Business Communication


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Business Communication with Cengage Learning


  • FTC Admonishes Cole Haan's Pinterest Promotion

    Cole Haan devised a contest encouraging Pinterest users to create boards called "Wandering Sole." As a creative pun, people were instructed to pin five pictures of Cole Haan products and five places. It was a cute idea, but the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) expressed concern about people getting rewarded—$1,000 for winning the contest—without admitting the connection between their posts and the potential monetary award. In a letter to Cole Haan , the FTC admonished Cole Haan: The FTC is concerned about deceptive social media practices. An easy solution, according to a MediaPost article , is for Cole Haan to have people indicate that their posts were part of a contest. An advertising lawyer suggests, "A hastag that included a word like 'sweeps,' or 'contest,' or 'giveaway,' would have satisfied the FTC's concerns." Discussion Starters: What's the rationale for the FTC rule? What situations can you think of where this may be a significant issue? Or, do you think this rule is just silly? How, if at all, do you think adding the word "contest" would have affected this promotion?
  • 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?
  • "Like" This Page and Give Up Your Right to Sue?

    General Mills is the latest company to try to restrict customers' right to legal action based on their interaction with the company on social media. The company's new legal terms define these conditions broadly, including being "a subscriber to any of our emails, or a participant in any sweepstakes, contest..." According to The New York Times , "anyone who has received anything that could be construed as a benefit and who then has a dispute with the company over its products will have to use informal negotiation via email or go through arbitration to seek relief, according to the new terms posted on its site." Although the move may be understandable considering the increasing number of class-action lawsuits, the director of a trial attorneys' organization explains the potential consequence: '“It’s essentially trying to protect the company from all accountability, even when it lies, or say, an employee deliberately adds broken glass to a product.” Could merely visiting General Mills' website prevent a lawsuit? One attorney say it's unclear, but "You can bet there will be some subpoenas for computer hard drives in the future.” This story reminds me of KlearGear, the company that charged a customer $3,500 for a bad review . Discussion Starters: What's your view of the ethics of General Mills' new legal restriction? How do you see the new restriction playing out? Consider one or two situations where this restriction might apply. Does this story affect how you might approach social media contact with General Mills in the future?
  • Paula Deen Forgot to Tell Her Employees She's Closing the Restaurant

    Chef and restaurant owner Paula Deen is in the news again. Last June, she made headlines for racist comments. She apologized but lost her TV and endorsement deals and never fully recovered her reputation. Now, she and her brother decided to close Uncle Bubba's Seafood and Oyster House , the restaurant where the controversy started. They announced the decision on Facebook but failed to tell their employees, who showed up for work only to collect their severance pay. As predicted, opponents and allies were active on the company's Facebook page, which has since been taken down. Meanwhile, Deen has been "business-as-usual" on her Twitter feed: Discussion Starters: In my Corporate Communication course, we talk about the best order for notifying internal and external audiences of a change. Identify all of the audiences that should have been notified and the ideal sequencing of messages. What could be the owners' rationale for not telling employees before announcing the decision on Facebook? The Associated Press called the move "abrupt." Does that justify how this was communicated? Paula Deen seems to be silent during the latest controversy. Is that the best approach? If so, why? If not, what should she do or say?
  • Joy Behar Roasts Chris Christie

    The video is rough , but we can watch comedian Joy Behar roast New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at an event to celebrate a former governor's 90th birthday. Behar poked fun at Christie's weight and the bridge scandal: "When I first heard that he was accused of blocking off three lanes on the bridge, I said, ‘What the hell is he doing, standing in the middle of the bridge?" A story in The New Yorker described the scene in the video above: "After another barb, Christie interrupted her. 'This is a Byrne roast,' he said. He stood up and tried to grab her notes. The audience laughed awkwardly. 'Stop bullying me,' Behar said as he sat down. Christie said something out of earshot and Behar responded, 'Why don’t you get up here at the microphone instead of being such a coward?' Christie stood up again and moved in front of the lectern as Behar retreated. 'At least I don’t get paid for this,' he said. "Christie sat down and Behar continued, though she was noticeably rattled. 'I really don’t know about the Presidency,” she said. 'Let me put it to you this way, in a way that you’d appreciate: You’re toast.'" Discussion Starters: After watching the video clip, I wouldn't have described the scene as The New Yorker author did. How about you? What could explain the difference? What's a roast? Research the history and purpose. Why are insults accepted—even expected—while they would be shunned in most business settings?
  • "Your Neighbor . . . Is a Parasite" Flyer

    Kevin Rose's neighbors have posted flyers identifying him as a "parasite." The founder of Digg and a Google Ventures partner was outed as one who is "destroying San Francisco" by directing funds for start-up companies. In a tweet, Rose did concede some points: The protest is a continuation of those angry at the so-called "Google Bus," which shuttles people to work at technology companies. Activists claimed, "This is the opposite of school busing. We’re busing wealthy, predominantly white adults into low-income neighborhoods, where they in turns displace low-income people. This is the reverse of affirmative action." Image source . Discussion Starters: To what extent do you empathize with the protestors? What are their points? What's your assessment of this group's approach of posting flyers? When I first saw the headline, I thought Rose was a pedophile.
  • 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?
  • Transit Authority's Response to the "Spectacular Crash"

    The Chicago Transit Authority isn't saying much about what the Chicago Tribune called a "spectacular crash," and video -watchers are comparing to a disaster movie. More than 30 people were injured in the accident, but the CTA's communications, as PR Daily points out , just stick to the facts: As I theorized during the recent MTA Metro-North accident , as a government-funded organization, CTA is probably following old, conservative rules about showing remorse. Although the CTA says it's investigating all possible causes, Robert Kelly, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308, confirmed that the operator was tired: "Indications are she might have dozed off." Discussion Starters: What advice is CTA likely following in deciding how and what to communicate? What advice would you give the agency if you were the director of communication? Or, another way to think about this is, what's the right thing to do? Prepare a statement that the CTA could send to show that it's run by actual people.
  • New York Times Opinions About GM

    A New York Times opinion piece accused Toyota and GM of " Willfully Endangering Drivers " by delaying automobile recalls. The author partly blames the government for succumbing to pressure from the car industry and from lawmakers who opposed a 2010 Motor Vehicle Safety Act . The Act would have provided more funding to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to investigate safety issues and improve consumers' access to safety information. Another New York Times story this weekend comments on GM's social media activity. On the surface, it looks like "business as usual" at GM. Recent posts describe an employee recruiting campaign, a "Fan Friday" contest, and a new FB cover photo. But a deeper look into posts shows individual responses to complaints. Recall issues dominate customers' comments, and GM is engaged in the conversation as in this example: How is GM's reputation faring online? According to the article, pretty well: "So far, the damage to the company’s brand appears to have been minimal online. "Despite the barrage of headlines about federal investigations into G.M.'s decade-long failure to issue the recall, overall sentiment about G.M. and its brands on Twitter has remained the same since the crisis began. According to an analysis by Crimson Hexagon, a social media analytics firm in Boston, about 26 percent of Twitter messages mentioning the company were positive, 71 percent were neutral and 3 percent were negative." Discussion Starters: What's your view of the first article? In what ways do you agree and disagree with the writer's assessment of GM? Assess GM's responses on its Facebook page. What principles from Chapter 7, Responding to Negative Feedback, does the company demonstrate in this and other examples online?
  • Tobacco Free New York Radio Ads

    Last month, CVS announced the decision to stop selling tobacco products in its stores. In the past week, this ad has been running on Ithaca radio stations. On the Tobacco Free New York website, we see communications for other campaigns since 2010: Tobacco Marketing Works What's in Store for Our Kids Sponsorship and Promotion Discussion Starters: Take a look at the video about how tobacco companies sponsor community events . Do you consider their approach ethical? Use the ethical decision-making guidelines in Chapter 1 to formulate your argument. The ad, above, mentions that some drugstores have stopped selling tobacco products, but it doesn't name CVS. Why? What's the punctuation error in "Tobacco Free New York"? Is this a good choice for the organization's name?
  • Is Malaysia Airlines Doing Enough?

    It's been two days since a Malaysia Airlines flight with 227 passengers and 12 crew members has been lost, and relatives are angry. The flight is now assumed to have crashed, with some signs of wreckage. But the real fallout now is the airline's lack of communication. Quotations in a Reuters article show family members' distress: "There's no one from the company here; we can't find a single person. They've just shut us in this room and told us to wait." "We want someone to show their face. They haven't even given us the passenger list." "They're treating us worse than dogs." On its website, the company revealed its " dark site ," a page that companies create in anticipation of a crisis. Oddly, the airline kept the name in the URL, shown here. The page gave information about what happened and what actions the airline is taking currently: Monday, March 10, 05:30 PM MYT +0800 Malaysia Airlines MH370 Flight Incident - 10th Media Statement The purpose of this statement is to update on emergency response activities at Malaysia Airlines. On notification of the incident the following steps have been taken:- The EOC:- 1. Activation of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in the early morning of 8 March 2014. The EOC is the central command and control facility responsible for carrying out emergency management functions at the strategic level during a disaster. 2. In addition to the EOC, various departments of Malaysia Airlines are also addressing to all the different needs during this crisis. Family Management 1. Malaysia Airlines is working closely with the government of China to expedite the issuance of passports for the families intending to travel to Malaysia, as well as with the immigration of Malaysia on the issuance of their visas into Malaysia. 2. Malaysia Airlines is deploying an additional aircraft to bring the families from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur on 11 March 2014. 3. When the aircraft is located, a Response Coordination Centre (RCC) will be established within the vicinity to support the needs of the families. This has been communicated specifically to the families. 4. Once the Response Coordination Centre is operational, we will provide transport and accommodation to the designated areas for the family members. 5. Our one world partners have been engaged to help bring family members in other countries aside from China into Kuala Lumpur. Search and Rescue 1. Malaysia Airlines has been actively cooperating with the search and rescue authorities coordinated by the Department of Civil Aviation Malaysia (DCA) and the Ministry of Transport 2. DCA has confirmed that search and rescue teams from Australia, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, New Zealand and the United States of America have come forward to assist. We are grateful for these efforts. We also want to address a few common queries from the media. We are receiving many queries about how the passengers with the stolen passports purchased their tickets. We are unable to comment on this matter as this is a security issue. We can however confirm that we have given all the flight details to the authorities for further investigation. We also confirm that we are making necessary arrangements for MH370 passengers' families from Beijing to travel to Kuala Lumpur. However, flight details of the families’ arrival are highly confidential. This is to protect the privacy and well-being of the families during this difficult time and to respect their space. Our position is not to reveal any information on the flight or movements of the families. Malaysia Airlines' primary focus at this point in time is to care for the families of the passengers and crew of MH370. This means providing them with timely information, travel facilities, accommodation, meals, medical and emotional support. The costs for these are all borne by Malaysia Airlines. All other Malaysia Airlines’ flights are as per schedule. The safety of our passengers and crew has always been and will continue to be of utmost importance to us. The airline continues to work with the authorities and we appreciate the help we are receiving from all local and international parties and agencies during this critical and difficult time. Malaysia Airlines reiterates that it will continue to be transparent in communicating with the general public via the media on all matters affecting MH370. Discussion Starters: Assess Malaysia Airlines' statement. What works well, and what could be improved? What's missing from the statement that you might see in similar posts about a tragedy? What could account for this omission? Timing? Culture? Language? Something else?
  • No More @GSElevator Book Deal

    The publishing deal for @GSElevator tweets is off the table . With 652,000 followers, the author had garnered an impressive following by tweeting what could be said in the Goldman Sachs elevator. He never claimed that the tweets were actually said—or that he worked for Goldman. When the book deal was first announced, it was unclear whether either mattered to Touchstone, a division of Simon and Schuster. But now that John LeFevre's identify has been revealed, the offer has been withdrawn. According to a Business Insider article , the decision surprised LeFevre: "It's just a comical mystery to me. As of Friday afternoon, after all of the noise — during which Simon & Schuster prohibited me from responding and defending myself — they have continued to support me and stand by our project. Well, until today apparently." Simon and Schuster gave this statement: "In light of information that has recently come to our attention since acquiring John Lefevre's STRAIGHT TO HELL, Touchstone has decided to cancel its publication of this work." LeFevre also wrote a piece in Business Insider explaining the history of @GSElevator and defending himself. Here are a few excerpts, and you can read the full version here : "For the avoidance of any doubt, any person who actually thought my Twitter feed was literally about verbatim conversations overhead in the elevators of Goldman Sachs is an idiot. "Newsflash: GSElevator has never been about elevators. And, it's never been specifically about Goldman Sachs; it's about illuminating Wall Street culture in a fun and entertaining way. Without highlighting the obvious evolution of the tweets into more generally-appealing observations, let’s start with the simple fact that each of my tweets says 'Sent from Twitter for Mac,' hardly the work of someone pretending to be hiding in the walls of 200 West. "Being called a 'fake' or a 'hoax' by the same people who embraced me as 'satire' is simply laughable – and it really speaks to the silly and opportunistic attempts at cheap headlines. "I have been completely transparent in saying that my tweets are edited, curated, and crafted, in a way that I think will best resonate and still embody the soul and mentality of Wall Street. My focus has been to entertain and enlighten, without being completely devoid of substance and insight." Discussion Starters: Why do you think Touchstone withdrew the book deal? Do you think this was the right decision? Read LeFevre's response . Which parts do you find most and least convincing to convey his perspective?
  • Head of Job Bank Apologizes for Nasty Emails

    The winner of the IABC (International Association for Business Communication) "Communicator of the Year" award in 2013 may want to give back the prize. Kelly Blazek runs a Cleveland-based job bank and was tired of people asking for access to her connections. But her emails are too harsh . When her emails became public on Reddit and other sites, Blazek deleted her Twitter account, LinkedIn recommendations, and blog posts. She also apologized for her approach. I am very sorry to the people I have hurt. Creating and updating the Cleveland Job Bank listings has been my hobby for more than ten years. It started as a labor of love for the marketing industry, but somehow it also became a labor, and I vented my frustrations on the very people I set out to help. Hundreds of people contact me every month looking for help, and as the bottom fell out of the job market, their outreach and requests demanded more of my time. I became shortsighted and impatient, and that was wrong. My Job Bank listings were supposed to be about hope, and I failed that. In my harsh reply notes, I lost my perspective about how to help, and I also lost sight of kindness, which is why I started the Job Bank listings in the first place. The note I sent to Diana was rude, unwelcoming, unprofessional and wrong. I am reaching out to her to apologize. Diana and her generation are the future of this city. I wish her all the best in landing a job in this great town. Discussion Starters: IABC is getting pressure to rescind the award. Should the organization do so? Why or why not? Try to see Blazek's perspective. Why would she send such emails to job seekers? What's your reaction to Blazek's apology? Is it sincere? Is it enough?
  • Ad Campaign: "I Wish I Had Breast Cancer"

    A new advertising campaign from the Pancreatic Cancer Action , a British organization, has caused an uproar. The marketers knew what they were doing: planning for outrage, Founder Ali Stunt introduced the campaign in a website post " No Cancer Advert That Saves a Single Life Can Be Accused of Going Too Far ": "I want to remind all those that read this blog post that today 160 women will find out they have breast cancer, eight women will find out they have cervical cancer and seven men will be diagnosed with testicular cancer. It is vital that everyone finds out about the signs and symptoms of these cancers too. Please find the relevant charity details below. "Today sees the launch of the UK’s very first awareness advertising campaign for pancreatic cancer, which is being shown on the London Underground stations and tube cars as well as in London and Manchester newspapers such as the Metro and Evening Standard." ( Read more .) This post includes survival rates for cancers, with pancreatic at a sad 3%: Criticism of the campaign has been harsh, including this retort on the site : "Oh boy. Because obviously the best way to call attention to one disease is at the expense of another. "There’s just one problem. Breast cancer is a like a fat man wearing a Hawaiian shirt: It covers a lot of ground. If you’re going to wish for breast cancer, make sure you put in a special request for the non-metastatic kind. Because in 2014, there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer. The median survival rate is surely not as good as the Pancreatic Action Network seems to think it is. In general, breast cancer survival figures don’t necessarily represent significant gains, as they are distorted by the over diagnosis of Stage I breast cancers, which have increased five-fold since the advent of mammography in the 1980s. "Also, our research situation is much like yours: it sucks. Metastatic breast cancer is responsible for 90 percent of the morbidity and mortality, but gets less than 5 percent of the research budget." Pancreatic Cancer Action stands by its campaign. On its website, it posted a video with interviews about the approach." Discussion Starters: What's your view of the ad campaign: appropriate for the cause, insulting, or something else? Watch the Pancreatic Cancer Action organization's video about its approach. Do you find this response convincing ?
  • AOL CEO Addresses Criticism

    Like all CEOs, Tim Armstrong of AOL wants to keep health care costs under control. But he seemed to use two employees' "distressed babies" as his rationale for reducing the company's 401(k) program. The current 401(k) program matches employees' contributions every pay period, but Armstrong announced that the plan would match only at the end of the year. This changed would have affected employees who leave the company before that time; they would receive no company match for the year. In a town hall meeting with employees, Armstrong explained the rationale as prioritizing the benefits for employees who stay with the company. This makes sense, but his examples offended people: “We had two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were OK in general. And those are the things that add up into our benefits cost." In an email to employees , Armstrong apologized for his comments: AOLers - We began our journey together in 2009, and for the last four years have had an employee-first culture. As I have said before, the ability to change is a strategic advantage for us. With benefit costs increasing, we made a strategic, financial decision last year to revise our employee matching 401K program from a per-pay-period contribution to a yearly lump-sum contribution. We then communicated this decision in the fall through multiple channels to every AOL office in the US. The leadership team and I listened to your feedback over the last week. We heard you on this topic. And as we discussed the matter over several days, with management and employees, we have decided to change the policy back to a per-pay-period matching contribution. The Human Resource team will be in contact with all employees over the next week to explain the change and to answer any other benefits related questions you might have. We are proud to provide AOLers with a robust benefits offering that spans from exceptional healthcare coverage to 401K's to AOL fitness programs and beyond. On a personal note, I made a mistake and I apologize for my comments last week at the town hall when I mentioned specific healthcare examples in trying to explain our decision making process around our employee benefit programs. Thursday we announced an outstanding Q4 and end to our fiscal year. More importantly, it validated our strategy and the work we have done on it. AOL is positioned for future growth and our long-term strategy to be one of the world's leading media technology companies. Now, as we begin 2014, let's keep up our momentum. Thank you for the great 2013 year and for your ongoing passion. And know that I am a passionate advocate for the AOL family – TA This isn't the first time Armstrong is backtracking. Last year, he fired someone during an employee conference call that was recorded and went viral . He later apologized. Discussion Starters: In what ways are Armstrong's financial concerns and comments understandable? Try to see the situation from his perspective. How could he have described the company's pressures in a different way? Did he make the right decision to retract the 401(k) plan change? How do you assess his email to employees? What works well, and what could be improved? In an interview with CNN Money , Armstrong boasted about being named one of the best places to work for working mothers , saying that AOL offers benefits for people with at-risk pregnancies. Do you think his comments will affect the company's ranking next year?
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