February 2012 - Business Communication

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Claire's Response to Jewelry Plagiarism Charges

02-29-2012 12:58 PM

CLAIRES-TATTY-DEVINETatty Devine's website shows several suspiciously close comparisons between its jewelry designs and those of Claire's, a 3000-store retailer of jewelry and accessories. Tatty Devine's jewelry is high-end; the "dinosaur" necklace shown on the left side is handmade from bones and costs £132, while Claire's version is rubber and costs £4.

While the lawsuit is under way, social media activity rages on, and Claire's isn't handling it too well. The company has been criticized for deleted and ignoring Facebook comments, such as those below:

Claire's

Claire's also took two days before responding to the plagiarism charge, which had already received support on Tatty Devine's blog. Finally, Claire's posted this statement on its Facebook page:

"Claire's Stores, Inc. is a responsible company that employs designers, product developers and buyers, and works with many suppliers to provide innovative collections that bring customers all the latest fashion trends. As such, we take any allegations of wrong doing seriously. We are looking into the matters raised."

One blogger described the statement this way: "The response is a stiff corporate apology that appears to dismiss the concerns expressed by their consumers."

PR expert Scott Douglas suggests this as a better approach:

"The pictures show remarkable similarities, and clearly that's upset a lot of people. We understand those reactions. That's why we are determined to get to the bottom of what happened and launched an immediate investigation. We promise to keep you updated."

I wonder how Claire's lawyers would like that response.

Discussion Starters:

  • Compare Claire's response and proposed response. What are the benefits—and the risks—of each?
  • What principles should Claire's follow when addressing social media comments?

Posted by Amy Newman

Ben & Jerry's Lin-Sanity Gaffe

02-28-2012 4:05 PM

Ben & Jerry's is the latest company to join Lin-Sanity and face criticism. The company created a new frozen yogurt flavor to celebrate basketball star Jeremy Lin, "Taste The Lin-Sanity," featuring lychee honey and fortune cookie pieces. The ice cream is being sold in Harvard Square, but Ben & Jerry's has since removed the cookies from the mix. Ben&Jerry's

Ryan Midden, the general manager of Ben & Jerry's in the Boston area, told Boston.com,

"There seemed to be a bit of an initial backlash about it, but we obviously weren't looking to offend anybody, and the majority of the feedback about it has been positive."

Midden also said that the fortune cookies were removed primarily because they got soggy.

Ben & Jerry's offered this official apology:

“We are proud and honored to have Jeremy Lin hail from one of our fine, local universities, and we are huge sports fans. We were swept up in the nationwide Linsanity momentum. Our intention was to create a flavor to honor Jeremy Lin’s accomplishments and his meteoric rise in the NBA, and recognize that he was a local Harvard graduate. We try to demonstrate our commitment as a Boston-based, valued-led business and  if we failed in this instance, we offer our sincere apologies.”

As in its recent complaint against ESPN, The Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) offered advice. This time, the AAJA sent a "Media Advisory on Jeremy Lin News Coverage." The advisory warns against "factual inaccuracies about Lin’s background as well as an alarming number of references that rely on stereotypes about Asians or Asian Americans" and cautions news organizations to "Stop to think: Would a similar statement be made about an athlete who is Caucasian, African American, Latino or Native American?" The statement also provides useful information about stereotypes to avoid.

Deadspin further explained:

"Also, 'Taste The Lin-Sanity' features lychee, which is a fruit native to Southeast Asia, which is not the part of Asia that Jeremy Lin comes from. (The part of Asia that Jeremy Lin comes from is Northern California.)"

Discussion Starters:

  • How do you assess Ben & Jerry's initial attempt at "Lin-Sanity" and the apology? What's your view of the situation?
  • How does this situation compare to the recent ESPN comments related to Jeremy Lin?
  • Read the AAJA's advice to the media. Which suggestions do you find useful, and which, if any, should be obvious? 

Posted by Amy Newman

Microsoft Attacks Google Docs

02-27-2012 5:00 PM

Microsoft has created a campaign attacking Google Docs. In a video that has reached over 800,000 viewers, Microsoft mocks the "Googlighting Stranger"—set to the theme of the old TV show, "Moonlighting." The premise is, "What happens when the world's largest advertising business tries to sell productivity software on the side?"

Previously the brunt of jokes, such as Apple's highly successful "I'm a Mac; I'm a PC" campaign, Microsoft is now on the offensive. The video criticizes Google Docs for having fewer features and shifting capabilities, implying that programs can change and leave businesses in the lurch.

In a blog post, Microsoft's Tom Rizzo elaborates on the company's qualifications compared to Google's:

  • Expertise
  • Trust
  • Flexibility
  • Privacy
  • Enabling Quality Work

Discussion Starters:

  • How do you assess the video? Would it convince business people to stick with Microsoft products rather than switch to Google Docs?
  • In Microsoft's blog post, what do you consider to be most and least convincing arguments?

Posted by Amy Newman

Foxconn (and Apple) on the Defensive

02-27-2012 11:39 AM

In response to criticism about pay and working conditions, Apple product manufacturer Foxconn announced plans to raise wages. However, the numbers and the amount of overtime worked have been questioned.

ABC News visited the Shenzhen, China, factory and showed a grim side of the work: teenagers working long hours doing repetitive tasks and living in cramped dormitories. Foxconn workers make iPhones, iPads and other prized products.

Apple has a few dedicated pages on its website to demonstrate its commitment to "Supplier Responsibility." Instructors and students of business communication might find the company's reports interesting in light of the Foxconn criticism.

Foxconn recently hired PR firm Burson-Marstellar to help control the bad press.

Assignment Ideas:

  • Create a PowerPoint presentation to explain the discrepancy in wages, as discussed in the New York Times blog. The calculations are a bit confusing, so try to clarify them with good visuals and talking headings.
  • Read Apple's Supplier Responsibility 2012 Progress Report. Analyze how the report is organized. What are the strengths of the report? What is missing?

Posted by Amy Newman

Sugarland Flubs Response to Victims

02-23-2012 8:21 PM

SugarlandCountry music group Sugarland is facing lawsuits following a stage collapse at a concert last summer. At the Indiana State Fair, seven people were killed and 45 were injured. 

In the lawsuits, victims and their families criticize the band and the fair for not postponing the show because of bad weather conditions and not evacuating more quickly. Attorneys for Sugarland responded harshly to the allegations: "Some or all of the plaintiffs' claimed injuries resulted from their own fault." Critics call the legal approach "cowardly." Read the entire legal statement

The statement is a dramatic contrast to what Jennifer Nettles, lead singer, said two days after the incident:

"...moved by the grief of those families who lost loved ones. Moved by the pain of those who were injured and the fear of their families. Moved by the great heroism as I watched so many brave Indianapolis fans actually run toward the stage to try and help lift and rescue those injured. Moved by the quickness and organization of the emergency workers who set up the triage and tended to the injured."

In response to criticism of the legal statement, Gail Gellman, Sugarland's manager, posted this on the group's website:

"Sadly when a tragedy occurs, people want to point fingers and try to sensationalize the disaster. The single most important thing to Sugarland, are their fans. Their support and love over the past 9 years has been unmatched. For anyone to think otherwise is completely devastating to them."

Also on the website are comments from many supportive fans, who compliment Sugarland and their music.

Although Sugarland had been tweeting almost daily, their last tweet was on February 15—now a week ago. Fans might like to hear directly from the duo.

Discussion Starters:

  • What is the attorney's perspective in this situation? Do you agree with this position?
  • What should the Sugarland duo do at this point? What, if anything, should they tweet or write on their website? What are the potential consequences, and is it worth it?

Posted by Amy Newman

Facebook Profiles Predict Job Performance?

02-21-2012 4:23 PM

According to one study, a person's Facebook page can predict job performance more accurately than some personality tests. For the study, conducted by Northern Illinois University, the University of Evansville, and Auburn University, one faculty member and two students looked at Facebook profiles of 56 undergraduate students.

The Wall Street Journal summarizes the results:

"After spending roughly 10 minutes perusing each profile, including photos, wall posts, comments, education and hobbies, the raters answered a series of personality-related questions, such as 'Is this person dependable?' and 'How emotionally stable is this person?'

"Six months later, the researchers matched the ratings against employee evaluations from each of the students' supervisors. They found a strong correlation between job performance and the Facebook scores for traits such as conscientiousness, agreeability and intellectual curiosity.

"Raters generally gave favorable evaluations to students who traveled, had more friends and showed a wide range of hobbies and interests. Partying photos didn't necessarily count against a student; on the contrary, raters perceived the student as extroverted and friendly, says Don Kluemper, the lead researcher and a professor of management at Northern Illinois University."

Although employers may be intrigued about using Facebook as a screening tool, lawyers caution against making decisions that could be perceived as discriminatory. This is particularly an issue because employers can easily determine sex, race, religious beliefs, age, and other factors on a Facebook profile.

This is a small study, but the findings are interesting and may lay the groundwork for more research.

Discussion Starters:

  • Do you agree with the study findings? Why or why not?
  • How do you think a prospective employer would view your Facebook profile?
  • In addition to potential discrimination claims, what are other reasons that employers may want to avoid looking at applicants' Facebook profiles?

Posted by Amy Newman

"Strictly Confidential" Memo About Greece's Debt Is Leaked

02-21-2012 1:00 PM

As a new restructuring plan and bailout package for Greece are announced today, a memo about the plans marked "Strictly Confidential" was leaked. 

 (View the memo on Scribd.)

Based on the memo, Slate describes the situation as follows:

"Greece can't pay its bills. But even if Greece was relieved from the obligation to service its outstanding stock of debt, it still couldn't pay its remaining expenses. It can't devalue to try to boost its tourist sector. Instead, the rest of the Eurozone is heading into recession which hurts Greece's main shot at export earnings. Draconian as the austerity that Germany, the Netherlands, and Finland are insisting on as a condition of their charity accepting the charity is the only way to avoid an even more draconian round of austerity. This austerity will, however, only further crush the Greek economy and make it less likely that debts will be paid."

For instructors and students of communication, the memo is interesting to analyze in terms of business writing principles: audience analysis, content, visuals, organization, writing style, and editing.

Discussion Starters:

  • Audience analysis: Who is the original, intended audience? How did the leak affect how the memo was interpreted?
  • Content: Are the main points clear? What evidence is provided to support the major arguments?
  • Visuals: How are charts used to support the main points? Are they clear and easy to understand?
  • Organization: How is the memo organized, and is this effective? How is skim-value achieved?
  • Writing Style: How do you assess the writing style? Is it clear and concise? How could it be improved?
  • Editing: How are the attention to detail and writing mechanics?

Posted by Amy Newman

ESPN Apologizes for "*** in the Armor" Caption and Comment

02-19-2012 10:59 AM

NOTE: This blogging software is replacing the ethnic slur with "***."  Please see BizCom in the News for the full story.

For 35 minutes, ESPN's mobile website showed the caption "*** in the Armor" under a photo of basketball superstar Jeremy Lin. An ESPN commentator also used the phrase related to Jeremy Lin, shown in the video below the website.  

  ESPN Lin

The Asian Americans Journalist Association (AAJA) wrote a letter including the following excerpt: 

"We at the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) find it hard to fathom how such an offensive headline appeared on your publishing platforms. The phrase was even spoken on-air.

"We are glad ESPN has recognized its mistake, and we appreciate the quick apology for the transgression. 

"Many people, not just in Asian American communities, are shocked that a news company with a long tradition of excellence would use a racial epithet. It's particularly galling because of the weeks of discussion about Lin, his heritage and even the wave of outright racism surrounding his stardom.

"We are particularly concerned that an organization as large as yours did not have the proper checks in place to prevent the mistake. It is hard to fathom how editors on so many of your platforms failed to uphold your normally high standards.

"Of course, it disappoints us to see one of our most valued and committed partners in diversity stumble. As you well know, this incident does not live up to the Leadership in Diversity Award that AAJA bestowed on ESPN in 2010. But we trust that you will transform this incident into a teachable moment."

In a statement, ESPN said, 

“We are conducting a complete review of our cross-platform editorial procedures and are determining appropriate disciplinary action to ensure this does not happen again. We regret and apologize for this mistake.”

In a tweet, Rob King, ESPN’s senior vice president for editorial, print and digital media, posted,

“There’s no defense for the indefensible. All we can offer are our apologies, sincere though incalculably inadequate.”

Let's hope we get more of an explanation from ESPN. How does this ethnic slur get through an editorial process?

Discussion Starters:

  • How do you think the phrase was intended? Was it an innocent mistake, planned as a joke, or something else?
  • How do you think this happened? ESPN has writers and people who read the written comments. How could this slip by?
  • What is your assessment of ESPN's apology so far?
  • Read the Asian Americans Journalist Association's entire letter. What are the strongest and weakest arguments?

Posted by Amy Newman

Memes and More Memes

02-18-2012 9:35 AM

Memes are pure fun—and good examples of visual communication. These depictions of culture are making the Internet rounds and may have some uses in business.

"What I Really Do" shows different perspectives of jobs, such as a bank clerk.

Bank Clerk Meme

Mashable has gathered 20 of the best college memes, and Northwestern University has its own Facebook page of memes, which are probably funnier if you go to the school.

Discussion Starters:

  • How could businesses use memes? Brainstorm ideas for recruitment, marketing, and team building.
  • One Northwestern student wrote an article using memes. What do you think of this approach?

Posted by Amy Newman

Emails Goes Mobile

02-18-2012 9:34 AM

New research shows dramatic changes in where people access email. Between December 2010 and December 2011, according to BI Intelligence, web-based email dropped more than 30% for people between 12 and 24 years old. Email is moving to mobile devices—phones and tablets.

Web-based-e-mail-decline

As you can see from the chart, results are mixed for older generations. This is one reason that I wouldn't get too excited about the so-called "death of email." Email is still highly pervasive in business, where we see people between 45 and 54 years old and about a 15% increase in web-based email. Also, people are still using email; they're just accessing it differently. Another study, by Radicati, indicates that 85% of business people access email on a mobile device. Whether people use both a browser and a phone is unclear from these numbers. 

Yet the numbers likely predict a future increase in mobile email—no surprise to any of us, really.

This move has significant implications for how we write and respond to email messages. The lines between email and texting may continue to fade, and maybe we'll finally delete mobile-device tags, such as "Sent from my iPhone."

Discussion Starters:

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of using email on a browser and a mobile device?
  • What are your thoughts about the tag "Sent from my [mobile device]"? Does it explain short messages or excuse lack of attention to detail?

Posted by Amy Newman

What Olympus Is Saying Poorly

02-17-2012 8:30 AM

Former Olympus executives and their investment advisers were arrested in a financial scandal said to involve a 13-year cover-up. Let's look at some of the company's recent communications.

On February 12, Olympus posted a presentation of their financial results ending March 12. The executive summary listed two "highlights":

  • "Business operations were solid in October-December, led by the Medical Business."
  • "Full year net-sales and operating income are expected to absorb the impact of strong yen, earthquake, and Thai flooding, and recover to the previous FY level."

Sounds like all good news to me! In fairness, Olympus has posted "corrections" for their financial statements.

In one extremely long sentence in a February 13 press release, Olympus explains these corrections (I think):

  Olympus Notice Concerning Forecasts

Back on February 1, the Management Reform Committee posted this nearly incomprehensible notice:

"The Management Reform Committee received a number of opinions from Olympus' shareholders, business partners, customers, financial institutions, employees and other stakeholders from January 10 through January 31, 2012. Such opinions shall be referenced in the process of the guidance and recommendations which the Committee will provide to the board of directors of the Company. We appreciate the initiative and cooperation."

That's an extraordinary number of prepositions in a short statement that says...what?

Assignment Ideas:

  • Rewrite the two statements using clear, simple language.
  • Identify all of the prepositions in the February 1 Management Reform Committee statement. How many do you find?

Posted by Amy Newman

Social Media Centerstage: Pinterest

02-15-2012 7:08 PM

Pinterest, the virtual pinboard, has seen phenomenal growth in its short life. With a December 2009 launch date, the social photo-sharing site has reached 10 million unique views a month, more quickly than any other social media site.

This infographic shows the Pinterest's tremendous growth. With only 16 employees, the site attracts two million Facebook users every day, and 97% of the site's users are women.

The start-up does have a few challenges. Copyright complaints are rolling in, with photographers claiming that their images are used without their permission. Pinterest does have a process for reporting infringements, but when called a few days ago, the voice mailbox was full.

On its Pin Etiquette page, Pinterest warns users to "Avoid Self Promotion":

"Pinterest is designed to curate and share things you love. If there is a photo or project you’re proud of, pin away! However, try not to use Pinterest purely as a tool for self-promotion."

This statement may restrict how companies can reasonably use the site for sales, but Pinterest still offers a big boon to retailers, who benefit from peer-to-peer promotion of their products. Mashable's compilation of 15 of the Most Popular Pictures on Pinterest shows a variety of images: hands, scenes, food, metallic nails, and more. Pinterest also offers views based on specific interests, such as planning a wedding or decorating a house. Clearly, the categories lend themselves to consumer purchases.

Pinterest

To sign up, users "Request an Invite" and receive this email:

"Hi!

"Thanks for joining the Pinterest waiting list. We'll be sure to send you an invite soon.

"In the meantime, you can follow us on Twitter. You can also explore a few pins.

"We're excited to get you pinning soon!

" - Ben and the Pinterest Team

According to Squidoo, all users likely get this email a couple of days later:

"You're in!

"I'm excited to invite you to join Pinterest, a social catalog. I can't wait to have you join our little community."

Discussion Starters:

  • Do you think Pinterest could be "the next Facebook," as some suggest? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think Pinterest attracts so many more women than men? 
  • How do you assess Pinterest's strategy for people to "request an invitation"? Is it effective?

Posted by Amy Newman

Oprah Apologizes for Nielsen Tweet

02-15-2012 2:03 PM

When Oprah tweeted this message to her 9 million followers, she didn't expect such strong criticism; she just wanted to promote her network.

Oprah Tweet
However, as it turns out, the ratings agency considered the tweet a "potentially serious violation of its policy." Nielsen strives for objectivity in measuring what shows people watch. Trying to coerce viewers is not acceptable.

Reactions on Twitter varied: some were supportive, while others called Oprah's tweet "unethical" and "desperate." Because Nielsen was misspelled in her tweet, people questioned whether she was the writer, but her executive producer confirmed that she was.

In another tweet, Oprah apologized: 

Oprah Tweet response
She also told The New York Times, “I removed the tweet at the request of Nielsen. I intended no harm and apologize for the reference.”

Discussion Starters:

  • Do you consider Oprah's tweet to be an innocent mistake, a savvy marketing move, unethical, or something else?
  • The OWN network has shown disappointing viewership, but what are better ways for Oprah to promote her network via social media?

Posted by Amy Newman

Boastful NYU Cover Letter Makes the Rounds

02-10-2012 10:00 PM

An NYU student's cover letter to JPMorgan has gotten more than a few laughs. Mark is an accomplished young man, but his approach to getting a summer job didn't win any offers—yet.

Bench pressing double his body weight, among other skills, are viewed as over-the-top by the many, many people who have read Mark's cover letter. Business Insider traced the email forwards through Barclay's, PWC, Citi, and other companies.

1/23/2012

J.P. Morgan

Dear Sir or Madame:

I am an ambitious undergraduate at NYU triple majoring in Mathematics, Economics, and Computer Science. I am a punctual, personable, and shrewd individual, yet I have a quality which I pride myself on more than any of these.

I am unequivocally the most unflaggingly hard worker I know, and I love self-improvement. I have always felt that my time should be spent wisely, so I continuously challenge myself; I left Villanova because the work was too easy. Once I realized I could achieve a perfect GPA while holding a part-time job at NYU, I decided to redouble my effort by placing out of two classes, taking two honors classes, and holding two part-time jobs. That semester I achieved a 3.93, and in the same time I managed to bench double my bodyweight and do 35 pull-ups.

I say these things only because solid evidence is more convincing than unverifiable statements, and I want to demonstrate that I am a hard worker. J.P. Morgan is a firm with a reputation that precedes itself and employees who represent only the best and rightest in finance. I know that the employees in this firm will push me to excellence, especially within the Investment Banking division. In fact, one of the supporting reasons I chose Investment Banking over any other division was that I know it is difficult. I hope to augment my character by diligently working for the professionals at Morgan Stanley, and I feel I have much to offer in return.

I am proficient in several programming languages, and I can pick up a new one very quickly. For instance, I learned a years worth of Java from NYU in 27 days on my own; this is how I placed out of two including: Money and Banking, Analysis, Game Theory, Probability and Statistics. Even further, I am taking Machine Learning and Probabilistic Graphical Modeling currently, two programming courses offered by Stanford, so that I may truly offer the most if I am accepted. I am proficient with Bloomberg terminals, excellent with excel, and can perform basic office functions with terrifying efficiency. I have plenty of experience in the professional world through my internship at Merrill Lynch, and my research assistant position at NYU. In fact, my most recent employer has found me so useful that he promoted me to a Research Assistant and an official CTED intern. This role is usually reserved for Masters students, but my employer gave the title to me so that he could give me more work.

Please realize that I am not a braggart or conceited, I just want to outline my usefulness. Egos can be a huge liability, and I try not to have one.

Thank you so much for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Best,

Mark

Read more questionable emails and cover letters: 12 of the worst cover letters received by Business Insider.

Discussion Starters:

  • Do you find Mark's letter inappropriate, too boastful, or something else? Isn't moxy a good thing?
  • What advice would you give Mark so that he can revise his cover letter?
  • How do you assess the 12 cover letters posted by Business Insider? Which do you think is the worst and why?

Posted by Amy Newman

JCPenney CEO Responds to Controversy About Ellen

02-10-2012 2:39 PM

The conservative group One Million Moms wants JCPenney to fire Ellen DeGeneres, its new spokesperson. Ellen, you may have heard, is gay. The group describes its purpose as taking "a stand against the immorality, violence, vulgarity and profanity the entertainment media is throwing at…children.” On its website, One Million Moms explains the JCPenney issue:

"Funny that JC Penney thinks hiring an open homosexual spokesperson will help their business when most of their customers are traditional families. More sales will be lost than gained unless they replace their spokesperson quickly. Unless JC Penney decides to be neutral in the culture war then their brand transformation will be unsuccessful.

"Their marketing strategy is to help families shop and receive a good value for their money. Degeneres is not a true representation of the type of families that shop at their store. The majority of JC Penney shoppers will be offended and choose to no longer shop there. The small percentage of customers they are attempting to satisfy will not offset their loss in sales."

The group also accuses JCPenney of “jumping on the pro-gay bandwagon.”

JCPenney CEO Ron Johnson responded to the controversy: "I think Ellen is someone we all trust. She's loveable, likeable, honest and funny, but at her soul, we trust her." Johnson also appeared on "CBS This Morning."

Ellen and JCPenney

Discussion Starters:

  • What is your opinion of JCPenney's choice of Ellen DeGeneres as its spokesperson?
  • How do you assess the company's reaction and CEO Ron Johnson's appearance on "CBS This Morning"?
  • Ellen DeGeneres also is a spokesperson for Cover Girl cosmetics. What, if anything, do you think Cover Girl should say about this controversy?

Posted by Amy Newman

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