That time Sprinklr's PR team stepped on a series of rakes
Please, for the love of god, stop hitting yourselves
This piece has been updated as of March 19. For updates and the conclusion to this story, scroll to the bottom.
Good morning friends, family, parasocial internet acquaintances and, of course, hate-followers. I have a story I’d like to tell you today. It’s one I’ve been sitting on for about two months now, stewing. I’m reticent to say anything at all because I’m currently unemployed (more on that later, though I should clarify it has nothing to do with the story I’m about to tell you). But I don’t think I can hold all this inside me anymore, so I’m ready.
Let’s talk about Sprinklr.
What is Sprinklr?
“Sprinklr is an American software company based in New York City that develops a SaaS customer experience management (CXM) platform.” - Sprinklr’s Wikipedia
Sprinklr is a social media monitoring and management tool. They’ve been around for about a decade now, and are pretty much the industry standard for enterprise-level social media tools. Their current valuation is $2.9 billion and their customer list includes: McDonald’s, Twitter, Nike, Google, Microsoft, NASA, Walmart, Coca-Cola, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and the literal president.
Who are you again?
My name is Amy and until two weeks ago I worked in social media. I was in-house at Wendy’s from 2012 to 2017, and then worked a few other jobs before landing at Figma for about a year. Figma is kind of like if Google Docs and Photoshop had a baby. If you just heard something in the distance, it’s a thousand product designers screaming at once about how clumsy this comparison is, but it’s the explanation my mom understands so we’re sticking with it for clarity’s sake.
Basically all you need to know is that Figma is becoming the industry standard for product design in its own right and also has a long list of major companies as customers: Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Dropbox, Microsoft, Spotify, and also the literal president (his campaign anyway, I can’t vouch for what the administration uses).
My history with Sprinklr
Something else you should know is that while I was at Wendy’s, we were briefly Sprinklr customers. Our ad agency recommended them, and I led the project from the Wendy’s side. That means I sat through a lot of presentations from a lot of different social media software companies before agreeing that Sprinklr, though not perfect, was the best option for our needs.
The project was a nightmare from the beginning. I’ll spare you the gory details, but it got to the point where our only path forward was to break our contract and start over with a completely different service. Legal teams got involved on both sides. Someone from Sprinklr came to my office to plead their case to my boss’s boss’s boss––a man who absolutely did not know what Sprinklr is or does. Ultimately, I was pretty embarrassed by the whole thing. It was my first time leading this kind of project and I felt personally responsible for it not working out.
Since then, I’ve been pretty vocal to other social media managers that they should steer clear of Sprinklr. I’m not the only one, though I should note there are plenty of people in this industry who don’t feel the same way. I get the feeling your experience with them can vary dramatically based on which people are assigned to your account.
The day after Joe Biden’s inauguration, the private social media managers Facebook group was blowing up with people joking about how Sprinklr landed the president as a customer. So I tweeted about it. Didn’t really give it much thought, if we’re being honest. I’ve been on Twitter since 2009 and I do this for a living, so I felt like I had a pretty good grasp on what would and wouldn’t get me into trouble.
Unbeknownst to me, Figma was in the process of signing Sprinklr as a customer when I wrote this tweet. Would it have changed anything if I knew that? Probably not. Facebook and Twitter are Figma customers, and I wrote an op-ed critical of both of them while employed there (with our PR team’s blessing).
The next afternoon, a colleague from our sales team slacked me to let me know his contact at Sprinklr had complained about my tweet, and asked if Figma could have me delete it. And honestly? I laughed. It’s not the first time something like this has happened––not even my first time at this company. Back during primary season, a guy tweeted Figma a complaint because I was replying to all Mike Bloomberg’s tweets from my personal account with a photoshopped image that said DROP OUT MIKE BLOOMBERG.
I did feel bad, though. It’s always embarrassing to be given a talking to about your tweets, and I obviously didn’t do this with the intent of making our sales team’s lives more difficult. So I politely told our sales guy sorry, but that I didn’t think I’d broken company policy by tweeting that Sprinklr sucks. Then I video called my boss, who also laughed. This was like 3pm on a Friday, and I really, truly thought that was the end of it.
As you might know if you’ve been following along, my husband and I are currently going through fertility treatment. Monday, January 25, was scheduled to be our first round of intrauterine insemination. That’s where Chris goes to the office and leaves a sperm sample, they do something to it that makes it super concentrated, and then they shoot it into my uterus through a plastic tube. I’d been taking hormones all month to produce more & bigger eggs, and on Sunday morning I was scheduled to give myself a shot in the stomach that would trigger ovulation. Since the internet has irreparably damaged my brain, I couldn’t stop thinking, “New eggs just dropped!” Hormones also come with a multitude of fun side effects, like hot flashes and crying all the time. This might seem like I’m digressing, but I’m giving you the backstory to set the stage for what happened next.
What happened next is I received an email. I’ve bolded some portions and left out pieces that aren’t relevant, but otherwise this reads word-for-word what I received in my inbox at 5:30pm on a Friday:
While attempting to set up an executive conversation between Sprinklr and Figma, my primary contact, Ryan Parr, called me directly. I gently articulated our position.
Ryan said that if we don’t have Amy delete her tweet, it’s going to be escalated to Sprinklr’s legal team. If it goes to their legal team, the legal team will request that we have her take it down. If we don’t, they will investigate cancelling the contract.
Ryan does not want this to happen, he loves using Figma and doesn’t want this to disrupt his team. Here are some highlights from the call:
Sprinklr works with 9 out of the top 10 brands in the world (like Salesforce, Verizon, and Apple).
This Twitter thread puts those relationships at risk when Sprinklr has a vendor (Figma) who’s speaking negatively about them on Twitter.
This would not be accepted at Sprinklr. If an employee did this, they would be forced to take it down.
He described Amy’s tweets as juvenile and unnecessarily aggressive. He’s surprised that the person in charge of Figma’s social media channels would be so heedless.
He said that our decision indicates that Figma doesn’t care about Sprinklr or value the relationship.
So to recap: a man 10 years my senior (of course I Googled him), who’s in a position of power and almost certainly makes way more money than I do, is using the threat of legal action by his company to try to make me delete a tweet that didn’t even go viral. It has 600 likes. A tweet with 600 likes is going to sink a corporation worth almost $3 billion.
My stance was that this would set a bad precedent for employee speech at Figma. They already have a ton of major companies as customers, to the point that it’s hard to keep track of them all. And they want to keep growing. If you say we can’t criticize customers, it’s a very slippery slope; a minefield of potential violations.
My stance was also that Ryan Parr was being an asshole, and a dumb one. I’m highly visible in my field and I have more followers on Twitter than Sprinklr’s CEO. If we’re talking about putting relationships at risk, it would probably be more risky to get a leading voice in the industry you serve fired than for my tweet to stay up.
Then I started thinking about it, and realized there’s no way this happened in a vacuum. It’s unlikely that Ryan Parr saw my tweet and immediately escalated it to, “We’re sending this to our legal team.” I think it speaks a lot to their company culture that things went this far. I wonder how many people they’ve threatened with legal action like this. How many people didn’t have the time or the energy to stand up for themselves in the face of a three billion dollar company’s legal team coming after them? It honestly makes me a little sick.
So I looked at my husband and asked the big question: How far would he support me in taking this? What if I didn’t delete the tweet and I got fired for it and we lost our health insurance? He told me to stand my ground, even though he’s in multiple high-risk categories for COVID as a cancer survivor with asthma, and that’s why I love him so much.
I’d also like to say how thankful I am for the communications team at Figma, because next my boss called me and I burst into tears. I told her I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong. She didn’t think I’d done anything wrong either, and reiterated that she was on my side. So was her boss. I can’t express how meaningful it is to have your colleagues take your side when profits are on the line. It sounds pretty basic, but I know there are plenty of other companies out there who would have valued the pending deal more highly than my right to say dumb shit on the internet.
And then I waited all weekend. I had intended to relax and take care of myself leading up to a medical procedure that, while not major, was emotional and invasive. Instead I spent the whole weekend worried that I’d be fired on Monday.
So did you get fired?
I was not fired on Monday. We did the IUI at the fertility doctor. We did not get pregnant (and that’s ok, we knew this could take awhile).
A month and a half after this happened, I quit my job at Figma. I’m sure I’ll write about it more someday, but two things happened: my ethical qualms about working in social media became so loud I could no longer ignore them, and also I hit a wall in a major way and burned out. So while it’s true to say my departure from Figma has nothing to do with The Sprinklr Incident, it’s also true to say that it contributed to my burnout in a major way. It’s already hard enough to concentrate on work during COVID, but during COVID while going through medical treatment while also worrying if something stupid I said on Twitter is gonna cost me my job? I just couldn’t anymore.
I was mad at Ryan Parr, but I’m not anymore (though if his basement flooded or he stubbed his toe really hard, I wouldn’t mind). I’m angrier at the external forces that led us to this place; I can’t stop thinking about the fact that capitalism would drive a man, who has the power and money that come with a VP position at a major company, to try to get a stranger fired for criticizing his employer in the middle of a pandemic. What happened to our humanity?
I wish I had a neat little conclusion to this story, but I don’t. If there’s anything I want you to take from this, it’s the idea that our allegiances should lie with our fellow humans, not corporations that will throw you aside when your employment is no longer profitable for them. Every action has consequences. Is your anger at some dumb tweet worth another human losing their livelihood, their health insurance, or potentially their home?
I suppose that’s all I have for you today. Be well, stay safe, and thank you for reading.
March 17 Update:
After I published this piece, I heard from Sprinklr’s VP of corporate communications, Kelly Lang. She wanted to hop on a Google Hangout with me.
I spoke with her for 20 minutes on Tuesday morning, in a mostly unsatisfying conversation. Here’s a gist of the conversation:
Kelly reiterated multiple times that she is not my enemy.
She said the story you just read caused her great pain and sadness.
She said she’s proud of Sprinklr’s corporate culture, and it’s a big part of why she works there.
Ryan was not trying to get me in trouble when he reached out to my employer and threatened to tank a deal over my tweet.
Ryan is a dad. He’s also very sad about what happened. Sad dad feels bad.
Kelly wished me luck and told me to reach out anytime if I needed anything.
I didn’t walk away convinced that anyone had learned anything or that Sprinklr had taken a good hard look at their company culture, but I was ready to drop it.
Then a woman named Audra slid into my DMs. I should let you know that before this, we’d never spoken. She follows me on Twitter and retweeted some tweets about Sprinklr (including a link to this Substack), and that’s about it. Audra had received a DM from Rachel Alvarez, who works on Sprinklr’s PR team. Here’s what Rachel had to say:
So yeah, that’s Sprinklr’s associate director of PR suggesting that I am taking out my anger about my infertility on their company. She’s also misrepresenting the circumstances under which I blocked her, which doesn’t really matter, though it’s funny to watch her try to pretend I’ve victimized her in some way.
I immediately emailed Kelly to ask her if she had any explanation for Rachel’s messages. That was at 1pm on Tuesday. No response to me since then, or to the multiple reporters who’ve been looking into this.
I’ll keep you updated as things proceed from here, but remember: friends don’t let friends use Sprinklr.
So yesterday evening (Thursday, March 18) I received some emails.
I also received a tweet.
It had been 48 hours of radio silence at that point, and I really wasn’t expecting much. When I opened Ryan’s email, I felt a wave of emotion wash over me. I almost cried. All I wanted from the beginning was an apology. He says he was never trying to hurt me personally, and I am willing to believe that—or at the very least, I’m willing to believe he just didn’t think about the potential repercussions to the person on the other end (especially because this played out on Twitter, where the other person’s humanity is often an afterthought).
I accept Rachel’s apology but I’m not over it yet. Part of that is probably timing. I’ve had two months to sit with what happened with Ryan, and maybe 72 hours to sit with what Rachel did. My biggest hope for her is some introspection. I hope she takes a good hard look at the motivation behind sending those messages. And though I’m never rooting for someone to lose their job, I kind of can’t believe she still has one in PR after all this. This line from Bring It On has been reverberating in my head for the last 12 hours:
Sprinklr’s apology is bad. It’s so so bad. They are not sorry for any fucked up thing that happened, just for the fact that it made me feel bad. There’s no accountability. No responsibility. It’s also just flagrant bullshit. I don’t know how you could take a look at what’s happened, and all the stories told in response, and then tell me this isn’t who you are. It’s exactly who you are.
So while I’m not sure Ryan or Rachel or Sprinklr as a whole learned anything, I am ready to move on from this. I hope at some point they do take a good hard look at their corporate culture, but apparently it’s not gonna be today.
Thanks to everyone who supported me through this, with big shoutouts to Diana at PRWeek and Claire at The Daily Dot for taking an interest. I’m not sure I would’ve gotten an apology if you two hadn’t covered it. I also want to thank those in my professional network who pressured Sprinklr from the customer side. I know they probably wouldn’t have taken this as seriously if they didn’t think some big money was on the line. Quarantine has made me feel really isolated and cut off from my social circles, and one of the brighter points of this whole situation was the realization that plenty of people will have my back if I really need it. I hope I can return the favor someday.
I guess that’s where we leave it. I’ll forgive them, but I won’t forget this happened. I hope you don’t forget about it either.
Also, I never did hear back from Kelly. Kelly, are you ok?
Update: I did hear from Kelly shortly after updating this post