Business Communication



Business Communication


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Business Communication with Cengage Learning


FTC Admonishes Cole Haan's Pinterest Promotion

04-20-2014 6:36 PM

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.

FTC and Cole Haan Pinterest

In a letter to Cole Haan, the FTC admonished Cole Haan:

FTC and 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?

Posted by Amy Newman

General Mills Changes Its Tune

04-20-2014 7:54 AM

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:

General Mills 1

General Mills 2

Here's the company's tweet about the change:

General Mills Tweet

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?

Posted by Amy Newman

Captain of Korean Ferry Is Arrested and Apologizes

04-19-2014 6:00 PM

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?

Posted by Amy Newman

Cute Infographic, But What's the Point?

04-19-2014 9:33 AM

Here's an attractive infographic, but viewers may struggle with the point. (Click for a larger image.)


How can you improve the infographic?

  • Who do you think is the audience?
  • What is the purpose? Specifically what would the designer like the reader to do?
  • What "message title" would make the main point up front more clear?
  • How is the graphic organized? What sequencing of data could be more logical?
  • How could the font style be improved for easier reading?
  • What text for each component would more clearly convey each point?
  • How else could you improve the text?
  • What design changes would you make, for example, to the colors, images, and background graphics?

Discussion Starters:

  • This infographic was produced by Allstate insurance, and it is, after all, an information graphic. What are the consequences of making the main point clearer? In other words, why might Allstate choose this approach?
  • What one data point in the infographic is the most convincing?
  • If you're renting now, does this persuade you to get renters' insurance?

Posted by Amy Newman

"Like" This Page and Give Up Your Right to Sue?

04-18-2014 10:27 AM

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?

Posted by Amy Newman

Typo Adds 3 1/2 Years to Prison Sentence

04-16-2014 6:50 PM

If you need convincing to proofread, this may do it. Federal prisoner Ceasar Huerta Cantu discovered an error while reading a legal report about his case. Using federal guidelines for sentencing, the report noted that Cantu's offense was level 36 instead of 34. 

It took President Obama's clemency powers to fix the mistake. White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said, "It’s hard to imagine that someone in the federal criminal justice system could serve an extra three-plus years in prison because of a typographical error."

Obama Commutation

Cantu's attorney and the judge who presided over his case both missed the mistake. Six years later, when Cantu brought the case forward, another judge denied the request to cut his sentence by 42 months, saying it was too late.

The case is particularly relevant now that the Obama Administration is reviewing commutation powers and because of harsh federal drug sentences. According to The New York Times, "Over his first five years in office, Mr. Obama granted fewer acts of clemency than any modern president." As Cantu's new attorney says, "If you’re familiar with federal drug laws, they are very punitive, and I deal with them all the time,” he said. “Any chance you get to right that, I think that’s a good thing."

Discussion Starters:

  • How do you think a mistake like this could happen? How could it have been avoided?
  • Should Cantu's original attorney be held responsible for missing the error? Should the original judge?
  • Did President Obama do the right thing? What about other prisoners who seek clemency?

Posted by Amy Newman

Comparing Heartbleed Emails

04-15-2014 4:57 PM

By now, most people know about Heartbleed, the computer vulnerability that takes advantage of a programming flaw in websites' OpenSSL encryption code. As we wait to see which sites are affected, companies are beginning to send emails to customers. We can compare these bad-news messages in the same way we looked at emails about the Epsilon security breach back in 2011.

Here are the emails I've seen so far:

Discussion Starters:

  • What differences do you notice among these emails? Consider the message, tone, organization, and so on.
  • What could account for these differences?

Posted by Amy Newman

Communications About California Bus Tragedy

04-12-2014 5:59 PM

A terrible bus accident left ten people dead, including five high school students on a Preview Plus tour of Humboldt State College. This was a special trip for first-generation and low-income students see the college where they were accepted and might attend the following year. More than 30 people were injured.

A FedEx truck jumped the median and crashed into the bus, creating a horrible scene of students and their chaperones trying to escape. So far, a FedEx spokesperson has made this statement: "Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in the tragic accident on I-5 in California. We are cooperating fully with authorities as they investigate."

Humboldt posted this message on its website:

Humboldt State University

Here are two excerpts from a news conference.

Discussion Starters:

  • Assess Homboldt's website post. In what ways is it what you would expect, and how, if it all, is it different?
  • Assess FedEx's statement. Given the recency, is the statement appropriate? Should the company say anything else?
  • Assess the comments in both videos for emotional appeal and handling questions. What works well,  and what could be improved?

Posted by Amy Newman

Filed under:

Paula Deen Forgot to Tell Her Employees She's Closing the Restaurant

04-09-2014 6:26 PM

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.

Paula Deen FB post

As predicted, opponents and allies were active on the company's Facebook page, which has since been taken down.

Paula Deen FB post 2

Meanwhile, Deen has been "business-as-usual" on her Twitter feed:

Paula Deen twitter

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?

Posted by Amy Newman

Joy Behar Roasts Chris Christie

04-08-2014 7:01 PM

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?

Posted by Amy Newman

ABC's Video for Facebook Likes

04-08-2014 12:24 PM

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?

Posted by Amy Newman

"Your Neighbor . . . Is a Parasite" Flyer

04-06-2014 8:13 PM

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.

   Rose Flyer

In a tweet, Rose did concede some points: 

Rose Tweet

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.

Posted by Amy Newman

New Mozilla CEO Resigns

04-06-2014 6:50 AM

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?

Posted by Amy Newman

NSA's New Press Kit

04-04-2014 10:24 AM

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.

NSA press kit

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?

Posted by Amy Newman

Barra Answers Tough Questions at the Hearing

04-04-2014 9:37 AM

GM CEO Mary Barra faced a panel of angry senators at the hearing investigating the company's failure to fix faulty ignition switches. Barra began by reading her testimony:

The New York Times describes the scene:

"As family members of victims looked on, senators repeatedly cut off Ms. Barra, scolded her over failing to have answers and zeroed in on G.M.’s potential criminal liability for failing to fix defective ignition switches in millions of small cars for more than a decade."

The Times blog identified a few highlights from the questioning, including this reaction from a victim's father:  

"She’s not doing anything except stonewalling and saying she’s a mother and has children and is sorry and is communicating with the families."

Discussion Starters:

  • Assess Barra's initial testimony. What works well in convincing the senators, and what could be improved?
  • One of Barra's strategies is to try to distinguish herself from the "old GM." How well is this strategy working?
  • Watch more of the hearings on YouTube or news sites. How well is Barra handling the senators' questions?

Posted by Amy Newman

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