Comms Anonymous: Communicators share the lessons they’ve learned the hard way

These pros reveal the hard truths they’ve faced so that we don’t have to.

Paper speech bubble with the word "OOPS" on a yellow background. Top view with copy space. Flat lay.

In the latest edition of Comms Anonymous, a series in which the Ragan and PR Daily teams collect advice via a Google Form, we asked communicators to tell us about something they learned in 2023 — specifically, the lessons that didn’t come easy.

From missing critical opportunities to be heard, to taking on a job or task that wasn’t the right fit, to finding that doing your best and hardest work may not result in the recognition you deserve, these bold communications pros bare all so that the rest of us can learn from the rockier parts of their career paths. We don’t collect names for these submissions to encourage candor.

Read on to discover their relatable — and in one case, hilarious — lessons from the past year. May their misfortune and stumbles help smooth your own path forward.

Good, solid advice

Many responders to this prompt offered tips that we can take away for our own careers. For example:

“I took a job that I shouldn’t have. Was starting out in my career and as nervous as I was to accept because of imposter syndrome, I accepted because a connection offered it to me. It was an opportunity to gain experience, but so many things that could’ve gone wrong went wrong.

The lesson here is to not say yes to everything, even if you’re just starting out and convinced that taking on any and every new task is necessary for gaining experience.”

Many of us — especially those who are ambitious and willing to try new things — can relate.

We also had several respondents offer up some tough but loving truths:

“I learned that not speaking up earlier and being less afraid of putting myself out there can negatively impact my team from a resources and visibility standpoint — I wish I hadn’t waited so long to use my seat at the table instead of listening in.”

“Even if you come to the table with expertise, creativity and a great attitude, everyone else around the table might not care in the least because they have their mind made up about the path forward without you.”

“Your goals don’t rely only on you but on your stakeholders and team as well. You may set a goal, but if you don’t have enthusiasm and motivation from others, you won’t make your own project deadlines.”

And here’s a controversial take.

“You really can’t teach old dogs new tricks. Many professionals who have been in the industry for decades are lazily repeating outdated strategies which causes them to lose clients. Instead of being adaptable, they continue to fall behind. Long gone are the days of A+B=C in PR — the game is now played with complex, integrated tactics.”

Do you agree, or are you an “old dog” who prides themselves on their adaptability and interest in learning “new tricks”?


A few of the responses we received were just all-around gaffes. We don’t think this one is too serious — but it’s always tough trying to relate to a sports fan crowd if you have other interests!

“Sometimes internal Slack mistakes haunt me more than external ones. In a failed attempt to show my sports knowledge, I once said Floyd Merriweather instead of Floyd Mayweather in a company-wide Slack and that mistake still keeps me up at night!”

Although this sounds like it may have happened prior to 2023, this has to be the most entertaining response we’ve ever received to a comms anonymous prompt:

“I worked at an edtech company that had three product lines, and the decision was made to move from one toll-free number to three in order to give customers and prospects faster and more personalized service. One of the first lead-gen mailers that went out to tens of thousands of prospects included one of the new 800 numbers, and we almost immediately began hearing from people telling us the 800 number was taking them to an adult telephone sex line.

Come to find out, our number was OK, but when people dialed 900 instead of 800 they were going to the adult line. Valuable lesson there to always check new 800 numbers to make sure they aren’t close to any numbers for sketchy businesses.”

From the Ragan and PR Daily teams, may your 2024 be filled with lessons that come a little easier.­


One Response to “Comms Anonymous: Communicators share the lessons they’ve learned the hard way”

    Phil S Stein says:

    “You can’t teach old dogs new tricks,” must be the oldest piece of self-serving deceit in PR history. Almost everyone under 30 is guilty of abusing this particular fable to make themselves feel gifted and savvy. The truth is that if everyone over 40 told the lie that you can’t persuade a young dog to do anything with committment or quality the outcry would be enormous. Daily Headlines

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