One Bad Moment + A Cell Phone = A Very Bad Day

Several years ago, I was waiting for an early morning flight at the Denver International Airport.

I was having a bad day. Not only was I nearing the end of a bad relationship, but I was in the midst of an awful cold and hadn’t slept well in days.

The only restaurant serving breakfast had a line around the corner. Only one cashier was open. I anxiously looked at my watch, knowing that if the line didn’t start moving, I’d have to leave the line to make my flight without an ounce of breakfast.

I had inched toward the front of the line when a second cashier suddenly appeared. But instead of taking customers from the front of the line, she started taking people from the back.

I lost it. From my place in the line, I shouted something along the lines of, “You’ve got to be kidding me! We’ve been waiting here for half an hour! This is how you run a restaurant? This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen! This is ridiculous!”

Airport Long Line

The other people in line probably thought I looked a bit unhinged. I probably was. Fortunately, no one caught the exchange on video from their smart phone video cameras. But could you imagine how damaging it could have been to my brand to have someone upload a YouTube video of “Mr. Media Training” losing it an airport?

An executive I occasionally work with told me a similar story. She snapped at a rude flight attendant, who promptly notified the pilot. Fortunately for her, she quickly cooled down and apologized profusely, realizing that headlines about a chief executive being kicked off a plane would have ended her career.

And just last week, Meet the Press host David Gregory earned these headlines for allegedly confronting local event planners for allowing people to park near his house and clog up his street:

The Washington Post: “David Gregory throws a fit over parking at D.C. Design House”

Huffington Post: “David Gregory Has ‘Very Public’ Outburst About Parking On His Street”

DCist: “David Gregory Goes Berserk Over Charity House”

If Mr. Gregory indeed lost his temper, he’s fortunate no one recorded the confrontation. (If, as he claims, he didn’t, the video may have bolstered his claim.)

In today’s social media culture, all it takes is one bad moment to ding a reputation or, in dramatic circumstances, end a career.

It’s a sad truth, but a real one: those of us operating in the public sphere — whether a television host or a PR blogger — no longer have any license to have bad public moments. Gregory’s arm flailing incident ended up costing him unflattering headlines. And although I got away with mine, I’m always mindful that I probably won’t be so lucky next time.

Are you more aware of your public behavior in the age of smartphones than you were before? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.