Business Communication



Business Communication


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Business Communication with Cengage Learning


GM Terminates 15 People

06-10-2014 2:19 PM

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?

Posted by Amy Newman

Walmart Apologizes for Truck's Role in Crash

06-09-2014 1:30 PM

Tracy-morgan-1Actor 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:

  Tracy Morgan Walmart
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?

Posted by Amy Newman

Apologies for Racist Jokes, Homophobic Slur

06-07-2014 8:32 AM

Justin Bieber and Jonah Hill have more than their celebrity in common this week. Both have apologized for making offensive comments.

Two six-year-old videos of Bieber telling racist jokes surfaced, and he has apologized. TMZ published his statement:

Justin tells TMZ, "As a kid, I didn't understand the power of certain words and how they can hurt. I thought it was ok to repeat hurtful words and jokes, but didn't realize at the time that it wasn't funny and that in fact my actions were continuing the ignorance."

Justin goes on, "Thanks to friends and family I learned from my mistakes and grew up and apologized for those wrongs. Now that these mistakes from the past have become public I need to apologize again to all those I have offended."

Justin continues, "I'm very sorry. I take my friendships with people of all cultures very seriously and I apologize for offending or hurting anyone with my childish and inexcusable mistake. I was a kid then and I am a man now who knows my responsibility to the world and to not make that mistake again."


And Justin says, "Ignorance has no place in our society and I hope the sharing of my faults can prevent others from making the same mistake in the future. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say but telling the truth is always what's right."

Justin ends with this: "Five years ago I made a reckless and immature mistake and I'm grateful to those close to me who helped me learn those lessons as a young man. Once again....I'm sorry."

But an LA Times article called this apology and another that quoted scripture "unacceptable." The videos are disturbing: in one he asks, "Why are black people afraid of chainsaws?" and then imitates the sound of a chainsaw and repeats "n..." several times. 

Another apology this week came from Jonah Hill. In this (albeit very different) situation, Hill yelled a homophobic slur to a paparazzo. We see his apology here on the Jimmy Fallon show:


Discussion Starters:

  • What's your assessment of Beiber's comments and apology? Do you agree with the LA Times article that his apology was insufficient? Should he have done something different?
  • How do you interpret Hill's remark, given his vocal support of LGBTQ equality? What's your assessment of his apology? 

Posted by Amy Newman

American Girl Discontinues Only Asian Doll and One of Two Black Dolls

06-04-2014 4:31 PM

American GirlAs the United States becomes more diverse, American Girl dolls become less so. The company has updated its line to exclude Ivy, its only Asian doll, and Cecile, one of its two Black dolls.

Customer backlash was intense. On the American Girl Facebook page, one critic wrote, "Seriously AG… You are getting rid of the ONLY Asian girl in your historical line-up. It was disappointing enough that she was only a 'side-kick' doll to Julie, but she was better than nothing….. which is what we have now. How can the historical line represent American if there are no Asians?"

The company says it is moving away from dolls sold in pairs to focus on dolls sold individually. The four shown here are part of the historical line.

American Girl issued a statement, which ABC News posted, in part:

"At nearly one million strong, we’re proud of the relationships we’ve built with our dedicated Facebook community. Our fans are very passionate and many of our posts generate a high level of engagement, including comments, likes and shares. Certainly we know that whenever we announce that a character is archiving, it will cause some level of disappointment, especially among our most ardent fans… While demand for characters certainly plays a part in our overall decision making, the main reason for this year’s approach is based on the decision to move away from our friend-character strategy within the historical line. This decision affected Marie-Grace, Ruthie, as well as Ivy and Cecile—the first two racially diverse characters to be archived by American Girl. In comparison, American Girl will be archiving a total of nine Caucasian characters since 2008."

Discussion Starters:

  • Should American Girl have anticipated the backlash? Should that have changed the company's decision to "archive" these characters? 
  • How do you assess the American Girl statement? What works well, and what could be improved?

Posted by Amy Newman

NRA's Statement Asks Gun Activists to Consider Consequences of Their Behavior

06-02-2014 7:03 PM

NRA logoIn 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"?

Posted by Amy Newman

Maya Angelou Quotations

05-29-2014 11:09 AM

Maya AngelouPR Daily published this list of memorable quotations by the recently deceased writer Maya Angelou:

1. “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.”

2. “When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we're capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness into darkness. I'm trying for that. But I'm also trying for the language. I'm trying to see how it can really sound.”

3. “Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”

4. “The main thing in one's own private world is to try to laugh as much as you cry.”

5. “All great artists draw from the same resource: the human heart, which tells us that we are all more alike than we are unalike.”

6. “The best candy shop a child can be left alone in is the library.”

7. “I make writing as much a part of my life as I do eating or listening to music.”

8. “You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

9. “If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love.”

10. “The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.”

In articles about her death, CNN called her a "legendary author" and Fox referred to her as a "renowned poet."

For a laugh, here's Tracy Morgan impersonating Maya Angelou on Saturday Night Live with Tina Fey.

Image source.

Discussion Starters:

  • What can we learn from Maya Angelou for business writing?
  • Which of her quotations—here or others—do you find most relevant to business writing?

Posted by Amy Newman

U.S. Languages and Immigrants

05-29-2014 10:25 AM

Microsoft announced that Skype will now offer translation for people using the video-chat tool. This is good news for people who want to connect in different languages.

The map, below, shows languages spoken within the United States after English and Spanish. You may find some surprises here.

  Languages Spoken in the U.S. After English and Spanish

In related news, a recent Business Insider article includes a 2010 U.S. map compared to a 1910 map, showing where immigrants come from, mostly commonly Mexico today. The map, based on Pew research, gives us an interesting perspective on cultural diversity within the United States. 

Population map

Discussion Starters:

  • What, if anything, surprises you about the data? 
  • How does this information affect business communication? What effect does it have on your own thinking about how you communicate with people?

Posted by Amy Newman

NY Times' Leaked Report About Innovation

05-25-2014 11:04 AM

Lucky us! Someone leaked an internal report from The New York Times about the company's digital strategy. With logical organization, wonderful supporting visuals, and a precise writing style, the authors outline where the company is missing readership and how to get their "journalism to readers."

The report was written by the newroom's innovation team, which spent six months analyzing the company's position and identifying new strategies.

The Full New York Times Innovation Report

The executive summary begins with the good news as well as a clear goal:

"The New York Times is winning at journalism. Of all the challenges facing a media company in the digital age, producing great journalism is the hardest. Our daily report is deep, broad, smart and engaging — and we’ve got a huge lead over the competition.

"At the same time, we are falling behind in a second critical area: the art and science of getting our  journalism to readers. We have always cared about the reach and impact of our work, but we haven’t done enough to crack that code in the digital era."

Discussion Starters:

  • Who is the intended audience for the report? Now that it's been leaked, how might this group react? What might concern them—and make them proud?
  • Analyze the report against guidelines in Chapter 10. What do you notice about the executive summary, organization, writing style, graphics, evidence, and so on?

Posted by Amy Newman

Snapchat's FTC Settlement and Admission

05-23-2014 3:15 PM

Snapchat-flashy-featuresSnapchat 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?

Posted by Amy Newman

What We Learn from 300 Commencement Speeches Since 1774

05-20-2014 6:19 PM

NPR has compiled more than 300 commencement speeches, all searchable by "name, school, date, or theme."

  NPR Commencement Speeches

In an article about the speeches, NPR identified 12 themes:

  1. Change the world
  2. Tips
  3. Inner voice
  4. Don't give up
  5. Work hard
  6. Embrace failure
  7. Remember history
  8. Dream
  9. Balance
  10. Make Art
  11. YOLO
  12. Be kind

NPR also tells us about the changing face of commencement speakers:

"Since the colonial era, young graduates in stiff gowns and itchy mortarboards have been forced to sit through this one last lecture. On rare occasions, politicians have used commencements to say important things, like John F. Kennedy announcing a nuclear test ban. Other lucky graduates have been treated to profound musings by literary geniuses like Joseph Brodsky and Kurt Vonnegut or calls to action by activists like Gloria Steinem.

"Today, like so much else, the format has become dominated by celebs — the Conan O'Briens, Meryl Streeps, and Amy Poehlers. But commencement speeches still make news, and like those by the late David Foster Wallace and the great George Saunders, they can still be poetry."

Discussion Starters:

  • If you were to watch just two speeches, which would you watch? Would you search by name, school, or something else?
  • Watch and assess one of the speeches: What observations do you make about the organization, tone, delivery, messages, and so on?

Posted by Amy Newman

Chipotle Bags and Cups Go Literary

05-17-2014 11:27 AM

I.3.morrison-chipotle-cupChipotle Founder and CEO Steve Ells liked a customer's idea to change its white, boring cups and bags to something more interesting. Frustrated at Chipotle without reading materials (or a smartphone?), Jonathan Safran Foer pitched the idea for getting writers to submit text. In a Vanity Fair article, Foer described his email to Ells:

“I said, ‘I bet a s***load of people go into your restaurants every day, and I bet some of them have very similar experiences, and even if they didn’t have that negative experience, they could have a positive experience if they had access to some kind of interesting text,’” Foer recalled. “And unlike McDonald’s, it’s not like they’re selling their surfaces to the highest bidder. They had nothing on their bags. So I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to just put some interesting stuff on it? Get really high-quality writers of different kinds, creating texts of different kinds that you just give to your customers as a service.’”

The project, called Cultivating Thought, has already garnered quite the list of celebrity authors, including Foer, who bills himself as curator. Foer authored Everything Is Illuminated, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and Eating Animals.

Cultivating Thought

Discussion Starters:

  • What do you think of the idea? As you can imagine, not everyone loves it.
  • Why would Steve Ells be interested in this project? What does Chipotle—and possibly Ells personally—have to gain?

Posted by Amy Newman

Commencement Speakers Nixed Because of Protests

05-15-2014 10:17 AM

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.

Rice 2

  • 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?

Posted by Amy Newman

Don Sterling Finally Apologizes but Not Very Well

05-13-2014 2:37 PM

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling started his interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN with a clear apology, but it was an odd showing overall. Business Insider called the interview a train wreck. The first part of the interview shown here goes well:

"I made a terrible, terrible mistake. And I'm here with you today to apologize and to ask for forgiveness for all of the people I've that hurt. I've never dreamt that this could happen."

But the interview seems to go downhill from there. Sterling said that he was hurt by Magic Johnson, and yet he was quite critical of the famous player. He said that he prayed for Johnson "when he had those AIDS," suggested that Johnson isn't a good role model, said that he "should be ashamed of himself," and questioned what he has done for the Black community.

In another interview, Sterling's estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, spoke on The Today Show. She is fighting to keep her part-ownership of the clippers and said, "I'm very angry. And I'm very hurt. And I even cried listening to that [Don Sterling's CNN interview], because I just feel bad. . . .Why am I the victim when he's the perpetrator? If somebody killed somebody, does the wife have to stand trial too?"

Discussion Starters:

  • What could Sterling have done differently during the interview? Consider his preparation and delivery? Watch the full video.
  • How are Sterling's own attitudes getting in the way of his attempts to rebuild his image?
  • Was appearing on CNN the right decision? Why or why not?

Posted by Amy Newman

Companies Adapt to Latin American Markets

05-13-2014 11:42 AM

McD ColumbiaMashable describes several good examples of how companies adapt their marketing approach to different Latin American countries. In Chapter 2 of the book, we saw McDonald's website examples in different countries. The Mashable article, "For Marketers, 'One-Size-Fits-All' Doesn’t Fit in Latin America," features McDonald's along with Coca-Cola and PUMA and highlights a "tip to learn from" for each company:

McDonald’s: Showcasing local values

Tip to learn from: Taking a regional approach and then localizing it even further, through content, is a powerful way to be impactful in overseas markets.

Coca-Cola: Giving consumers in Argentina (and beyond) what they want

Tip to learn from: Research and deeply understand local customer demand to create locally tailored products, particularly in emerging markets.

PUMA: Understanding Unique Cultural Histories

Tip to learn from: Insight into deep-rooted cultural and historical nuances is key to resonant and relevant marketing in emerging markets.

Discussion Starters:

  • Read the Mashable article, and discuss how principles in Chapter 2, such as individualism and context sensitivity, play a role in the examples.
  • What potential dangers do you see in tailoring marketing approaches in this way?

Posted by Amy Newman

News Conference About Hot-Air Balloon

05-13-2014 11:21 AM

A hot-air balloon drifted into a power line, caught fire, and then crashed in Virginia. The pilot and two passengers, staff members of the University of Richmond's women's basketball program, were killed. The state police led the news conference about the incident.

The University of Richmond posted this statement on its website:

Spiders Saddened By Tragic Hot Air Balloon Accident
Courtesy:Richmond Athletics

UNIVERSITY OF RICHMOND, Va. -- The University of Richmond community extends its prayers and thoughts to the families of two members of the women’s basketball staff who were aboard a balloon that crashed May 9 in Caroline County, Va.

Ginny Doyle, associate head women’s basketball coach, and Natalie Lewis, director of basketball operations, were on the balloon that crashed shortly before 8 p.m. Virginia State Police have recovered two of the balloon’s three occupants.  Official identification is pending from the Medical Examiner’s Office.

"As alumnae, classmates, and colleagues – and as invaluable and devoted mentors for our student-athletes – Ginny and Natalie have been beloved members of our community,” said President Edward L. Ayers. “Their leadership and friendship will endure in the lives of so many.”

“Words cannot begin to express our sorrow,” said Keith Gill, director of athletics. “We are all stunned by the tragic news. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their loved ones.”

Doyle, a former Richmond basketball standout who graduated in 1992, has served on the Spiders’ staff for 16 years. During her tenure at Richmond, she helped guide the Spiders to nine winning seasons, an at-large berth to the 2005 NCAA Tournament, five consecutive postseason appearances and a first-ever appearance in the Atlantic 10 Championship final in 2009.

As a student-athlete, Doyle was a two-time all-conference player, leading the Spiders to the 1991 CAA Championship and NCAA Tournament.  She is the program’s career leader in free throw percentage and set the NCAA Division I record for consecutive free throws made with 66, a mark that stood for 18 years. 

Lewis graduated from Richmond in 2011 and began her professional career with Spider Athletics in 2012.  She has been with the women’s basketball program for the past two seasons.  As an undergraduate, Lewis was a championship swimmer and four-year varsity letter winner at Richmond, serving twice as team captain. She was on three Atlantic 10 swimming championship teams. She also was a student government cabinet member and graduated as a Spider Scholar Athlete.

The university has arranged access to counselors to assist faculty, staff and students following this tragic accident.  

Discussion Starters:

  • Assess the news conference in terms of delivery style, content, organization, and so on.
  • In this video clip, we see only part of the news conference. What else should be said?
  • What's your view of the university's statement? What works well, and what could be improved?

Posted by Amy Newman

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