. They said thanks and fixed up the typos I had pointed out to them but when I looked later, I saw they had left the rest. Needless to say, I couldn’t bring myself to part with the cash to go along. It seemed a bit of an insult to ask me to pay money for an event at which I was supposed to learn something but the organisers couldn’t even spell.
It took me back to my first experience of committing the dreaded typo mistake myself. It was my first job in publicity, at the BBC in London. I was thrilled to have landed it and was so determined to do well and impress the boss.
Problem was, she was incredibly scary. She was really old (at least 40!) and was quite brusque. She would handwrite her letters to media and celebrities and then hand them to me to type them up (yes on my trusty typewriter!)
One of the first letters she asked me to type was to a well-known comedian. He is much-loved, incredibly funny and is an international celebrity. I read the boss’s letter. It didn’t make sense.
She was writing to the comedian, who had just written a book, to request he undertake a media interview with a national women’s magazine.
“In the interview,” she wrote, “…you can talk about the book, the movie and the serpent.”
Hmmm, I thought, that doesn’t make much sense. I know he’s funny, but why would he have a serpent, or even want to talk about it?
I gulped nervously and looked towards my boss’s office door. I made the dreaded steps forward and knocked.
“Yes” she barked.
“Ummmm.” I fluttered her letter in front of her, hand shaking and pointed at the word in question.
“Does this say ‘serpent’?” I quavered.
“Yes yes, now get on with it before we miss the post.”
I scuttled away and dutifully typed up the letter and off it went.
A few weeks later (yes this was long before the days of email), a response came back in the mail.
“Deborah!” My boss shouted from her office.
Oh shit. That didn’t sound good.
“What is this?!” She marched towards my desk and waved the celeb’s letter in her hand.
I took it from her and read it slowly. The words wobbled in front of my wide, unblinking eyes.
“Thank you for your invitation to the interview with (said magazine) and yes of course I will be delighted to talk about the book, the movie and the serpent! Ha ha.” The letter was adorned with sketches of the comedian riding atop his serpent, rolling around on the floor, flying high in the sky and other serpent adventures.
“I did ask you if you meant serpent and you said yes,” I stammered, red in the face.
Turns out, she had actually written ‘series’, as in ‘TV series’. Doh. I had at least read the contents of her letter rather than blindly typing it up which is often the case when you copy type. However, being young and scared, I had left it at that – after all she was the boss so she must have been right.
Luckily, as scary as she was, my boss saw the funny side and later on the ‘phone to the celeb, I could hear them having a good laugh about it – at my expense. Gutted.
I have since seen many terrible typos come and go but that was my first. I have never forgotten it. It was a great lesson and I will gladly share it at my next netwoking event. (Only joking!)
The upshot is that it’s OK to make mistakes because that’s how you learn. In fact, as the saying goes, “He who never made a mistake, never made a discovery.” So here’s to typos – they trip us up, keep us humble and hopefully teach us the importance of proof-reading and attention to detail, which in public relations, is a very useful skill to have.