October 2011 - Business Communication



Business Communication


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Business Communication with Cengage Learning


What Does 7 Billion Look Like?

10-31-2011 2:23 AM

It's hard to imagine such a large number (unless you're Warren Buffett), but the world population will soon be 7 billion strong. What are some ways that we can visualize this number? This CNN video tries to help us, just as Zephyr Teachout helped us make sense of the $700 billion doled out in government funding during the financial crisis in 2008.


Discussion Starters:

  • Which of the comparisons in the CNN video help you to visualize 7 billion most easily?
  • What are other ways that you can help people visualize 7 billion? Imagine that you're translating this number for 5th graders, college students, and senior citizens. What comparisons might work best for each group?


Posted by Amy Newman

Herman Cain's "Smoking" Video Goes Viral

10-28-2011 5:44 PM

Campaign manager Mark Block is a one-man show in a promotional video for Republican candidate Herman Cain. Speaking to a severely close camera, Block encourages Americans to take action:

Tomorrow is one day closer to the White House. I really believe that Herman Cain will put united back in the United States of America, and if I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be here. We've run a campaign like nobody's ever seen. But then, Americans never seen a candidate like Herman Cain. We need you to get involved because, together, we can do this. We can take this country back.

Then, Cain takes a drag of a cigarette. Cue the patriotic music, show the award-winning Herman Cain smile, and you have yourself a viral video.

Asked about the video, Cain said, "We weren't trying to send any subliminal message whatsoever. Many of us found it hilarious because we know Mark Block."

The video has received a lot of attention. On the Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert pokes fun of the ad by lighting up a cigarette and showing his own version of Cain videos.

Discussion Starters:

  • What is Mark Block's strategy with this video? Do you believe he was successful?
  • What ethical issues do you see in connection with this ad?
  • What are the potential ramifications for Herman Cain and his candidacy?

Posted by Amy Newman

Meet Ginni Rometty, IBM's New CEO

10-26-2011 8:24 PM

Virginia Rometty is elected IBM's new president and CEO. As IBM's first female CEO, Rometty joins the list of a small but growing number of women leaders of Fortune 500 companies, including Xerox's Ursula Burns and Hewlett-Packard's Meg Whitman.

At the FORTUNE Most Powerful Women Summit earlier this month, Rometty spoke of the importance of taking risks in one's career. In these excerpts from the summit, we see a bit of her personality and what drives her.

Discussion Starters:

  • What is Rometty's delivery style for this presentation (impromptu, extemporaneous, scripted, or memorized)? Is this style effective for the situation?
  • What effective delivery techniques does Rometty demonstrate in these short excerpts?
  • What parts of her presentation do you consider most memorable?

Posted by Amy Newman

Do Real Men Drink (Diet) Dr Pepper?

10-25-2011 8:02 PM

Dr Pepper 10In a popular ad campaign, Dr Pepper appeals to men: "It's not for women." You may have seen the commercial, which shows "what guys want": shooting, jeeps, and yelling.

Some call the ad "tasteless -- more mocking than macho." The campaign does explicitly exclude women. If you're a woman and try to use the company's Facebook app, you'll get this message:

"Sorry, ladies. Dr Pepper 10 isn't for women. But we may have something more your speed at drpepper.com."

Dr Pepper 10's Facebook page is a flurry of activity with over 10 million "likes." One fan isn't fooled at all:

Dr Pepper 10 FB

Discussion Starters:

  • Do you consider the ad sexist, as some believe it is? Why or why not?
  • Does the campaign encourage you to try Dr Pepper 10 or avoid it? Or, are you indifferent either way?


Posted by Amy Newman

Goldman Sachs Reneges on Dinner and Donation

10-23-2011 5:08 PM

Goldman signGoldman Sachs had intended to attend a fund-raising dinner for the Lower East Side People's Federal Credit Union, a small organization that lends to the poor. But when the invitations went out, they listed "Occupy Wall Street" as one of the honorees. Goldman, identified as an event sponsor, pulled its $5,000 funding pledge and declined the invitation. (The company continues to fund the Credit Union's financial education program.)

According to event organizers, Goldman didn't want to be associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, whose members carry signs such as, "Goldman Sachs is the work of the devil." The company has been a target of some of the demonstrations, such as this one in Boston.

"Their money was welcome, but not at the price of giving up what we believe in," said a Credit Union representative. "We lost their $5,000, but we have our principles."

Apparently, the discussion about the decision was interesting. According to one source affiliated with the event, "It was one of those email exchanges that you talk about the next day at the office." I hope the emails make the Internet rounds soon!

Discussion Starters:

  • What do the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators stand for, and how does this affect companies such as Goldman Sachs?
  • Do you agree with Goldman's decision about the dinner? Why or why not?
  • What are the potential consequences of the company's decision?

Posted by Amy Newman

Employee Quits Marriott Accompanied by a Marching Band

10-22-2011 4:34 AM

Some employees like to go out in style -- and embarrass their employees while doing it. Fed up with his job at a Marriott Hotel, Joey DeFrancesco brought a marching band with him to tell his boss that he quit. Why waste time writing a boring resignation letter to just one manager when a "Joey Quits" video can be viewed by over 2 million people within 10 days? 

According to Joey, "The working conditions in the hotel are horrendous." He had more to say to CBS News. Apparently, some of the YouTube comments were getting annoying, so he added this note, "I have another, better job already. So stop talking about that and worry about your own jobs."

A Marriott spokesperson confirmed that Joey had worked at the Marriott Renaissance in Rhode Island for three years and made this statement: 

"You know that we take employee satisfaction very seriously as a company - creating a sense of community and pride within our hotels is a top priority. The Renaissance Providence actually has a number of employee programs in place that encourage health, wellness and employee satisfaction. While this is an unfortunate way for an employee to resign, we are confident that hotel management works closely with staff to continue to find ways to make the hotel a rewarding place to work for everyone."

Discussion Starters:

  • After watching the video and reading the background information, do you sympathize more with Joey or with the hotel? Why?
  • How credible do you find Joey? How do you assess his credibility?
  • Evaluate the Marriott spokesperson's response. What is effective and ineffective?

Posted by Amy Newman

Barnes and Noble Goes After Borders Customers

10-17-2011 8:57 PM

Barnes and Noble 4Now that Borders has closed its doors, Barnes and Noble has purchased some assets -- including Borders' customer list. With an email, Barnes and Noble is luring Borders' former customers to its stores. The subject line was an odd choice: "Important Information Regarding Your Borders Account." (The last time I saw a similar subject, I received 18 emails about a security breach.)

Another curious choice in the CEO's email was the vacillating tone -- at times bold ("Our intent in buying the Borders customer list is simply to try and earn your business") and at times legalistic:

"As part of Borders [sic] ceasing operations, we acquired some of its assets including Borders brand trademarks and their customer list. The subject matter of your DVD and other video purchases will be part of the transferred information. The federal bankruptcy court approved this sale on September 26, 2011."

Barnes and Noble makes an additional pitch on its website: "Four Convincing Reasons to Stay in the Barnes & Noble Family."

Discussion Starters:

  • How do you assess the Barnes and Noble email? What are the most and least persuasive arguments?
  • What examples of credibility, logical arguments, and emotional appeals do you see in this message?
  • Where are the direct sales messages in this email? Do you consider these subtle or too much?

Assignment Idea:

  •  Rewrite Lynch's email in your own words. What improvements can you make to the message?

Posted by Amy Newman

Bank of America Tries to Repair Its Image

10-15-2011 6:11 PM

As the target of some "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrations, Bank of America is fighting back. The company's image has suffered in part because of many foreclosed homes (and "robo-signers"), a recent announcement of $5 monthly fees for debit cards, 30,000 layoffs, and a poorly timed website outage. Now Bank of America is running ads in major cities to focus on its good work: charitable donations, small business loans, and loan modifications to help homeowners prevent foreclosure.

Bank spokesperson T.J. Crawford explains, "The campaign aims to deliver the facts about Bank of America's local impact. Sharing the significant work we do at the local level and critical role we play is more important than ever." An ad that ran in Charlotte, NC, the bank's headquarters, had the tagline, "We're working to help keep the North Carolina economy moving forward."

In July 2011, Bank of America published its first Corporate Responsibility Report. On its website, the bank reaffirms its "commitment to shareholders, customers, and clients." In a video on the site, the company gives several examples of how it has served local communities.

  Bank of America CSR Video

(View video transcript.)

Discussion Starters and Assignment Ideas:

  • The "Executive Summary" of Bank of America's Corporate Social Responsibility report is 16 pages (download). How does this differ from a typical executive summary? Why do you believe Bank of America took this approach?
  • Convert the executive summary to a more typical one-page executive summary. What is most important to include, and how can you present this information? For variety, write two versions: one as paragraph text and another in presentation software format (e.g., PowerPoint).
  • How do you assess Bank of America's messages? Do you buy its image as a socially responsible company? Which messages in the CSR video do you find most and least convincing?

Posted by Amy Newman

RIM CEO Apologizes for BlackBerry Outages

10-14-2011 6:37 PM

After four days of outages affecting millions of BlackBerry users, Research in Motion (RIM) CEO apologized and tried to explain the situation. In a video "Service Update" message, Mike Lazaridis said little about the technical problems, which elsewhere were described as a hardware failure (a core switch) within its network.

Although the video lacked detail and made no promises about when the service issue would be "fully resolved," Lazaridis delivered an emotional appeal:

"I apologize for the service outages this week. We've let many of you down. But let me assure you that we're working around the clock to fix this. You expect better from us, and I expect better from us."

Lazaridis also acknowledged, "We know that you want to hear more from us."

No surprise, public reaction was vehement. After all, people have been resorting to using the telephone and (horror!) the fax machine. Some of the more than 10,000 Facebook comments compliment BlackBerry's previous service, others bash the iPhone, but many vent their frustration:

BlackBerry frustration

In April, Lazaridis was in the news for his emotional reaction during a BBC interview. In July, the company announced layoffs. Clearly, the outages are another challenge for RIM.

Discussion Starters:

  • In Lazaridis' video, what examples of persuasive strategies do you see? Which do you find most and least effective?
  • Lazaridis didn't give a lot of detail in the video. Do you think this is an appropriate strategy? Why or why not? If not, what could he have done differently?
  • How do you evaluate Lazaridis' delivery skills in the video? What does he do effectively, and where does he fall short?

Posted by Amy Newman

Few Companies Respond to Tweet Complaints, but They Get High Marks When They Do

10-13-2011 3:10 PM

In a recent study of 1,300 consumers who tweeted a complaint about a product, service, or brand, only 29% heard back from the company. As Marist Research reports, although 49% of tweeters expected the company to read their message, less than one-third received a response.

Older tweeters were more optimistic that companies would read their tweet: 65% of those over 55 compared to 38% of 18-24 year-olds.

When companies did respond, they got high marks from consumers. When asked, "How did you feel when the company contacted you as a result of your tweet?" 83% said, "I loved it" or "I liked it," and 74% were "very satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied" with the response. This is good news for companies that do take the time to respond to complaining tweeters.  

  Twitter Complaints

See the full PowerPoint summary here.

Discussion Starters:

  • Why would a company NOT respond to a tweet complaining about its products or services? What are the downsides?
  • Why would a consumer tweet a complaint rather than use other channels (e.g., a letter, an email, an online comment form, or Facebook)? From the consumer's perspective, what are the advantages and disadvantages of each channel?
  • Have you tweeted about a brand or product? What, if any, response did you get, and were you satisfied with the response?

Posted by Amy Newman

Netflix Confuses Customers Again

10-10-2011 10:36 PM

In an about-face, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings undid the company split announced last month. In a brief blog post, Hastings wrote, 

"It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs.

"This means no change: one website, one account, one password… in other words, no Qwikster."

Investors' concerns about the price hike and increasing costs of content caused the stock to fall, according to Reuters.

Discussion Starters:

  • What could Hastings have done differently to avoid this situation?
  • For future moves, how can Netflix include customer input to make better decisions?
  • How can Netflix recapture lost customers at this point? Do you believe the executive team can do anything to restore the company's image?

Posted by Amy Newman

New Study: Social Media Posts Can Make or Break a Hiring Decision

10-08-2011 8:15 AM

Infographic - social media and hiring Previous studies have shown that people involved in the hiring process search online for candidates. A new study by Reppler confirms that 91% search Facebook, Twitter, and/or LinkedIn before making a hiring decision.

This study gives us good and bad news about the results of these searches. Although 69% of hiring managers or HR representatives have rejected a candidate because of what they saw posted, 68% have hired a candidate for the same reason.

The study reminds us that smart candidates post positive information about themselves online. Click on the infographic at right for more detail about the survey responses.

Assignment Ideas: 

  • Google yourself and see what you reveal. Are you well represented on the web? Do you want to change anything to improve your online reputation?
  • Create a LinkedIn page if you don't already have one. To bolster your online reputation via LinkedIn, add connections, provide more detail in your profile, and join professional groups.

Posted by Amy Newman

Two More UBS Executives Resign

10-05-2011 9:15 PM

Not surprisingly, the two co-global heads of UBS's Equities division have resigned. These resignations follow a trading scandal that cost the Swiss bank $2.3 billion and the CEO's resignation on September 25.

An email to employees from interim CEO Sergio Ermotti uses a sharper tone than emails from the previous CEO:

"We have to be straight with ourselves. In no circumstances should something like this ever occur. The fact that it did is evidence of a failure to exercise appropriate controls. Our internal investigation indicates that risk and operational systems did detect unauthorized or unexplained activity but this was not sufficiently investigated nor was appropriate action taken to ensure existing controls were enforced."

Discussion Starters:

  • Ermotti's email uses an indirect organizational plan. Do you think this is appropriate in this case? Why or why not?
  • Compare Ermotti's email to that of Carsten Kengeter, the head of the UBS investment bank. What differences do you notice, and how would you explain them?  Download UBS emails.


Posted by Amy Newman

Steve Jobs and Business Communication

10-05-2011 8:40 PM

Former co-founder and CEO of Apple and technology pioneer Steve Jobs died at the age of 56. The LA Times reports that "Jobs spoke of his desire to make 'a dent in the universe.'" Well he certainly did. 

For business communicators, Jobs taught us to give "Zen Presentations" and gave us entertaining examples of short emails -- a window into the world of a CEO engaged with his customers.

Apple has created a website, Remembering Steve Jobs, in his memory, and the company is asking people to share “thoughts, memories, and condolences” at rememberingsteve@apple.com.

The Chicago Tribune has catalogued a few videos of Jobs, including this one, dating back to 1984, when Jobs introduced an early Macintosh computer:

Posted by Amy Newman

More Emails Embarrass Their Writers

10-04-2011 8:20 AM

Emails in the newsIn case you need more proof that your emails may become public, two successive front page New York Times articles on Monday highlight damaging emails. The first article uncovers emails about Solyndra, the solar-panel manufacturer that received government funding and has since declared bankruptcy. In one email, Lawrence Summers, President Obama's former chief economic adviser, wrote, "While that is good for us, I can’t imagine it’s a good way for the government to use taxpayer money." In another email, he wrote, "I relate well to your view that gov is a crappy vc [venture capitalist]." Depending on your perspective, these emails prove that either the administration should have known better than to make the Solyndra deal or there was serious, rational internal debate about the prospect before the deal was done. 

The second New York Times story revealed emails about the pipeline currently debated. According to the artile, "...e-mails released Monday paint a picture of a sometimes warm and collaborative relationship between lobbyists for the company building the billion-dollar pipeline and officials in the State Department, the agency that has final say over the pipeline." The emails have environmental groups questioning the objectivity of those making the final decision.

In both of these situations, it is doubtful that the writers intended for their emails to become public.

Discussion Starters:

  • How could these emails have been better protected? Is it possible to keep email from being retrieved later by simply deleting it?
  • What lesson do you learn from these articles? How can you protect your own communications in the future?

Posted by Amy Newman