Open letter to PR agencies: It doesn't have to be that way, you know…

Recently, there has been a rise in the number of press releases I’ve received, an observation many bloggers around me have confirmed. But these PR emails are accompanied by intros as uncomfortable as the teenage “Will you go on a date with me? Yes/No” scribbled by the nerdy girl who sat next to you in geography class.

Nerdy Nancy wants to go on a dateRanging from impersonal emails to borderline harassment calls and Facebook messages, there just seems to be a plague of poorly thought-out attempts at exploiting the circles of bloggers who are gaining influence in the media by the day.

According to Forrester Research, the general public doesn’t seem to trust us bloggers just yet, and might think we’re still total nerds, but it doesn’t matter, PR agencies have got a total crush on us.

So this is my open letter to all PR agencies we have had the (dis)pleasure of dealing with recently.

“Dear PR agency guys & gals,

We’re all very flattered that you fancy us now that we’ve gone from being viewed as the losers who spend too much time on their computers to being the cool kids with influence. We appreciate it’s difficult to accept that bloggers were never in the curriculum in your marketing theory classes, and that you feel the need to poke us with a stick while observing us from a distance, like you’re the Steve Irwin of public relations and we’re a wounded python. But I’ll let you in on a secret: We’re actually really quite normal. And we don’t even mind being treated that way.

I won’t be pointing fingers and naming names today, but I’ll use a few examples to illustrate where you unnecessarily complicated your own lives recently. If you recognise yourself, feel free to either take it as a call to action to review the way things are done, or roll your eyes and mutter that I’m an idiot. Don’t worry, I’ve got thick skin. But if you choose to do the latter, I may just name and shame you next time you stick your foot in stinky cow dung.

Exhibit A: The Lazy Approach


Please see below for news on this weeks launch of the [Product Name], which I thought would be of interest for the blog.

Let me know if you need any more info.



Now, not only did I not give permission to R’s agency to email me, but R here failed to call me by my name (it’s in my email address, can’t miss it), use my blog’s name (also in my email address) and didn’t notice that I’d already reviewed the viral campaign for the product they’re pawning. Already, 3 strikes, you should be out.

Below that dull message is an equally dull press release, using 3 different fonts and sizes, a LOT of ® characters, no real call to action, no freebies/samples offered and a link to an entirely Flash-based website with no HTML alternative. What the hell good is all that tripe when I’m on my iPhone?

Honestly how this PR agency received two PR Consultancy/Agency of the year is beyond me.

Exhibit B: The psychopath

Blogger pal receives mail from PR agency who wants them to show up at a product launch in exchange for a measly fee and liveblog the event like it’s the Spice Girls’ reunion tour. Blogger takes offense (rightly so) at the suggestion that his readership can be bought for the price of a cheap pair of shoes and chooses to ignore PR agency.

PR agency follows up deluge of pushy emails with “Email broken – Msg me your phone #. Love facebook!” via social networks. Next thing you know, they’ll be outside knocking at the window as he gets out the shower.

Creepy. Not good. Sometimes, the non-verbal signal should be enough to tell you to back off.

Exhibit C: The foreign agency


Hope you would forgive the intrusion.

We have been working on this for a couple of months now and are NOW live. Allow me to present Plooshh [name changed for anonymity] – why the extra ‘h’? We think it’s sexy! We think it gives you an extra H – oops, ‘extra EDGE’ we mean. :)”

And it continues on for two full screens worth of awkwardly friendly banter, filled with bright coloured large fonts, caps-lock sentences and extraneous exclamation marks. The English flip-flops between too formal and chat-speak, a bit rough ’round the edges yet endearing.

Exhibit C is the product of an Indian agency jumping head-first into Web 2.0. Nothing wrong with their pitch, everything strikes me as being done textbook-style, ticking every box. But it’s soulless. Again, there’s no attempt to get to know the bloggers they approach, opting for a scattergun mail-out. Throw enough stuff at the wall, something’s bound to stick.

While this wasn’t a particularly thrilling email, I suspect that once these guys catch on to the nuances of public relations in the new media age, their willingness and motivation might allow them to overtake many Western agencies who otherwise had a headstart in the game.

Jury’s Verdict:

Toilet cat is guilty! PR agencies are too!While a few PR agencies have embraced social media and are actively engaging with the communities their clients have an interest in, most have totally blown it so far. They’re as guilty of carelessness as this cat is of drinking out of the toilet bowl.

But hope is not lost. Assuming said agency is willing to put some elbow grease into their day’s work, I dare say there is a huge amount of potential for a beautiful relationship to blossom between PR people and bloggers.

So dear PR guys and gals, behave in a natural and human way; you’ll resonate emotionally with us. Emotional resonance is invaluable; we feel that we can become friends and are far more willing to listen to you, even when the product you’re pitching isn’t 100% on target.

I appreciate that we are the means to an end, helping you reach the (sometimes unrealistic) targets set by your client, but remember that we’re all human – yes, even us weirdo bloggers – so treat others as you would like to be treated and we’ll be more than happy to give you a hand.

In Summary

Your future cheat-sheet.


  • Have a Twitter account or personal blog where we can find out about the real you.
  • Have a product geek or evangelist we can speak to and quiz without getting the canned marketing answers (Carphone Warehouse and O2, I’m looking at you, guys. You could have definitely done with a public-facing real-person on the days surrounding the iPhone launch.)
  • Participate in events in an altruistic way every so often. We’ll get to know each other, and it’s bound to be good for your karma.
  • Put some chili in your cornflakes; By that, I mean, have genuine energy and passion about your client’s product. If you don’t get up in the morning loving your job, maybe you need to find something else to do.


  • Try to buy our participation to your event. Telling me you’ll pay £150 to show up on Thursday morning with a video camera for a “secret launch” isn’t social media, it’s cheap labour and fake hype.
  • Send us a stock press release with an intro that betrays you’ve never even looked at our blogs
  • Always play it so safe that we’d rather read the back of the cereal packet than your press release. Have some balls, and hey, have some fun!
  • Don’t run with scissors Be afraid of asking a couple of bloggers for a pint to bounce some ideas. Most of them will be happy to help you out!

I’d love to hear what PR agencies or other bloggers would like to add to this. How’s your PR-to-blogger relationship going?

With much love & geekery,

49 thoughts on “Open letter to PR agencies: It doesn't have to be that way, you know…

  1. Amanda Rose

    Great post. I think anyone in PR who neglects to read this blog post before contacting you in the future, is in the wrong career. What are your thoughts on the much bantered about ‘twitpitch’?

  2. Ben Matthews

    Hi Véro,

    (See how I used your name there, with the accent and everything – wow, i must “get” blogger relations now!)

    One thing to add to your ‘Dos’ – a lot of agencies conduct blogger outreach on behalf of their clients, but don’t disclose this. Even a simple sentence such as “I’m writing to you on behalf of…” or “in my capacity as online pr for…” does the job.

    For the ‘Don’ts’ (and you alluded to it in your post), don’t put a long list of the awards that your agency/company has won. This is about the blogger, not you, so craft your outreach to really appeal to them!

    I’m sure there’s loads more that other people will add, so I’ll check back tomorrow for more (one more for the Dos – read the blog more than once!)



  3. Annie Mole

    Fully agree with everything – I appear on the list of 100 top UK blogs (that Tom Coates went mad about appearing on and it led to the prostitute-gate affair) and also for some bizarre reason on The Times 50 Top Business blogs.

    I get all of the above categories (although not so much of the middle one mainly cos my Facebook page – as Annie Mole – anyway – isn’t active)

    The more galling ones are the completely lazy Dear The Mole, or Dear Mr Mole – there are several fairly obvious clues that I’m a woman well (all over) my blog.

    I also get a LOT of US ones about how my blog is going to be influential to the presidential elections. Can’t for the life of me think how, but maybe McCain & Obama find it essential reading about Tube fashion victims, Oystercard cock ups – so who am I to argue.

    I won’t name and shame either – but I had a very bad one from a large agency you would think should know better inviting me to an event where I could “test drive” Terminal 5 before it opened. I said I’d rather stick needles in my eyes as it would have also meant taking time off work. But I thought my readers might be interested and asked the agency a number of not particularly taxing questions to help me write my post or tell others about it. Immediate response was they would look into it & get back to me. Three weeks later 2 days before T5 opened I got an email asking whether I’d like some “exclusive” pictures – no mention of the answers to my question. And again another invite to the “test drive”.

    I blogged out of a sense of duty to my readers but made it pretty clear the agency had cocked up.

    More recently I got a really nice & “personal” well as personal as could be for someone who’d probably only been reading my blog for 2 weeks could have been. But it was well written, friendly, conversational and not too ingratiating. Once again I couldn’t go to the event (I have a full time job which is not blogger to the Tube) but mentioned it too some freelancing friends who were keen to go and it all worked out well.

    I’d be interested in other people’s views too and will be amazed to see if you actually hear from any PR’s or if it will just be bloggers like me, saying “You’re dead right”



  4. James Whatley

    Great post dude, one that’s been brewing for a while.
    I don’t mind putting my hand up and saying:

    “Yup, the ‘Blogger Pal’ in Exhibit B? That’s me.”

    Your post, along with similar discussions with others has prompted me to write the whole experience up.

    It left me feeling cold and dirty.
    Nice work Vero.

    I’ll link back when I’m done..

  5. Tiffany Monhollon

    It’s great that PR people are starting to see the value in blogger relations, I agree, but the most telling thing is that instead of getting down and gritty with social media, they expect to be able to use print media relations tactics and get the same/better/any response from it.

    You’ve hit the nail on the head with this, and to me, what it all boils down to is that if you’re going to do PR with bloggers, you have to be in the game too. Read their blog, know their niche, write your own blog, be a real person in social media – in short – relate! That’s the whole “relations” part of the term, after all, right?

  6. Kerry Gaffney

    Spot on post, although unfortunately you’re not the first and definitely wont be the last to take the PR industry to task for being lazy.

    The most frustrating thing I find about fellow PR’s (I work for Porter Novelli) making a mess of blogger relations is that they are doing it in exactly the same way they’ve mucked up journalist relations for years. When I first started in PR I was told the most important thing to do was to read the publications, so I could get to know the journalists’ areas of interests better and therefore pitch them more accurately.

    Bloggers, generally, makes it easier than ever to get to know what is of interest to them and we still manage to get it wrong by ignoring the basics.


  7. henriette weber kristiansen

    it’s amazing how the shift has been. If I recieve PR releases I would appreciate if they where

    1. full of substance
    2. for real
    3. and written to suit me – and not mass -spread. I know it’s a lot of work and a lot of ressources, but if it happens that way I am more interested in covering their product…even though I often decline

  8. Jason Mical

    I’m one of those PR peoples, although I firmly place myself in the camp of the 1% who are trying to tell the others how to do this right. Someone else in my team passed your post around our office this morning as must-read material and I absolutely agree, both as a PR pro and someone who’s been blogging 5+ years myself (before I was a PR pro.) In fact I recognize a couple of the people who commented already (hi Annie and Amanda!)

    I’d stick up for Edelman and other firms but the fact of the matter is there are still so many PR people going about this wrong that you almost have to stick up for individuals, which is too bad. So many people can’t seem to move beyond the ‘giant press list of contacts you mass email’ mentality that I’m afraid it’s going to get worse before it gets better, and the conversations that have been going on for years exactly like this are going to become more heated. I count the Bad Pitch Blog ( as one of my must-reads as a PR pro long before the latest ‘groundbreaking’ Seth Godin post, but you’d be surprised at the sheer number of people in this industry who don’t know it exists.

    Anyway – great post, I’m definitely going to pass it along to some others I feel would benefit from it. Also – feel free to shame me publically if I’m ever guilty of any of the things you lay out here.

  9. Shannon Cherry


    So many PR professionals treat blogs like any other medium. We’re (happily) different and need to be approached differently.

    I just got a pitch today for my other blog Startup Spark ( which had nothing to do with what I cover. I politely emailed the person back and they responded like I was making a big mistake.


    On the flip side, I’m a publicist. What I see is that most PR Practitioners have gotten lazy since email and the Internet have become a part of the mix. (OK, am I showing my age here?)

    Before the ease of pitching using technology, we had to really do our homework and find out exactly the right medium – and the right journalist. Now that’s long gone, with blanket, one-size-fits-all press releases.

    It’s public RELATIONS people! Building relationships is the name of the game.

  10. Jonathan

    Hi Vero – great post and even better that you shared your experiences. I’m all for it. I really do hope more people keep sharing and that the PR industry starts/keeps listening. And if you tweet about your experiences – remember to include the tag ‘prfail’ 😉

  11. Gemma

    Fashion is still behind tech (and beauty, which is a DREAM) but I’ve seen a huge 360 from PR agencies in the last 12 months or so, and really appreciate that. They really do want to learn more about online. Arcadia now have their own online press agent, which is a miracle considering two years ago, Topshop would have laughed if I even suggested going to their press day as a blogger.

    The one bugbear I have is when I get a blind press release from someone who’s never emailed me before about something really boring that just says “Please write about this on your blog.” I don’t mind the informal approach, but a ‘could you possibly?’ might be nice. I’m not running an events listing company, after all.

    Also, there are plenty of PRs who email a completely irrelevant release, but then to prove they’ve actually looked at the site, they start the email with ‘Hey, nice article about [insert most recent post here]’ I appreciate the flattery, but looking at my blog for two seconds and then pitching a product I don’t write about is not worth their effort OR mine.

    Also, considering my email has my name in it, I find it incredibly lazy when emails reach me that begin ‘dear sir / madam’ or ‘to whom it may concern’.

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  14. Jason Mical

    Gemma – I absolutely HATE that. We used to tell people to include that whole ‘I loved your post about [INSERT POST TOPIC]’ in outreach but it never sat well with me because it just isn’t authentic. I’ll include it if I really did like the post about something, but if not, then I won’t mention it.

    I think another good point is that most PR people just equivocate ‘big influencer’ with ‘must get coverage’ and don’t stop to think that the blogger doesn’t care about whatever the PR person is pushing – thus the irrelevant release. Many many times I’ve had the conversation with colleagues that 2 or 3 bloggers who care about your product is much better for outreach than 50 bloggers who won’t care that you just plan to spam. Again, it’s that old broadcast-manipulate model showing up again, and more PR people will keep ramming that square peg into a round hole before they figure out not to I’m afraid.

  15. Jaz Cummins

    Hey Vero

    Ace post, lots here that is important to me in my work (Shiny Red) and it’s stuff which I do because I enjoy the conversation. Your ‘Dos’ cover the most valuable things I’ve done so far which have been driven by interest too – attending meet-ups for fun, using twitter and starting my personal blog. All of which are by far the most enjoyable aspects of my job too which is a bonus 🙂

    The personal blog thing puts blogger-PRs in a unique position as well. Understanding what it’s like to publish under your own name makes it much easier to put yourself in a blogger’s shoes and think ‘Would I really post this myself?’. Certainly not an experience print-PRs get so I see that as a major advantage.

    I agree with lots of the comments too – esp Kerry about the reading, and Ben about disclosure. Two fundamentals there! And with Jonathan about the sharing – it’s leading to some listening by the sounds of it Gemma 🙂

    I’d probably also add comment, if/where appropriate – get involved in that if you don’t feel able to blog yourself. It can be on non-work related sites, but it’s that experience of putting your own words out there makes you a better blogger relations PR. Oh and do respond if people get back to you – as per Annie’s example!

    Mostly just be normal and human like you say!

  16. Darika

    Hey Vero
    Agree with most of what people are saying here but also on balance just wanted to say that like technology (which coz I know you, I know you love!) the behind the scenes issues are far more complex then the frustrating end-user experience.
    These issues were inherent in PR 1.0 (check out Charles Arthur’s ‘Die, PR, die or raise your game and PR 2.0 has been built on the same dodgy platform.
    This is compounded by agencies struggling to adapt as fast as the changing media landscape.
    Maybe I’m naive but I think things will improve and posts like yours will help show them the way.

  17. Mel Kirk

    Hi Vero!

    Great post… I’m totally with you on all of the above. I’ve had a couple of those recently and they’ve been totally unrelated to the topic of conversation on my blog anyway. ANNOYING.

    I read a great post by Brian Oberkirch recently at which kind of has the same themes. As a good company, engaging in social media as it’s intended, it’s about being positioned in the right place, enabling your users (or bloggers) to find what they’re after and giving them a helping hand when they need it rather than shoving themselves in your face.

    Another grumble of mine – seeding companies, but let’s not even start on that one, that’s a whole post on it’s own…!!

    Smiles and hugs,

    Mel 🙂

  18. Maurice McBride

    This is a very good article. I am working on a project to help PR firms improve their communications and interactions with the blogging community. This view is very helpful. Hope all is well. Maurice

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  22. Vero

    Thank you all for the fantastic comments, it’s great to get input from bloggers and PR people.

    I’m excited at the thought of bloggers and the press working well together, and hopefully, if you’re all as open in real life as you seem to be here in comments, we’re on for a pretty positive future!

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  24. Gary

    That is a fantastic post and one I’m sorely tempting to print out and pin up in my office (or at least forward it around).

    I think a lot of PRs have got into the mindset of ‘it’s the internet. I don’t understand the internet. Therefore I don’t understand blogging.’ Or try to do exactly the same things they do when pitching to traditional media to bloggers, which just won’t work.

    That said, I still don’t believe it’s that far removed from building up relationships and pitching to journalists. Those who aren’t great at this, probably aren’t going to be great at making contact with bloggers. Those who are good at making contact with and maintaining good relationships with journalists are likely to be able to do the same with bloggers. It’s not difficult, you just be need to be able to have a reasonable amount of people skills.

    I’ve probably been guilty of a few of the don’ts but it’s all part of the learning process. At the end of the day, I’ve been blogging for years now, I still get excited by blogs and want to get bloggers involved in whatever I’m working on, if it’s relevant to them. And hopefully when I make initial contact, people don’t immediately think ‘God, what a moron’ – that normally comes about three weeks later 🙂

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  27. The Red ROcket

    Great post. The problem that bloggers are being exposed to is one that 1000s of journalists have to deal with every day.

    I’m not saying that’s a good reason for it, but if they/we can’t get that right, then targeting bloggers – which 80% of PRs still don’t understand (ask ’em if they blog) – is a surefire recipe for disaster.

    Maybe bloggers will (should?) start putting messages up in the their “about” section explaining if they are receptive to pitches from PRs and how they should engage?

  28. KnowYourAudience


    Please see below a comment. Thought it might be of interest to the blog.

    If you need more information, please give me a call.


    Thursday 24th July
    For immediate release


    Seriously – what really bothers you here? Sounds to me like you’re quite happy to be seen as an influential medium (“the cool kids with influence”??) but you’re not quite happy enough to accept that with influence comes PR and with PR comes lots and lots more content and information than before.

    Use your discretion on what does and doesn’t constitute “a good approach” but don’t wag your finger at those PRs who don’t float your boat. If I had a penny for every time I’d pissed off a national newspaper journalist…but they don’t send me emails tut-tutting away…

    Can’t you just accept that every PR is different and will try to attract you in different ways? If they don’t get what you’re about, they won’t get your attention. They’ll learn.

    Quite why bloggers seem so obsessed with the “how to approach a blogger by numbers” checklists I don’t know. Is there really anything that revolting about receiving information – in whatever guise?


  29. ourman

    Okay, I am a long time blogger, also a PR and press officer and was formerly a journalist.

    I ask this: why does any blogger think they are so important that they demand PRs jump through hoops to snare them? Wow, what an ego. So the email didn’t mention your name or blog name – guess what, I write to journalists all the time and I think that the name of their publication is implied. I think journalists guess that I’d like them to write something ( the publication they write for).

    Who cares even if it is just a standard note. You don’t like it? Bin it. Move on.

    So they didn’t offer you enough cash. Hey, you want to be treated with respect then be worthy of it. Don’t take the cash. Don’t take any cash. Better still publish rules on your blog that states you take NOTHING from ANYONE and then we can give you the credit and can believe what you write.

    If it is of interest then cover it – if not then don’t. What’s money got to do with it?

    You don’t want to do what a PR wants you to do? Then don’t. Don’t return the email, don’t do the story. Who cares.

    Finally – “I didn’t give permission for the agency to contact me”.

    How are they supposed to do that – if they can’t email you?

    I am guessing phone is even more intrusive. No doubt you’d scream “STALKER” if they turned up on your doorstep. A hand delivered gold envelope perhaps?

    I am tired of bloggers complaining about PRs – it’s frankly pathetic and only goes to show that they don’t understand the industry they have become a part of.

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  33. Andrew

    “So they didn’t offer you enough cash. Hey, you want to be treated with respect then be worthy of it. Don’t take the cash. Don’t take any cash. Better still publish rules on your blog that states you take NOTHING from ANYONE and then we can give you the credit and can believe what you write.”

    I don’t see any adverts on this blog… or any sponsored posts… or any content involving money changing hands.

    Ourman, did you do any research about thatcandiangirl before commenting on her blog? Hmm, I have a great article which may be of use to you as a PR…


  34. Ian Jeanes

    Hey ‘that canadian girl’. I’m interested in more on what you have to say… I’d like you to get in touch.

    Impressed with your ‘tag’ situation… more tags than a School Playground.

    Keep blogging 🙂

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  39. Dave Kinsella

    Great post Vero, on a tenuously connected subject, I help to moderate a large industry-specific online forum where various companies often get severely criticised. An upshot of this is that we often get requests to remove offensive content. Sometimes we get a polite personal email, mostly it’s a letter from a company lawyer threatening legal action if the content is not removed within a set time period.

    We have implemented an unofficial policy that polite requests will be dealt with usually the same day. Legal threats will result in the content being removed according to the demand. We point out this policy when responding to these requests and yet still companies will pay for a lawyer to send a letter and let the content remain for a couple of weeks, rather than send an email and just ask nicely.

    I think there is a corporate culture problem – the automation of business processes has led to an inflexibility of approach. i.e.

    Criticism of company on website => have lawyer send legal threat to website owner.
    get blog coverage => buy list of blogger emails, send standard email to everyone, monitor opening and clickthru stats. Present figures in a graph to client.

    Sorry to go a bit off-topic but I hope you see the connection.

  40. Pete Goold

    Great post – thank you.

    In broad terms I think I took it to read ‘extend some professional courtesy’, which I think it’s fair to say, is pretty much common sense. Still, there is undoubtedly a major gap between people that ‘get it’ in any capacity and those that clearly don’t.

    I can’t promise that we’ll always get it right but I find that courtesy, transparency and honesty seem to count for a good deal.

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  42. Iris

    I am both a PR flack and a blogger. I don’t claim to be particularly good at either, but have a passion for both – so where does that leave me?

    I love that you called us out though – something I have been trying to explain to my bosses for a while now. Can you maybe give them a call and explain?

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  44. Vanesa Enskaitis

    Hi Vero
    I’m a PR student in Canada and I couldn’t agree with you more. Perhaps it’s my Canadian manners, but I have always maintained that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, sort of mentality. It may please you to know that my program at Humber College in Toronto, Ontario, teaches us how to properly pitch, interact and build rapport with journalists of all media, including bloggers.

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  48. Louisa

    I’m a blogger and a PR person (don’t hate me!)

    I agree that PRs should all try and personalise their approaches and get to know the bloggers. I don’t promise to get it right every time (some times time is REALLY not on my side) but I can only ever try and spread the word that bloggers deserve some respect.

    By the same token, I do agree with Ourman to a point. As a blogger, I get contacted all the time by people wanting to push their products/services. If I’m not interested, I don’t respond. I don’t get angry because people who I want to hear from also contact me using the same means and I can’t get an email system sophisticated enough to read my mind and send stuff I don’t want to my spam box.

    It’s part of the blogger’s life and unless you learn to ignore the stuff you deem rubbish then you can alienate yourself from the blogging community if you don’t take this aspect into your stride.

  49. Vero

    Hi Louisa,

    Thanks for popping by and there’s no hating going on, don’t worry! (In fact, I’m thrilled that this post still gets traffic and comments two years on)

    Maybe I’m softening a bit in my old age, but I agree, it’s just not worth getting angry about. However, if we rated success based on “not making the recipient angry”, we’d be aiming rather low. Instead, we should focus on enchanting the recipient with something brilliant.

    So while I appreciate that it’s hard to always be top notch, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with aiming high every time – even if sometimes reality forces us to cut a few corners.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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