• Reebok Pays $25 Million Because of Deceptive Ads

    As it turns out, you can't get toned just by wearing a pair of shoes. Reebok is paying big refunds because claims about their RunTone and EasyTone shoes cannot be substantiated. The company marketed these products on claims such as "You can work your hamstrings and calves up to 11% harder." Lacking evidence to prove these results, Reebok was fined $25 million by the Federal Trade Commission. Customers may apply for a refund via the FTC website.

    Although Reebok agreed to the settlement, the company stands by its products and will continue selling the shoes. In a statement, Reebok affirms, 

    "We have received overwhelmingly enthusiastic feedback from thousands of EasyTone customers, and we remain committed to the continued development of our EasyTone line of products."


    Discussion Starters:

    • How did Reebok fall short in its claims? What questions would you have after hearing the data about the shoes?
    • Do you consider Reebok's advertising to be deceptive? Why or why or not?



  • Got Milk? Or Get Fired

    A CEO of a public relations firm has had it with office selfishness. Although Keith Zakheim denies following through on the threat (as yet), he sent an email to all employees: "You will be fired for not replacing the milk." What's worse: the threat or a PR CEO's lack of apostrophes?

    From: Keith Zakheim
    Date: September 27, 2011 8:20:21 AM EDT
    To: Beckerman Staff
    Subject: I don't know what else to do...

    I have repeatedly requested until I am blue in the face that the person that finishes the milk must replace the milk. Its not complicated and is a simple sign of respect for fellow employees.

    So, imagine my chagrin this morning when I stumbled in at 715 after enduring a typically painful Redskins loss and in dire need of a shot of caffeine, only to find that the skim milk in the refrigerator had three drops of milk left. Literally 3 drops, an amount that would maybe fill the tummy of a prematurely born mouse. The person that did this is either incredibly lazy, obnoxiously selfish or woefully devoid of intelligence - 3 traits that are consistent with the profile of FORMER Beckerman employees.

    As you can tell from the tenor of this email, I am not happy and at my wits end. Allyne, Ilhwa, and I have repeatedly beseeched you to replace the supplies that you consume - whether its pencils, paper, or MILK. This costs you nothing - I pay for it! Yet, it is still repeatedly ignored.

    So, I am gravely serious when I write this - if I catch someone not replacing the milk, or at least, in the case where the downstairs store has close already, not sending an email to the office so the first person that arrives (usually Christa or me) can pick one up upon arrival - then I am going to fire you. Im not joking. You will be fired for not replacing the milk, and have fun explaining that one to your next employer. This is not a empty threat so PLEASE don't test me.

    99% of this office consists of great people that work hard, treat their employes with respect, and understand that they are part of something that is bigger than them. However, there seems to be a small element that doesn't understand this. So its time that they do or else they should start refreshing their resume.

    For those of you who have worked for me for years, you know this is not my style so PLEASE take this seriously!

    Thank you for your cooperation.



  • Excessive Kissing on Southwest Flight?

    #BoycottSouthwest Airlines is trending because of an in-flight kissing incident. Leisha Hailey, an actress on the TV show The L Word, and her partner, musician Camila Grey, were asked to deplane after kissing on board. Hailey tweeted about the incident:

    “I have been discriminated against by @SouthwestAir. Flt. attendant said that it was a ‘family’ airline and kissing was not ok.”

    "This is an outrage. I demand a public apology by @SouthwestAir and a refund. Hate is not a family value. I will never fly this airline.”

    Proud of their LGBT-friendly policies, Southwest posted this statement:

    Southwest Kissing

    Update: Southwest has issued a second statement, explaining that the passengers were removed from the plane because of profanity, not kissing.

    Discussion Starters:

    • After reading about this incident, would you boycott Southwest? Why or why not? What other information would you want to know before making a decision?
    • How do you assess Southwest's response to the situation? What did they do well, and what, if anything, could they have done differently?
  • UBS CEO Resigns

    Following the scandal that caused Swiss bank UBS $2.3 billion, CEO Oswald J. Grübel has resigned. In an email to employees, Grübel says, "I did not take the step of resigning lightly."

    In the email, Grübel includes a pep talk for employees:

    "As I've always emphasized, a lot of work remains to be done here. So don't let recent events distract you from your work. Continue giving your all and keep your focus on your clients. I am certain that UBS can carve out a strong place for itself within the fundamentally changing financial industry."

    This email follows a previous communication to employees, in which Grübel explained the incident and wrote, "Ultimately, the buck stops with me."

    Discussion Starters:

    • Who are Grübel's primary and secondary audiences for this email?
    • What would you identify as Grübel's goals of this message?
    • In your opinion, to what extent did he achieve these goals?
  • Note to Tweeters Who Hire Ghostwriters: Change Your Password

    Someone who calls himself a "Social Marketing & Communications Strategist" is facing embarrassment over his Twitter account. Apparently, @Mark Davidson had hired three people to ghostwrite tweets for him, only to be exposed on his own Twitter feed. One angry former writer took advantage of Davidson's failure to change his Twitter password and kept posting after he stopped working for Davidson:

    Ghost writer
    Discussion Starters:

    • What are the ethical considerations of someone tweeting for someone else? Does Davidson's job influence your perspective? (On Twitter, he describes himself as "Internet sales & marketing professional. I write a lot of things to amuse myself and others. On occasion, I even have deep thoughts.")
    • After this incident, Davidson (himself, apparently) posted this tweet: "WANTED: Social Media Account Ghost Writer. We've recently had an opening at http://twitter.com/#!/markdavidson. (Serious inquiries only.)" Would you apply? Why or why not?
  • New HP CEO Meg Whitman Addresses Criticism

    Meg Whitman, former Ebay CEO and candidate for Governor of California, has been appointed Hewlett-Packard's new president and CEO. In an interview with All Things Digital, Whitman and HP Executive Chair Ray Lane addressed the criticism of Whitman's lack of enterprise technology experience:

    220px-Meg_Whitman_crop AllThingsD: Meg, the main criticism of you, since you’ve been named CEO of HP, is that your main experience before was at eBay, which is a consumer-facing company. The response on yesterday’s conference call has been that at eBay you were a purchaser of a lot of enterprise technology and that this gives you some important relevant experience. I get the point, but could you elaborate on it a bit? How does having been an enterprise buyer help you be HP’s CEO?

    Whitman: What HP needs now more than anything else is management skills, communication skills, and a commitment to executional excellence, all of which I know well, and are sort of core competencies from my 35-year career in business. I know technology because I ran a company whose very existence would not have been possible without it, and was a very significant buyer of technology products. And so that brings me a unique buyer’s perspective. But I have not spent 35 years in the enterprise business. Add so what that means is that I will be relying heavily on Dave Donatelli, on Todd Bradley, on the senior executives at HP, and also, frankly on Ray Lane, who was at Oracle for many years and EDS, and who knows this space well. So I think what customers will get is that one plus one equals three.

    In a conference call, Whitman addressed current issues at HP, but investors are skeptical: the stock was down 4% in early trading today.

    Discussion Starters:

    • How well do you think Whitman addressed the question about her experience?
    • Read the full interview with Meg Whitman. How did she handle some of the tougher questions? Which are her best and weakest responses? 
    • Research HP's leadership history and recent performance. What, if anything, can the company do to improve its communication to investors and the public?
  • Solyndra Legal Team Gets Into the Action

    Solyndra executives had agreed to testify before the U.S. Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, but their lawyers have since advised them to plead the Fifth Amendment. Solyndra, a solar-panel manufacturer that received $535 million in stimulus funding, has filed for bankruptcy and is now under criminal investigation. The executives maintain their innocence: "The company is not aware of any wrongdoing by Solyndra officers, directors, or employees in conjunction with the DOE [Department of Energy] loan guarantee or otherwise..."

    Two letters from the legal team explain why executives Brian Harrison (CEO) and Bill Stover (CFO) will not answer questions that may incriminate them during Congressional hearings on Friday.

    In response, U.S. committee members expressed their dissatisfaction:

    "Who exactly are Solyndra’s executives trying to protect, and what are they trying to hide?

    "Despite repeated assurances that they would testify voluntarily and answer questions this Friday, today we received the news that these executives – who had plenty to say to federal officials when securing half a billion dollars in taxpayer funding for their venture – plan to invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and will not answer questions from Congress."

    Discussion Starters:

    • Compare the two legal letters for Solyndra executives. What minor differences do you see, and how do you account for these?
    • How do you assess the U.S. committee chairmen's response to the news? What do you notice about the tone of their statement?
    • Consider the politics involved in this situation. Who are the major players, and what is driving their actions?
  • Netflix CEO Apologizes and Announces Company Split

    Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is trying to win back goodwill lost by the company's recent price hike. In an email to customers, Hastings admits "I messed up. I owe you an explanation." In a video, Hastings introduces his head of DVD operations to explain the latest change -- splitting Netflix into two companies: one that will handle streaming video (to retain the Netflix name), and another to manage DVDs by mail, called Quikster.

    Critics say that the deal was hastily put together, citing, among other issues, the Twitter handle @Quikster, currently owned by an individual represented by an image of a pot-smoking Elmo (reported by TechCrunch). 

    Quikster Twitter 2

    The Netflix blog post amassed over 15,000 comments within a day, reminiscent of the outcry after the July price hike.  Fans and former Netflix customers may remember the video parody about the public reaction.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Looking at the Netflix blog, how well do you think the company is currently handling comments? What recommendations do you have for the CEO to improve communication at this point?
    • How successful do you find the video? What works well, and what, if anything, would you suggest that Hastings and Rendich change in their presentation?
    • How justified do you consider the public reaction to the news? In what ways is this different from the anger expressed earlier from Netflix customers?
    • Of Netflix's three main messages -- the email, the video, and the blog post -- which do you think is most effective and why?
  • UBS CEO Memo Following $2.3B Loss: "The buck stops with me"

    A 31-year-old rouge trader has caused close to $2.3 billion in losses for Swiss bank UBS. Unauthorized, speculative trades over three months apparently went unnoticed until the trader's recent arrest. UBS is expected to be able to absorb the hit, but Moody's is investigating the firm for a potential downgrade.     

    In a memo to staff, UBS CEO Oswald J. Grübel acknowledges that people are "shocked and disappointed" and tells employees "our fundamental strengths as a firm remain intact." Grübel also encourages employees to report wrongdoing:

    "Ultimately, the buck stops with me. I and the rest of senior management are responsible for dealing with wrongdoing. I only wish to remind everyone that all of us have a part to play in identifying and reporting wrongful behavior and conduct in the workplace. If you feel uncomfortable about informing your line manager, I urge you to use one of the other available channels for doing so."   Download memo from UBS CEO

    Discussion Starters:

    • How could a loss of this magnitude have happened at a company like UBS?
    • How do you assess Grübel's memo to staff? How well does he handle the bad news? What arguments do you find most and least convincing in the message?
  • Slim Budgets for UK Public Sector Internal Communicators

    In an ironic twist, public sector organizations have dwindling budgets for internal communication. According to a survey conducted by UK consultancy Gatehouse and the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC), one third of respondents have no dedicated internal communication budget, and 27% have less than £10,000. At the same time, respondents identified several priorities for communicating with employees: Ee comms

    • Reengaging employees (40%)
    • Communicating strategy and direction (30%)
    • Communicating cost cutting (20%)

    Tough times are ahead, so companies clearly need to focus on communicating with employees. On the upside, organizations surveyed do have dedicated internal staff: only 6% have no one, half have between one and five communicators, and 21% have more than 20 people dedicated to internal communication.

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Other than a lack of commitment to employee communication, what could the slim budgets mean for these UK public companies?
    • How was internal communication handled at the last company where you worked? What examples of employee communication do you remember, and were they successful?
  • Typo on 9/11 Memorial

    Perhaps it was bound to happen, but the heartache for a family is still real: the name of a 9/11 victim was misspelled on the Lower Manhattan memorial. Jeffrey Schreier's name was spelled "Jeffery."

    Family members were very upset when they noticed the error. Schreier's sister, Janice Hart, said, "This is the only place we could go to have some solace, and to see his name engraved incorrectly was very distressing to us." Hart's husband, David, said, "You feel as though Jeffrey's soul is now looking down and saying, 'Can't you get my name right?'"

  • Bank of America Will Cut 30,000 Jobs -- The Largest Number This Year

    Bank of America is cutting more jobs. Following the 6,000 jobs lost earlier this year, a $5 million investment by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and a management-team shake-up, the company will lose 30,000 jobs in attempt to scale down the largest bank in the country.

    CEO Brian Moynihan has some explaining to do. The stock is down 48% this year, and the Bank is still paying for what some believe were poor acquisitions of Merrill Lynch and, particularly, Countrywide. BofA wins the dubious honor of having the largest number of cuts this year. (The U.S. Postal Service announced 30,000 last year and has cut more than 100,000 jobs in the past five years.)

    As part of its communication strategy, Bank of America issued a press release to provide an update on "Project New BAC." (BAC is the stock symbol.) And in a conference call, Moynihan described four points that support Bank of America's future success.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Read Bank of America's recent press release. If you were an investor, would you find this reassuring? Why or why not?
    • Listen to the introduction to Moynihan's conference call. Based on this introduction, which of his four points do you find most convincing? Least convincing?
  • Volunteer Experience Could Land You a Job

    A recent survey has convinced LinkedIn to add a new field to online profiles: "Volunteer Experiences & Causes." According to the survey of 2,000 professionals, 41% of hiring managers believe that volunteer experience is just as valuable as paid experience, and 20% of hiring managers have made hiring decisions based on a candidate's volunteer work. Eighty-nine percent of the survey respondents had performed volunteer work, yet only 45% of them included this on their resumes, feeling that they didn't want to exploit the community group -- or because they didn't think about including the experience.

    Volunteer work could give you skills and experience that employers want: teamwork, interpersonal skills, sales and marketing, and more. So why not include this on your resume, particularly in a tight, competitive labor market?

    LinkedIn Volunteer

    Discussion Starters:

    • Do you currently list volunteer work on your resume? Why or why not? Will you add it now that you see how much it is valued by employers?
    • What are the downsides of including volunteer experience on your resume?
    • Looking back on your volunteer work, what competencies (skills, knowledge, or abilities) do you believe the experience developed that might be useful in your career?
  • Hacked NBC Twitter Account Announces Ground Zero Attack

    Twitter hacking continues. This time, NBC is the victim, and the tweets are cruel. The Script Kiddies hacked Fox News in July, claiming that President Obama had been assassinated. Apparently, NBC's social media director clicked on an email attachment that allowed access to the culprit:

    “'Ryan, You need to get off TWITTER immediately and protect your family from the hurricane. That is an order.' Osborn wrote back 'I’m sorry. Who is this?' The sender then replied, 'I’m the girl next door' with an attachment. Osborn said he mistakenly clicked on the attachment and it contained a Christmas tree."

    NBC Twitter Discussion Starters:

    • What is your reaction to the series of hacking? Are these harmless pranks or potentially dangerous?
    • What, if any, are the ethical implications of Twitter hacking?
    • How do you assess NBC's statement: “The NBC News Twitter account was hacked late this afternoon and as a result, false reports of a plane attack on ground zero were sent to @NBCNews followers. We are working with Twitter to correct the situation and…sincerely apologize for the scare that could have been caused by such a reckless and irresponsible act”? Is this an appropriate response, or do you believe that more should be included in the network's statement?
  • Fox Sports Makes Fun of Asians at USC

    For a Fox Sports Network video to promote the Pac-12 football conference, comedian Bob Oschack interviews Asian students at USC. These students don't know about the conference -- and likely don't care -- but are asked to speak on camera.

    A spokesperson from Fox Sports apologized for the video:

    “The context was clearly inappropriate, and the video was removed as soon as we became aware of it. We will review our editorial process to determine where the breakdown occurred and we will take steps to ensure something like this never happens again.”

    Discussion Starters:

    • Do you consider the video racist? Is it ethical? Explain your position.
    • What could Fox Sports change in their editorial process to make sure this doesn't happen again, as the spokesperson promises?
  • Yahoo CEO: "I've just been fired over the phone..."

    Carol A. Bartz leaves Yahoo in the same style in which she ran the company. Known for her abrasiveness, Bartz sent this email to employees:  Bartz

    Hired in January 2009 at Yahoo, Bartz has a history of writing strong emails, such as this one, in which she tells her staff, "...people seem like they're waiting for something. I'm not sure if it's a sugar-low or what, but we need to stop waiting and get moving. Good things do not come to those who wait, they come to those who make things happen."  She is also known for her liberal use of the "F-bomb," as on this quarterly earnings call.

    Following Bartz's email to staff, the board chair and Yahoo founders sent an email of their own, announcing the decision and explaining other changes at the company.

    Discussion Starters:

    • In Chapter 1 of the text, you read about communication media choices. What is your assessment of the chair of Yahoo's board firing Bartz over the phone? What could be the rationale for terminating her over the phone rather than in person?
    • What is your assessment of Bartz's email to Yahoo employees? Do you consider this appropriate, inappropriate, or something in between?
  • In Full-Page NYT Ad, Starbucks' Schultz Promises No Campaign Donations

    Howard-Schultz-Starbucks01 Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO, has pledged to withhold campaign donations until Washington gets it together. As a full-page ad in Sunday's New York Times, Schultz communicated his frustration in an open letter. The pledge, which he says 100 business leaders have signed, includes two parts:

    "First, to withhold political campaign contributions until a transparent, comprehensive, bipartisan debt-and-deficit package is reached that honestly, and fairly, sets America on a path to long-term financial health and security. Second, to do all we can to break the cycle of economic uncertainty that grips our country by committing to accelerate investment in jobs and hiring."

     Discussion Starters:

    • Read Schultz's entire letter. Which arguments do you consider strongest and weakest in his appeal?
    • How does Schultz balance logical arguments, emotional appeal, and credibility in his letter? What examples do you see of each?
    • From a branding perspective, what are the benefits and risks of a corporate CEO publicizing a message such as this?
  • iPhone 5 (Lost in a Bar...Again) is Thin and Has Holographic Display

    You've heard it before: a guy walks into a bar and loses an iPhone. Apple devotees get a glimpse of the iPhone 5 the same way they heard about iPhone 4: presumably because someone accidentally left one in a bar.

    PR strategy side, the new iPhone is rather stunning: the size, laser keyboard, and holographic display may impress even the most diehard Droid user.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Do you believe this is a publicity stunt for the new iPhone? If so, why doesn't Apply just issue a press release like other companies?
    • Does the product hype make you more or less likely to want the iPhone 5? Will you wait on line overnight for it?
  • Should the NYC Mayor's Office Have Disclosed Domestic Violence Arrest?

    When Bloomberg's deputy mayor Stephen Goldsmith resigned, the administration said that he was leaving "to pursue private-sector opportunities in infrastructure finance." In a statement, Goldsmith said, "The change will provide me, at age 64, with more flexibility for me and my family and a secure foundation for our future."

    But the story has changed. Prior to his resignation, Goldsmith was arrested following an altercation with his wife and spent two days in jail. Critics say that the arrest should have been disclosed as soon as the administration knew. This is significant partly because of Goldsmith's role, which was to oversee major city agencies: police, fire, transportation, sanitation, and buildings.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Did the administration have a responsibility to disclose Goldsmith's arrest? 
    • Evaluate the decision: what are the arguments supporting and against disclosure? How might the administration's view differed from Goldsmith's perspective?
    • Goldsmith's wife seems to have changed her story from what was reported in the arrest record. The original record describes quite a physical scene, and yet Mrs. Goldsmith later denied that physical violence occurred. What role, if any, do you think she played in the decision not to disclose the incident?
  • JCPenney Apologies for "Too Pretty to Do Homework" T-Shirt

    JCPenney's new T-shirt and the promotional text offended many

    JCP T-Shirt

    The controversy played out on JCPenney's Facebook page with comments like this one:

    JCP Comment

    The company was quick to apologize:

    "J.C. Penney is committed to being America's destination for great style and great value for the whole family. We agree that the 'Too pretty' t-shirt does not deliver an appropriate message, and we have immediately discontinued its sale. Our merchandise is intended to appeal to a broad customer base, not to offend them. We would like to apologize to our customers and are taking action to ensure that we continue to uphold the integrity of our merchandise that they have come to expect."

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Do you consider the T-shirts offensive or just funny?
    • In a follow-up message, JCPenney Corporate Communications representative said, "We are not happy about the shirt! We're looking into it right now, to find out how it happened. It was only online, not available in stores, and we have removed it from the site." How do you assess JCPenney's reaction?