August 2011 - Business Communication



Business Communication


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Business Communication with Cengage Learning


Hyundai Commercial NSFW or the Netherlands

08-30-2011 8:21 PM

A car with three doors? The Hyundai Velostar looks like a coupe and boasts a "functional 3rd door," according to the website description. In an odd twist, a commercial promoting the Velostar emphasizes the door, yet was banned by Hyundai's head office for its explicit content. Critics say that the commercial was designed to be viral and that the ban is simply part of the marketing plan. 

It is an interesting question: the third door is not listed among the Velostar's safety features, apparently the main point of the commercial.

Discussion Starters:

  • Do you consider the commercial too explicit for American TV? Why or why not?
  • Do you think that pulling the ad was a planned marketing ploy by Hyundai -- or a genuine reaction to the commercial?
  • What ethics are involved in this situation? Is the commercial ethical? If Hyundai planned for the video to be banned and viral, is that ethical?

Posted by Amy Newman

Cornell University President Wants to End Fraternity Pledging

08-28-2011 4:45 PM

In an opinion letter in The New York Times, Cornell University president David Skorton demands an end to pledging, which he calls a "guise" for hazing. According to Skorton, pledging is not, as some fraternities purport, a way for students to prepare for membership, but "is often the vehicle for demeaning activities that cause psychological harm and physical danger." The impetus for this action, says Skorton, is a student death in February believed to be the result of fraternity hazing. Skorton is calling on the Greek community to offer solutions:

"Yesterday, I directed student leaders of Cornell’s Greek chapters to develop a system of member recruitment and initiation that does not involve 'pledging' — the performance of demeaning or dangerous acts as a condition of membership."

As for any sound, persuasive argument, Skorton address the skeptic's question:

"Why not ban fraternities and sororities altogether, as some universities have done? Over a quarter of Cornell undergraduates (3,822 of 13,935 students) are involved in fraternities or sororities. The Greek system is part of our university’s history and culture, and we should maintain it because at its best, it can foster friendship, community service and leadership."

Cornell Campus

Discussion Starters:

  • Do you agree with President Skorton that the line between hazing and pledging is blurred? Why or why not?
  • What do you consider to be the most persuasive argument in his letter? Least?
  • What would convince fraternities to abide by this request? In other words, what is the best way to persuade fraternities to change?

Posted by Amy Newman

Insurance Companies Communicate Before the Hurricane

08-27-2011 5:45 PM

Allstate Allstate is getting out ahead of the chaos: in an email to customers, the company offers suggestions for preparing for Hurricane Irene. The company's website offers additional advice. (Click to enlarge).

State Farm also offers advice for customers on its website. The "Disaster Response" page lists these tag lines:

  • State Farm Has Unmatched Disaster Response and Recovery
  • Ready to Respond to Hurricane Irene

Discussion and Assignment Ideas:

  • Why would the insurance companies communicate before the hurricane? What do they have to gain?
  • Compare the two companies' web communications about the hurricane. Explore both sites and identify differences in approaches and assistance offered. Which do you think works best and why?
  • In an email to Allstate or State Farm, offer your advice for improving its communication. Use examples from the competitor's website to support your points.

Posted by Amy Newman

Steve Jobs Submits His Resignation Letter

08-25-2011 12:54 PM

Steve Jobs has resigned as CEO of Apple and will continue as Chairman of the Board. He will be replaced by Tim Cook, who has filled in for him during his most recent medical leave. Jobs' resignation letter does not explain the reason, but his resignation is believed to be related to pancreatic cancer that has plagued Jobs in the past.

While speculation about the impact of Jobs' departure runs rampant, investors are "undaunted," according to Reuters. The stock dropped a mere 1.7% on the news.

Discussion Starters:

  • Compare Jobs' resignation letter to previous emails to employees: Janaury 2011 and January 2009. What differences do you notice?
  • Watch Jobs' Stanford University commencement address from 2005. What lessons do you take away from this speech?

Posted by Amy Newman

Filed under:

Surf the Web Guilt-Free

08-24-2011 8:10 PM

CyberloafingA recent study, "Impact of Cyberloafing on Psychological Engagement," found that time spent browsing the Internet had positive results on productivity. Researchers at the National University of Singapore found that people who spent 10 minutes surfing were “significantly more productive and effective at the tasks than those in the other two groups [who did other tasks] and reported lower levels of mental exhaustion, boredom, and higher levels of engagement,” as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The effects of surfing were better than personal emailing, phone calls, and texting for a 10-minute break.  According to Vivien Lim, one of the study's authors, these tasks are not as restorative because they demand more cognitive attention. But when people surf, they “usually choose to only visit the sites they like -- it’s like going for a coffee or a snack break."

This study has important implications for employers. Concerned about lost productivity, some companies restrict employees' online behavior. Perhaps they should relax the standards -- and focus on work outcomes instead.

Discussion Starters:

  • What do you do when you take a break from work or studying? What do you find most relaxing?
  • On a job, have you surfed the web or done non-work-related tasks online? Did your company or manager frown on this, or was it acceptable for a few minutes?
  • What are the downsides of employers allowing surfing on company time?

Posted by Amy Newman

Winning Colorado Video Has Factual Errors

08-22-2011 3:20 PM

Whether you find the winning video about Colorado cute or dorky, it has several errors. The state ran a "We Love Colorado" video contest and selected a winner of the $1500 prize: "Colorado: The Musical." Sure, the state has a lot to offer, but the writers erred on these facts:

  • "Colorado was the first state to allow women to vote." (That would be Wyoming.)
  • "The cheeseburger was invented here in1935." (not verifiable)
  • Delicate Arch is one of the photos shown (but it's in Utah).

Donald Zuckerman, director of Colorado's Office of Film, Television & Media, defended the video choice: 

"We don't have the manpower to check every fact and every new thing. What struck me about the video is that it was funny and fun and cute and that it may appeal to the general public."


Discussion Starters:

  • How could the video writers/performers have done a better job of verifying their facts?
  • Do you fault the government office for selecting this video, or do you understand the director's explanation? 
  • Errors aside, do you believe the video does a good job of promoting Colorado and meeting the objectives of the "We Love Colorado" video contest?

Posted by Amy Newman

Nivea Pulls Ad Considered Racist

08-20-2011 12:43 PM

It is a bit shocking to see a man holding just a head. As part of its "Look Like You Give a Damn" campaign, Nivea ran an image of a black man with short hair and no beard throwing what is intended to be his former self with longer hair and a full beard. The slogan reads: "Re-civilize Yourself."

Critics called the ad racist: Nivea

"Although Nivea has several other ads with the words 'Look like you give a damn,' and one where a white guy is holding a long-haired mask, none of them mention anything about civilization. The fact is, the ad itself is still racist even if it is part of a larger campaign. A person flipping through a magazine won't know the context. All they'll think of is a vicious stereotype of black people that still endures, and all they'll see is a black man trying to fit into a white world by shedding his former 'uncivilized' self."

Nivea quickly posted an apology on its Facebook wall:

"Thank you for caring enough to give us your feedback about the recent 'Re-civilized' NIVEA FOR MEN ad. This ad was inappropriate and offensive. It was never our intention to offend anyone, and for this we are deeply sorry. This ad will never be used again. Diversity and equal opportunity are crucial values of our company."

Discussion Starters:

  • Do you consider the ad racist? Why or why not? If not, can you see why people may have been offended?
  • How do you assess Nivea's response? Was apologizing the right thing to do, and is the company's FB wall post effective?

Posted by Amy Newman

Madonna + Smirnoff Social Media Campaign

08-18-2011 10:45 PM

Smirnoff has turned to Madonna for its next big promotion. For its Nightlife Exchange Project, Smirnoff and Madonna are looking for "the world's best dancer." In a video advertisement, people are encouraged to "Represent your country on the world's stage."

Smirnoff's Facebook page is a flurry of activity, but at least one fan is looking for clearer communication: 


 Discussion Starters:

  • How will Madonna and Smirnoff complement each other's brand? Consider the target market for each. What are the risks of this association to each brand? (Think Gilbert Gottfried for Aflac.)
  • Given your experience and what you know about social media, do you think this campaign will be successful? Why or why not?
  • What persuasive strategy (or strategies) is Smirnoff using by associating with Madonna?

Assignment Ideas:

  • Rewrite the video script to promote the campaign. Include clearer instructions for fans like Victor.
  • Explore Smirnoff's Facebook page for instructions about the dance contest. Identify three ways to make information more accessible to fans.

Posted by Amy Newman

AP Issues Situational Style Guide for 9/11 Anniversary

08-18-2011 4:55 PM

Style GuideAssociated Press is known for its style guide to help journalists decide between "smart phone" and "smartphone," but now the organization has created something new: a so-called "situational stylebook" in preparation for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The Sept. 11 Style and Reference Guide may ensure that journalists writing about the events conform to certain standards, for example, "twin towers" (lowercase) and al-Qaida (pronounced al-KY’-ee-duh).

In addition to promoting consistency in writing style, the guide will help journalists accurately report about 9/11-related events. The guide includes common sense advice such as this:

"Do not make up names, however. There is no Boston Airport, for example. The Boston airport (lowercase airport) would be acceptable if for some reason the proper name, Logan International Airport, were not used."

The guide's timeline of events is also helpful; after all, it has been a decade since the events, and memories fade.

Discussion Starters:

  • Looking at the AP Sept. 11 Style and Reference Guide, which advice do you think will be most important for people reporting about the 9/11 anniversary? 
  • Does any of the advice surprise you? Why?
  • For what other situations or events do you think a situational style guide might be useful?

Posted by Amy Newman

Secret's Anti-Bullying Messages Are a Hit

08-16-2011 7:11 PM

Procter & Gamble's Secret deodorant is encouraging an end to "girl-to-girl meanness" with its "Mean Stinks" campaign. The brand created a Facebook page that has accrued more than 230,000 "likes" and has partnered with Amber Riley (Mercedes on the TV show Glee) to create this video:

The anti-bullying campaign seems to resonate with people and correlates with increased sales for Secret.

Discussion Starters:

  • To what do you attribute the success of this campaign? In other words, why do you think this was successful?
  • Compare this campaign to Old Spice's social media blitz. What parallels do you see, and where do you think Secret fell short? (This Old Spice video garnered almost 35 million views.)

Posted by Amy Newman

Law Students Put Their Education to Work and Sue Their Schools

08-12-2011 11:08 PM

Law school graduates are seeking class-action status in a suit against their alma maters Thomas Cooley Law School and New York Law School. The plaintiffs claim that the schools defraud applicants by overstating job placement rates. Apparently, included in some schools' employment rates are people in part-time jobs, temporary jobs, jobs that don't require a J.D., and fellowships sponsored by the school. The plaintiffs are seeking tuition refunds and changes in how employment numbers are reported.

To defend its data, Cooley issued a report (download) claiming, "Study Shows Lawyers Have One of the Highest Employment Rates of All Professional Occupations." Cooley has also responded with a lawsuit of its own against the plaintiffs' attorneys claiming defamation because of ads such as this:

Cooley ad
Discussion Starters:

  • Read more about the debate over statistics here. How do you assess the law schools' communication to students? Based on this information, do the plaintiffs have a case?
  • Read the employment report issued by Cooley. What parts of the report do you find most and least convincing? 
  • After reading the Cooley report, are you more or less sympathetic to the plaintiffs? In other words, how effective is the report in making the school's argument about employment? 
  • Beyond the legal questions, and based on what you know from reading, do you believe these law schools are communicating ethically to applicants? Why or why not?

Posted by Amy Newman

Strike at Verizon: A Look at the Data

08-11-2011 10:07 AM

Verizon is asking for concessions from the Communications Workers of America (CWA), and so far, management isn't getting any. The company claims that poor performance in its landline division makes costs unsustainable, but the unionized employees don't agree. To change the cost structure, Verizon wants to implement a pension freeze, reduce the number of sick days, and raise employee contributions to health care insurance.

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam sent a letter (download) to all employees explaining the company's position.

In its statement, CWA says that Verizon's initial list of concessions hasn't budged since June 22, when union bargaining started. 45,000 employees are now on strike and cite the following "Verizon Financials" to support their case:

  • 2011 annualized revenues are $108 billion and annualized net profits are $6 billion.
  • Verizon Wireless just paid its parent company and Vodaphone a $10 billion dividend.
  • Verizon’s top five executives received compensation of $258 million over the past four years.

According to a New York Times article, management and the union disagree about benefits payouts to employees:

Union officials dispute the company’s estimate that each employee receives $50,000 worth of benefits each year. In that number, the company includes $14,700 for medical and dental insurance, $10,900 for retiree health care and life insurance, $10,800 for pension and $7,500 for time off.

Union officials say total benefits average $25,000 a year. Mr. Kohl, the union official, disputed the $10,800 yearly figure for pensions, noting that Verizon’s annual report said the company’s 2010 contributions to the union’s defined benefit plans “were not significant.” Verizon officials said the $10,800 was an average annual amount.

Mr. Kohl also said the $10,900 retiree health care figure was greatly exaggerated, asserting that many retirees had worked years to pay for that care so the cost should not be attributed to current employees.

Mr. Kohl also quarreled with Verizon saying the value of time off — vacation, sick days and personal days — was $7,500. He dismissed that as double-counting because that number was already counted in wages.

Discussion Starters:

  • Looking at the argument over employee benefits, whose version of the data do you accept?
  • How convincing do you find the union's list of "Verizon Financials"? Do these numbers influence your thinking about whether the union should make concessions?
  • The CWA refers to Verizon's annual report to defend its position that pensions should not be frozen. How do you interpret the note "were not significant" in the report? Is this a convincing argument?
  • In CEO Lowell's letter to employees, what is his strongest argument? What is his weakest?
  • What ethical issues do you see in this dispute? Do you side more with management or the employees in this case? Why?

Posted by Amy Newman

Will New Facebook App Replace Text Messaging?

08-10-2011 3:12 AM

Facebook's new smartphone app, Facebook Messenger, allows Facebook users to text each other.  The app continues Facebook's move to replace other communications: Facebook Message, introduced in November, aims to be an email substitute. As Mark Zuckerberg said, "E-mail is too formal. . .Think of the friction of trying to think of the e-mail address and think of a subject line, write 'Hey Mom,' at the top and 'Love, Mark' at the bottom." With its capability for group texting, Facebook Messenger is also an attack on Google+.

Communication convergence may be inevitable -- at least Facebook would like it that way. According to Zuckerberg, "We are trying to make it so that people don’t have to think about this stuff," Zuckerberg said. “We are trying to make sure a message doesn’t go to five different channels." Facebook would like users to have all messages in one place -- a worthy goal -- but is Facebook the center of it all?FB Messenger


 Discussion Starters:

  • What are the implications of Facebook Messenger for business? How do you see business people using the tool, if at all? What programs may be developed for business people in the future?
  • What is your experience with FB Messages and Messenger? In what ways do these apps save time or make messaging easier?
  • How do you assess Facebook's promise to help users avoid sending multiple messages through IM, text, and email? Do the apps help choose the best option for a message (IM, text, or email)? What are the downsides?

Posted by Amy Newman

Boeing 787 Dreamliner Ready for Service

08-09-2011 3:33 PM

Boeing's long-awaited 787 Dreamliner is ready for delivery to its first client, All Nippon Airways. At $20 million per plane, the Dreamliner uses 20% less fuel than its competitors, has cleaner cabin air, and debuts new lighting and design elements, such as button-controlled window lighting and touch-screen monitors for entertainment.

As expected, Boeing's press release fails to mention the years of delays. According to a Bloomberg report, the Dreamliner's delivery date had been pushed back seven times. A delay in January was caused by an electrical fire:

The setback follows a Nov. 9 electrical fire on one of the test jets that knocked out some controls and forced an emergency landing. Boeing suspended all Dreamliner flights for six weeks while it investigated the incident and redesigned parts of the plane. The first revised 787 was allowed to start flying again Dec. 23 for the company’s purposes only.


Discussion Starters:

  • Knowing the history of the Dreamliner, do you believe that Boeing's press release is appropriate? Why or why not?
  • If you read believe the lines of the press release, do you detect any apprehension?
  • What are the risks to Boeing if the Dreamliner is delayed again? How could the company handle the situation; for example, what rationale could the management team give to explain further delays?

Posted by Amy Newman

Good Job News for IT Professionals

08-06-2011 7:32 AM

Despite the depressing economic news, tech hiring is booming. How does a $50,000 sign-on bonus sound? Trips, parties, and perks are in full force to lure potential candidates to technology companies such as Yammer and Dreamforce.

For tech professionals, the unemployment rate is merely 3.3%, considered full employment by some. Jobs in high demand include "cloud computing engineers, security experts, and mobile developers as well as sales professionals in the technology industry" according to a BusinessWeek article. Some cities are seeing tremendous growth in tech jobs; tech hiring in Detroit, for example, has grown 66% as automakers use more sophisticated technology in cars and require specialized skills.

Tech jobs

 Discussion Starters:

  • How can technology job seekers distinguish themselves in this competitive market?
  • How can you explain the boom in tech jobs when the rest of the economy isn't faring so well?
  • Which perks do you consider most effective in attracting candidates to jobs? Which, if any, would be most likely to convince you to take a job?

Posted by Amy Newman

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