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Business Communication with Cengage Learning

 

  • GM Terminates 15 People

    GM is cleaning house, hoping to rid itself of criticism about delaying recalls, which caused 13 deaths. CEO Mary Barra announced the decision after an internal investigation revealed that several executives knew about an ignition switch problem for years and avoided a fix that would have cost 57 cents. In a message to employees, captured on video, Barra says she is guided by two principles: "doing the right thing for those who were harmed" and taking responsibility "to make sure this never happens again." She also blames the actions of "a few people," a strategic move to separate the company from a few bad apples who have since left. Fifteen people were terminated and another five were disciplined, some for misconduct and others for not taking enough action. One email showed that several people were aware of the problem , which persisted for another nine years. A GM parts manufacturer wrote, Chevy "Cobalt is blowing up in their face in regards to turning the car off." Discussion Starters: How do you assess GM's decision to terminate 15 people and discipline another five? Is this enough? What other persuasive strategies is Barra using in her presentation to employees? What key messages do you take from the video?
  • Walmart Apologizes for Truck's Role in Crash

    Actor Tracy Morgan is in critical condition after a limo accident involving a Walmart truck. Morgan is most famous for his TV roles in 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live . The crash caused one death (Morgan's mentor, James "Jimmy Mack" McNair) and two other critical injuries. The Walmart driver is facing criminal charges and is accused of driving after not sleeping for 24 hours. In a statement , Walmart President Bill Simon extended the company's concern: Image source . Discussion Starters: It's still unclear what role the Walmart driver played in the crash. Is Walmart's apology premature? Assess the statement. Is it appropriate coming from the CEO? What changes, if any, would you suggest the company make?
  • NRA's Statement Asks Gun Activists to Consider Consequences of Their Behavior

    In a statement that surprised some , the National Rifle Association asked gun owners "to consider the effect their behavior has on others, whether fellow gun owners or not." The statement, "Good Citizens and Good Neighbors: The Gun Owners' Role," implies that some gun advocates have gone too far: "In summary, NRA certainly does not support bans on personalized guns or on carrying firearms in public, including in restaurants. We think people are intelligent enough to resolve these issues in a reasonable way for themselves. But when people act without thinking, or without consideration for others – especially when it comes to firearms – they set the stage for further restrictions on our rights. Firearm owners face enough challenges these days; we don't need to be victims of friendly fire." The NRA statement gave two examples of when "poor judgement" may run counter to NRA goals. The first is supporting "smart" guns that can be fired only by an authorized user, a technology the NRA says has "darker implications." The second example is openly carrying long guns in public places, particularly in Texas. Although the statement applauds the state's "robust gun culture" and acknowledges that carrying is legal, the NRA criticizes the "attention-hungry few"—"a small number have recently crossed the line from enthusiasm to downright foolishness." In a Facebook response , Open Carry Texas explained its position: "Open Carry Texas members have always sought permission to enter an establishment prior to going in with our firearms. This has been part of our philosophy since day one and it has worked, with hundreds of businesses across the state 100% in support of what we do and how we do it." Read the full Open Carry Texas statement . Read the full NRA statement. Discussion Starters: Assess persuasive strategies used in the NRA statement. How does the NRA use logical argument, emotional appeal, and credibility to make its case? What are the strongest and weakest arguments in the statement? Is the apostrophe in the NRA statement title correct: "Good Citizens and Good Neighbors: The Gun Owners' Role"?
  • Snapchat's FTC Settlement and Admission

    Snapchat has entered into an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, which accused the app of violating its own privacy policies, but critics say that agreement will have little impact. The FTC found Snapchat guilty of claiming that "snaps" would disappear when they are actually quite easy to store forever and of transmitting users' locations when its policy claims that user information is not tracked. Although the settlement does put restrictions on Snapchat, ZDNet , for example, questions the effectiveness: "With this settlement agreement, the FTC is sending a message — just not one that makes us feel any better about Snapchat, and all the other Snapchats out there. "And that message is: Party on with your bad self, Snapchat. "It's not like anyone's going to stop you." On its blog , Snapchat interpreted the agreement: Our Agreement with the FTC When we started building Snapchat, we were focused on developing a unique, fast, and fun way to communicate with photos. We learned a lot during those early days. One of the ways we learned was by making mistakes, acknowledging them, and fixing them. While we were focused on building, some things didn’t get the attention they could have. One of those was being more precise with how we communicated with the Snapchat community. This morning we entered into a consent decree with the FTC that addresses concerns raised by the commission. Even before today’s consent decree was announced, we had resolved most of those concerns over the past year by improving the wording of our privacy policy, app description, and in-app just-in-time notifications. And we continue to invest heavily in security and countermeasures to prevent abuse. We are devoted to promoting user privacy and giving Snapchatters control over how and with whom they communicate. That’s something we’ve always taken seriously, and always will. Image source. Discussion Starters: What's your experience with Snapchat? Does this news change your opinion of the company? Will you stop using the service? Assess Snapchat's blog post. On Twitter, @PatrickVitalone called it a "non-apology." What do you think?
  • Commencement Speakers Nixed Because of Protests

    Several universities have changed plans for commencement speakers , succumbing to student and faculty protests. In some cases, the speaker withdrew. Here are the latest and relevant communications: Former Chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley, Robert J. Birgeneau, has withdrawn as this year's speaker for Haverford College. A letter from students and a few faculty speaks of Haverford's "Quaker Values," including pacifism. It compliments Birgeneau's work on LGBT issues but criticizes his involvement in an event at Berkeley: "You supported UC Berkeley police in the use of extreme force against non-violent protestors..." Birgeneau did not appreciate the letter and the group's demands and responded with a missive of his own . Rutgers found a similar fate after announcing that Condoleeza Rice would speak at its commencement. Rice resigned, announcing the decision on her Facebook page . Christine Lagarde, president of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), withdrew her plans to speak at Smith College. Kathleen McCartney, president of the college, wrote a sharply worded letter about the protests , including these excerpts: "Those who objected will be satisfied that their activism has had a desired effect. But at what cost to Smith College? This is a question I hope we will ponder as a community in the months ahead." . . . . "I want to underscore this fact: An invitation to speak at a commencement is not an endorsement of all views or policies of an individual or the institution she or he leads. Such a test would preclude virtually anyone in public office or position of influence. Moreover, such a test would seem anathema to our core values of free thought and diversity of opinion. I remain committed to leading a college where differing views can be heard and debated with respect." Discussion Starters: Read all of the communications associated with these decisions. What themes emerge in tone, organization, word choice, and so on? Which of these communications is the best example, and what makes it the best? Condeelza Rice's Facebook page has a serious punctuation error. Did you notice it?
  • Pom Wonderful Steals the Show

    Pom Wonderful did a great job responding to criticism from HBO talk show host John Oliver. According to an Adweek article , Oliver had "dismissed Pom Wonderful as snake oil and suggested putting stickers on Pom's juice bottles saying it contains dogs." This was after showing a clip from a TV show, on which Pom was promised to reduce the possibility of prostate cancer. Pom responded by sending Oliver a refrigerator, a case of the juice, and a clever letter, which he read on air. Discussion Starters: What's your view of Pom's response? In what ways was it effective, or not? The Adweek article referred to Pom's "strangely stilted letter ('We like to think we're able to take a joke. It was very funny. We laughed hard')." Do you agree with this assessment?
  • Target CEO Resigns

    Gregg Steinhafel, who was Target's chairman and chief executive since 2008, has resigned. According to a New York Times article , the data breach earlier this year and overexpansion in Canada, which has led to low margins and inventory problems, contributed to the decision. The Times describes one analyst's view that Steinhafel was partly to blame for the security break that affected millions of customers because of system vulnerabilities caused, in part, by underinvestment in technology. A message posted on the company's website directs visitors to a full statement from the board: May 5, 2014 Today we are announcing that, after extensive discussions, the board and Gregg Steinhafel have decided that now is the right time for new leadership at Target. Effective immediately, Gregg will step down from his positions as chairman of the Target board of directors, president and CEO. John Mulligan, Target’s chief financial officer, has been appointed as interim president and chief executive officer. Roxanne S. Austin, a current member of Target’s board of directors, has been appointed as interim non-executive chair of the board. Both will serve in their roles until permanent replacements are named. We have asked Gregg Steinhafel to serve in an advisory capacity during this transition and he has graciously agreed. The board is deeply grateful to Gregg for his significant contributions and outstanding service throughout his notable 35-year career with the company. We believe his passion for the team and relentless focus on the guest have established Target as a leader in the retail industry. Gregg has created a culture that fosters innovation and supports the development of new ideas. Under his leadership, the company has not only enhanced its ability to execute, but has broadened its strategic horizons. He also led the company through unprecedented challenges, navigating the financial recession, reacting to challenges with Target’s expansion into Canada, and successfully defending the company through a high-profile proxy battle. Most recently, Gregg led the response to Target’s 2013 data breach. He held himself personally accountable and pledged that Target would emerge a better company. We are grateful to him for his tireless leadership and will always consider him a member of the Target family. The board will continue to be actively engaged with the leadership team to drive Target’s future success and will manage the transition. In addition to the appointments of the exceptional leaders noted above, we have also retained Korn Ferry to advise the board on a comprehensive CEO search. The board is confident in the future of this company and views this transition as an opportunity to drive Target’s business forward and accelerate the company’s transformation efforts. The announcement comes on Target's new CIO 's first day on the job. Discussion Starters: Assess the board's statement: what works well and what could be improved about the content, organization, tone, and so on ? Why do you think the board waited so long? Target learned of the breach in mid-December 2013 . What factors might have played into the decision?
  • Taco Bell: "Those Other Ingredients"

    After criticism of its meat in 2011, Taco Bell came out fighting with a video message from CEO Greg Creed (who kindly gave permission for the video to be included with Chapter 7 of the textbook). Now, Taco Bell further explains its ingredients in response to the false-advertising lawsuit claiming that the company uses "taco meat filling" rather than "seasoned beef." Taco Bell has said that its meat is "88% Premium Beef and 12% Signature Recipe," which includes seasonings, spices, water and other ingredients. This week, the company revealed the 12% in a graphic posted on its website : Although these ingredients don't sound very appetizing, a Popular Science article tells us not to worry: "...the ingredients in them are not scary poison that the average person will never understand. Most are fine in small amounts or when consumed in infrequent treats." Discussion Starters: Go to the Taco Bell's graphic and click on each box. How effective are the explanations of these other ingredients? Why do you think the company took two years to reveal the rest of its recipe?
  • Board Terminates RadiumOne CEO After Felony Charges

    Former RadiumOne CEO and Founder Gurbaksh Chahal is disputing his termination. The board of directors may have supported Chahal as he was charged with assaulting his girlfriend and plead guilty to two misdemeanors. But after more reporting and social media activity, apparently, the board made its decision. RadiumOne, an advertising platform, announced the termination in a short press statement on its website : "At a board meeting yesterday evening, RadiumOne's board of directors voted to terminate the employment of Gurbaksh Chahal as CEO and Chairman of the company. Bill Lonergan, the company’s COO, will take over as CEO of the Company immediately. Bill has an extraordinary professional background and has helped build BlueLithium and RadiumOne into industry leading brands. We are confident he will continue Radium One’s impressive trajectory." In a blog post, "Can You Handle the Truth?" Chahal admits to losing his temper but denies claims that he hit his girlfriend 117 times. He also protests the media attention and social media attacks. Chahal includes an email he says he received from one of his board members two days before he was terminated: "Been thinking some more. Absolutely don’t do anything. Let the haters hate ad move on. This will blow over very quickly and we focus on the IPO. Don’t let them get to you. Don’t respond. I know it sucks but i think this is the right way fwd. Stay strong amigo. I feel for you." In the meantime, at least two reporters had called for the board to terminate Chahal: Kara Swisher and CNN Money writer Dan Primack . Image source . Discussion Starters: Did the board make the right decision? Why or why not? What does one's personal life have to do with the business? Does his position as CEO and/or founder affect your view? How do you assess the email Chahal posted? If it's real, does it help his case? How, if at all, does the image of Chahal with President Obama affect your opinion of him?
  • General Mills Changes Its Tune

    Following criticism of its new legal restrictions , General Mills has reversed its policy. The change warned customers who interacted with its brands, for example, by downloading a coupon, that they would give up their rights to sue and would be forced into an abritration process instead. In an email, a company spokesperson conveyed what The New York Times calls a "stunning about-face": "Because our concerns and intentions were widely misunderstood, causing concerns among our consumers, we’ve decided to change them back to what they were. As a result, the recently updated legal terms are being removed from our websites, and we are announcing today that we have reverted back to our prior legal terms, which contain no mention of arbitration." The decision was further announced on the General Mills blog : Here's the company's tweet about the change: Discussion Starters: Was this the right decision for General Mills? What are the consequences either way? Assess the company's blog post. What works well, and what could be improved?
  • Captain of Korean Ferry Is Arrested and Apologizes

    The captain and two crew members of the South Korean Ferry that capsized with hundreds of people on board were arrested. As of today, about 75 people were rescued, 29 bodies were recovered, and 236 are still missing, mostly high schools students taking a trip. In this video, the captain and a crew member apologize. Additional questions by the press are below. Q: Was there any place to turn? You evacuated the crew but why not to passengers? Capt: I gave the evacuation order. Q: Did you? Capt: Yes, I gave the evacuation order to passengers too. Q: Why did the announcement ask the passengers to stay in their cabin? Capt: At that time, none of the rescue ships had arrived at the scene . Q: Nothing there? Capt: Yes, at that time. Q: But you evacuated first? Capt: No. Q: Do you accept the charges of the prosecutor's office? Capt: Yes, I understand there are some parts that are my fault. Anyway, I am sorry I caused the trouble. I apologise to all Koreans and especially I bow my head in apology to the family of the victims. There are some parts I do not understand. There is no such (mumbles). Q: Did you give evacuation orders? Capt: Yes, I did. Q: But there were many announcements asking passengers to stay in the cabin. Why? Capt: That's before the rescue boats arrived. Q: At that time, is it true the ship was tilting seriously? Capt: The boat was in an area of very strong current, the temperature of the ocean water was cold and I thought if people left the ferry without proper judgement, if they not were wearing a life jacket, and even if they were, they would drift away and face many other difficulties. The rescue boats had not arrived yet, nor were there any civilian fishing ships or other boats around at that time. Q: When did you notify the coastguard? When was the first sign of a problem? Capt: I remember it was probably around 9.50am. Q: 9.50am? Wasn't it 8.50? Capt: Yes, 8.50. Q: Did you feel anything strange before that? Capt: No. Q: Was there any place you can turn? Capt: It is not that there was no place to turn the boat. I asked the crew to stay on the route. I briefly went to my bedroom and I was on my way back when it happened. Q: You went to your bedroom? Capt: Yes. Q: There were rumours that you were drunk? Capt: No. Q: Are you sure? Capt: Yes. To add more tragedy to this situation, the students' deputy headmaster committed suicide . Reports show he did "everything by the book" but apparently was overcome with grief. He left a note that said, "Surviving alone is too painful while 200 remain unaccounted for. I take full responsibility. I pushed ahead with the school trip," and "I will once again become a teacher in the afterlife for my students whose bodies have not been discovered." Discussion Starters: The captain and crew are criticized for leaving the boat and for telling people to remain in the ship rather than evacuate. What could explain their actions? From watching the video, what cultural differences can you identify? In other words, how might this situation differ if it happened in the United States?
  • ABC's Video for Facebook Likes

    ABC celebrates 1 million Facebook likes with a video. Deadline put the video in context: "The Facebook milestone is fun news for the ABC newscast, in contrast to the nicking it suffered last week in the press when it dropped mention of that day’s landmark ruling from the Supreme Court striking down cumulative caps on individual political donations in order to make room for breaking news about that day’s shootings at Fort Hood, while hanging on to reports about why zebras have stripes, Kraft’s Philadelphia Cream Cheese formula change, and the stray dog adopted by the Milwaukee Brewers." It's funny that this excerpt mentions Kraft. The other Facebook-like video I remember is for Kraft Mac 'n Cheese— much more fun than ABC's . Discussion Starters: Compare ABC's video to Kraft's. What are the purpose and audience for each? Does ABC have to include the Nationwide Insurance ad before we watch its promotional ad?
  • New Mozilla CEO Resigns

    Firefox maker Mozilla is in the news because its new CEO was criticized for opposing same-sex marriage. In 2008, he gave $1000 to support Proposition 8, California's ban on gay marriage. Within two weeks of Brendan Eich's appointment, he resigned because of the controversy . On the Mozilla blog , board chair Mitchell Baker wrote this explanation: Mozilla prides itself on being held to a different standard and, this past week, we didn’t live up to it. We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: it’s because we haven’t stayed true to ourselves. We didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to act. We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must do better. Brendan Eich has chosen to step down from his role as CEO. He’s made this decision for Mozilla and our community. Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard. Our organizational culture reflects diversity and inclusiveness. We welcome contributions from everyone regardless of age, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender-identity, language, race, sexual orientation, geographical location and religious views. Mozilla supports equality for all. We have employees with a wide diversity of views. Our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions in public. This is meant to distinguish Mozilla from most organizations and hold us to a higher standard. But this time we failed to listen, to engage, and to be guided by our community. While painful, the events of the last week show exactly why we need the web. So all of us can engage freely in the tough conversations we need to make the world better. We need to put our focus back on protecting that Web. And doing so in a way that will make you proud to support Mozilla. What’s next for Mozilla’s leadership is still being discussed. We want to be open about where we are in deciding the future of the organization and will have more information next week. However, our mission will always be to make the Web more open so that humanity is stronger, more inclusive and more just: that’s what it means to protect the open Web. We will emerge from this with a renewed understanding and humility — our large, global, and diverse community is what makes Mozilla special, and what will help us fulfill our mission. We are stronger with you involved. Thank you for sticking with us. Mitchell Baker, Executive Chairwoman But the situation isn't so clear-cut. A New York Times article discussed the controversy: "The public campaign against Mr. Eich was unseemly and disturbing." The article also quoted The Dish editor : "If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us." Mozilla published an FAQ , denying that Eich was fired or resigned under pressure from the board or employees. For his part, Eich wrote a blog post, "The Next Mission," to announce his resignation and present questions for the company's future. Discussion Starters: Was it the right decision for Eich to resign? Assess the board chair's statement. What works well, and what doesn't seem to work? Read Mozilla's FAQ about the situation. What questions may be missing?
  • NSA's New Press Kit

    The National Security Agency (NSA) published a shiny, new press kit to try to change its image. Damaged by reports of spying , the NSA's reputation could use some freshening up. With self-aggrandizing phrases, such as, "Saving Lives," "Cybersecurity: A Team Sport," "Operating as a Responsible Citizen," and "The Mission that Never Sleeps," the NSA is trying to combat negative perceptions. The kit also addresses "Myths" about the NSA, such as, "The NSA has agents who can arrest hackers or other cyber bad guys," and "NSA monitors the world’s communications systems at all times." Discussion Starters: Read the entire press kit. What are the NSA's main messages? Assess the text and graphics. How well do they work together? What images are most prevalent in the kit? Which themes or points do you find most and least convincing?
  • GM's Cobalt Recall Site

    For the unfortunate customers who own a Chevy Cobalt, GM has created a dedicated recall website. The site includes a series of Q&A and links to a "gallery" of videos between 23 and 48 seconds long. The site als0 includes this graphic and a video that repeats this "3-Point Check Plan." Discussion Starters: Assess the short videos on the website: what works well, and what could be improved? The "3-Point Check Plan" tells customers what to do with their key chain, that they should talk to the dealer, and how to reach the company. Do we need a graphic and a video for that? Are GM's communications too simple? Or am I underestimating what customers need?
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