• Science: It's a Girl Thing -- Demeaning or Clever?

    To attract more female scientists, the European Commission created a video and other promotional videos. With an abundance of pink and a focus on cosmetics, the video has been criticized as demeaning to girls. Some even questioned whether the video was a joke, to which a spokesperson said that the European Commission, "doesn't really do irony."


    As of today, the video on YouTube was viewed more than 626,000 times and received 974 likes and 6,432 dislikes. 

    In fairness, the EC has several videos as part of this campaign that don't focus on girls' high-heeled bodies or show girls blowing kisses. The Irish Times reported the EC's reaction from an interview with spokesperson Michael Jennings:

    "'It is intended to catch the attention of the target audience – 13- to 17-year- old girls.'

    "Mr. Jennings said that focus groups informed the commission that the video had to 'speak their language to get their attention' and that it was intended to be 'fun, catchy' and strike a chord with young people. 'I would encourage everyone to have a look at the wider campaign and the many videos already online of female researchers talking about their jobs and lives,' he said."

    Discussion Starters:

    • What's your view of the video? Do you find it demeaning, clever, or something else?
    • The EC took down the video after the criticism. Was this the right decision?
  • Olympics Committee Responds to Knitters

    FlyingFingers_KnittingNeedles_13The U.S. Olympics Committee managed to anger an unlikely group—knitters. To protect the "Olympics" trademark, the group sends hundreds of cease-and-desist letters when it believes the name has been misused. In this case, a group of knitters promoted a "Ravelympics" competition: While watching the Olympics, knitters participate in events such as "afghan marathon" and "scarf hockey."

    Knitters were offended by the language in the cease-and-desist letter, which included the following:

    "We believe using the name 'Ravelympics' for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games. In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country's finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work."

    The outcry from the knitting community was extraordinary, as one blogger wrote: "2 Million Knitters with Pointy Sticks are Angry at the US Olympic Committee."

    USOC apologized, but botched the message. Here's an excerpt: 

    "We apologize for any insult and appreciate your support. We embrace hand-crafted American goods as we currently have the Annin Flagmakers of New Jersey stitching a custom-made American flag to accompany our team to the Olympic Games in London. To show our support of the Ravelry community, we would welcome any handmade items that you would like to create to travel with, and motivate, our team at the 2012 Games."

    One person responded: "Thanks for the half-hearted attempt at a maybe apology that keeps you clear of any blame. Now, you want us to give you free stuff?"

    In an interview with PR Daily, Patrick Sandusky, spokesperson for the USOC, admitted, "The letter itself that was sent to this group was definitely too strident in its tone." He also said, "We do believe they’re in violation of the law Congress passed and how we’ll protect our trademark, but we could have gone about it in a slightly more sensitive way."

    To address the criticism, Sandusky used his personal Twitter account. He explains this decision:

    "I’m a firm believer that people don’t believe organizations as much as they believe individuals. And if somebody’s going to put their name on it and be a voice of reason specifically as a person who works at an organization and not just hide behind a blanket generic Twitter account—which has its uses without a doubt. And we have far more people that follow that than follow me. But it was something to supplement the main Twitter feed and show that this wasn’t just a generic corporate account speaking corporate speak but it was an actual person willing to answer questions. And I answered more than, I think, 500 people online who contacted me directly with their questions. All those answers aren’t going to be sufficient for some people but at least they’re getting a response and not just being pointed to a generic statement. We believe here that we’re the people that are responsible for the organization and I don’t have any problem putting my name on organizational decisions and responding directly."

    Image source

    Discussion Starters and Assignment Ideas:

    • Read the cease-and-desist letter. Rewrite it to improve the style and tone.
    • How do you assess the USOC's apology? Could the group have done a better job? Rewrite the statement to improve the message. 
  • WSJ Article: "This Embarrasses You and I*"

    A frontpage article in The Wall Street Journal discusses "rampant illiteracy" within the workplace:  

    "Managers are fighting an epidemic of grammar gaffes in the workplace. Many of them attribute slipping skills to the informality of email, texting and Twitter where slang and shortcuts are common. Such looseness with language can create bad impressions with clients, ruin marketing materials and cause communications errors, many managers say.

    "There's no easy fix. Some bosses and co-workers step in to correct mistakes, while others consult business-grammar guides for help. In a survey conducted earlier this year, about 45% of 430 employers said they were increasing employee-training programs to improve employees' grammar and other skills, according to the Society for Human Resource Management and AARP."

    An interactive quiz focuses on common errors in grammar and punctuation.

    WSJ grammar
    Students of business communication will recognize many of the errors highlighted in the article, for example, improper subject-verb agreement (e.g., "There's new people you should meet") and incorrect pronoun use (e.g., "...for John and I").

    Participants in a Society for Human Resources Management-AARP study blame young people. A consultant interviewed for the article said it's not that young workers lack the skills but that they have "developed a new norm" for communicating, including less formal language.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Do you agree with the article's assessment that lack of proper grammar at work is a serious issue? Why or why not?
    • Take the WSJ interactive quiz. How did you do?
  • Shell Regrets Social Media Campaign

    In a creative, but failed attempt to encourage public contribution to its marketing efforts, Shell asked people to submit their own memes. Shell was perhaps naive in thinking that people would support its positive thinking about the company's contribution to the environment.

    The campaign around the "Let's Go" slogan brought a mockery of images with captions such as "Because there are still places we haven't f'ked. Let's Drill" and "Proudly plundering and destroying environments for almost 200 years."

    Shell memeAt least Shell hasn't hidden from the reaction. On its site, the company has posted the memes and made this statement:

    "We at Shell are committed to providing consumers with clean and abundant Arctic energy. We're also committed to the open exchange of ideas and the wonder of human creativity which makes our job possible.

    "It is in this spirit that we approached the exciting untapped resource of socialized media with our Let's Go! Arctic user-generated advertising technology. While we do realize that a very small portion of the user-generated content below does not accurately represent Shell's commitment to providing consumers with clean and abundant Arctic energy, this pioneering experiment in user-generated content does reflect our commitment to freedom.

    "Shell remains proud of our commitment to freedom. The freedom to develop newly available and abundant Arctic energy reserves. And the freedom our consumers have to discount the work of a very small number of extremist individuals who remain determined to stand in the way of our quest to bring first class heritage technology to bear on the top of the world. We thank you for sharing in our commitment to freedom.

    "And thank you for contributing to our Let's Go! Arctic campaign."

    Discussion Starters:

    • Should Shell have avoided the campaign entirely, knowing that this could be the result—or was this an unintended, unpredictable result?
    • How do you assess Shell's reaction—its statement on the website? What else, if anything, should Shell say about the memes received?
  • NLRB Weighs in on Social Media Policies

    What should companies include in their social media policies? The topic is still debatable; again, the National Labor Relations Board is taking issue with several restrictions identified in corporate policies and guidelines.

    In a 24-page memo, the general counsel of the NLRB calls out General Motors, DISH Network, and Target as having policies that either too severely restrict employees' online activities or go so far as violate the National Labor Relations Act. The Act protects employees' right to collective bargaining and concerted activity to achieve their demands in the workplace.

    The memo provides examples from GM's policy, which the NLRB believes are overly restrictive:

    "If you engage in discussion related to [GM], in addition to disclosing that you work for [GM] and that your views are personal, you must also be sure that your posts are completely accurate and not misleading and that they do not reveal non-public company information on any public site."

    The NLRB believes that "completely accurate and not misleading" is overly broad and may restrict employees' communication with each other. Similarly, GM's warning that employees should "[t]hink carefully about 'friending' co-workers" discourages employee communication.

    DISH and Target have other problems in their policies, according to the NLRB, for example, restricting employees from speaking with reporters and bloggers, and "releas[ing] confidential guest, team member, or company information, respectively. These guidelines prevent employees from sharing information about their working conditions, a provision of the Act. 

    The memo highlights Walmart's social media guidelines as a lawful model. Walmart's guidelines broadly discourage "inappropriate postings that may include discriminatory remarks, harassment, and threats of violence or similar inappropriate or unlawful conduct."

    NLRB on social media

    Discussion Starters:

    • Assess the NLRB memo. How well is it organized? Is the writing style effective? Is the content clear?
    • If you were the head of corporate communication for GM, what, if any, changes would you make to the social media policy, which has been in place since 2007, according to GM spokesperson Mary Henige?
  • Adidas Responds to Controversy over "Shackled" Shoes

    Adidas has apologized for an advertisement that some consider racist. The chains around the shoes are said to be reminiscent of slavery—and prisons, particularly because of the orange color. With the tag line, "a sneaker game so hot you lock your kicks to your ankles," the shoes cost $350. A Washington Post article sums up the "dangerous message" Adidas and other companies are sending: "We want your money, but we aren’t concerned with being sensitive to your history, culture and socio-economic plight."


    Outrage was rampant on Facebook, with comments such as this one, posted by Antonio Leche: “Slavery isn’t a fashion example. Everyone involved in this show should be fired ASAP! This is the new reason I won’t buy any Adidas anymore!”

    In a statement, Reverend Jesse Jackson voiced his criticism:

    "For Adidas to promote the athleticism and contributions of a variety of African-American sports legends -- especially Olympic heroes Wilma Rudolph and Jesse Owens and boxing great Muhammad Ali -- and then allow such a degrading symbol of African-American history to pass through its corporate channels and move toward actual production and advertisement, is insensitive and corporately irresponsible.

    "These slave shoes are odious and we as a people should be called to resent and resist them. If put into production and placed on the market, protests and pickets signs will follow. Adidas cannot make a profit at the expense of commercialized human degradation."

    Adidas did respond to the criticism, first with this statement:

    "The JS Roundhouse Mid is part of the Fall/Winter 2012 design collaboration between Adidas Originals and Jeremy Scott. The design of the JS Roundhouse Mid is nothing more than the designer Jeremy Scott’s outrageous and unique take on fashion and has nothing to do with slavery.

    "Jeremy Scott is renowned as a designer whose style is quirky and lighthearted and his previous shoe designs for Adidas Originals have, for example, included panda heads and Mickey Mouse. Any suggestion that this is linked to slavery is untruthful."

    Of course, this didn't resolve the controversy, so Adidas tried again—and cancelled the shoe release:

    "Since the shoe debuted on our Facebook page ahead of its market release in August, Adidas has received both favorable and critical feedback. We apologize if people are offended by the design and we are withdrawing our plans to make them available in the marketplace."

    Discussion Starters:

    • What is your view of the Adidas ad? Do you see it as racist, harmless, or something else?
    • How do you assess the company's response? What might have been a better response to the criticism?
  • Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase, Testifies

    Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase's chairman and chief executive, testified before the Senate Banking Committee regarding losses that could balloon to $5 billion. Questions focused on whether the bank should have done more to stem risky derivative trades by the chief investment office. As a strong opponent of federal banking regulation, Dimon was on the hot seat about this perspective.

    In advance of the testimony, BloombergBusinessWeek compiled this "Timeline of Risk," under the article title, "House of Dimon Marred by CEO Complacency Over Unit’s Risk."

    JPMorgan Timeline
    During the testimony, Dimon made several comments of particular interest to business communication students:

    • He referred to the bank as having an "open kimono" with regulators. Dimon used this same odd, but common business expression on Meet the Press. Here's an interesting discussion of the phrase.
    • "The American business machine is the best in the world." The New York Times DealBook calls this a "little burst of patriotism." It's a admirable attempt at emotional appeal.
    • Jeff Merkley, a senator from Oregon, said that JPMorgan Chase was saved by the 2008 bailouts. According to DealBook, this was the first time Dimon got "testy." He replied, "You're factually wrong," to which Merkley said, "Let's agree to disagree." Business communication students may question what constitutes a "fact" in this disagreement. 

    Discussion Starters:

    • What the entire video testimony. At what points is Jamie Dimon most and least convincing?
    • What are the strongest and weakest lines of questioning by the senators?
    • Overall, did Dimon's testimony strengthen or weaken JPMorgan Chase's credibility regarding the losses?
  • Apple Keynote at the Worldwide Developer's Conference

    Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, was the keynote speaker at the 23rd Worldwide Developer's Conference in San Francisco. Apple showcases its new products and software at this annual event for developers.

    Cook at 2012 WWDC

    Siri, Apple's intelligent assistant, was the opening act for Cook's keynote (watch here). After a few jokes and Garage Band drum strokes to warm up the crowd, Cook took the stage. He focused on the scope of Apple's business and the developers' role, for example, creating 650,000 apps now available.

    Cook emphasized his pride in seeing developers work on Apple technologies to make a difference in people's lives, and he showed a video to highlight a few apps used by blind people and teachers.

    Mashable assessed Cook's performance in this way:

    "It wasn’t as if Cook lacked presence; if anything, he seems more comfortable on stage. He grinned broadly. He spoke with far more passion than at his previous two events as CEO, the iPhone 4S and new iPad launches. There were a few moments where, hands steepled, gaze fixed, Cook seemed almost to choke up when praising Apple developers as employees."

    Other executives then introduced a new line of Macbooks and new features on operating systems. No new iPads or iPhones were introduced.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Watch the first 15 minutes of the keynote here. If you were Cook's speech coach, how would you summarize his strengths? What suggestions would you have for his future speeches?
    • Consider the audience's perspective: in what ways did the first 15 minutes appeal to developers?
  • Start-Ups Banish Traditional Meetings

    According to a BloombergBusinessWeek article, shorter and fewer meetings are preferred in start-up companies.

    Tech meetings via BusinessWeek

    Business professionals are well aware of wasteful meetings, often good only for donut-eating and catching up on email. A "Meeting Cost Counter" calculates how much money (in salary) each meeting costs a company. (Download here or here.)

    The BusinessWeek article argues that sit-down meetings are particularly difficult for technology workers, who need blocks of time for programming and other work. GitHub, a start-up that stores computer code, is one company where almost no face-to-face meetings take place. At Grouper, a blind-dating company, employees attend a daily morning meeting that lasts only 10 minutes, and people are required to stand.

    Although someone is quoted in the article as saying, "no meeting should ever be more than an hour, under penalty of death," this seems a bit extreme. On the other hand, why are meetings scheduled for one hour by default? This is equally silly.

    According to the article, traditional meetings also are problematic because they are typically led by managers. Instead, online collaboration provides a more level playing field, where employees at all levels can contribute equally.

    Still, face-to-face meetings are important for certain situations. A Harvard Business Review Analytics Group survey found that managers prefer in-person meetings—even if it requires them to travel—for the following reasons (percentage of respondents follow each reason): 

    • Meet new (94%) or existing client (69%) to sell business
    • Negotiate contracts (82%)
    • Interview senior staff for key appointment (81%)
    • Understand and listen to important customers (69%)
    • Identify growth opportunity (55%)
    • Build relationships/manage geographically dispersed team (55%)
    • Initiate discussions with merger and acquisition targets (52%)
    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • In addition to those listed above, under what circumstances do you believe that face-to-face meetings are important?
    • What alternatives exist to face-to-face meetings? Which are viable options for places where you have worked?
  • Coca-Cola President Argues Against Soda Limit

    Last week, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed limiting sugary drinks to 16 ounces. This change would apply to sodas and other beverages sold in NY restaurants, at movies, and by street vendors.

    USA Today interviewed Katie Bayne, Coca-Cola's president of sparkling beverages in North America. Bayne's response to the proposal focused on what people "need"—an interesting argument—and the lack of evidence to support the Mayor's proposal.

    Here are excerpts from the interview:

    Q: But critics call soft drinks "empty" calories.

    A: A calorie is a calorie. What our drinks offer is hydration. That's essential to the human body. We offer great taste and benefits whether it's an uplift or carbohydrates or energy. We don't believe in empty calories. We believe in hydration.

    The Mayo Clinic agrees that soda hydrates; however, nutritionists recommend water over soda.

    Q: What do you say to those who believe that sugar — particularly in soft drinks — works on the brain like an addictive substance?

    A: There is no scientific evidence.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Do your own research about whether sugar in soft drinks has addictive qualities. What do you find? Does it support or contradict Katie Bayne's response that there's no scientific evidence linking the two?
    • Read the entire interview. Overall, how do assess Bayne's responses?
    • Part of the Mayor Bloomberg's argument, in the video above, is that the size of drinks has increased. How do you assess this argument? Is this a convincing data point for his decision to cap the size of soft-drinks? 
  • LinkedIn Responds to Password Hacking

    It's time to change your LinkedIn password. A Russian forum user posted 6.5 million passwords from the site, and LinkedIn has confirmed their authenticity. The hacker also claims that he stole 1.5 million eHarmony passwords.

    LinkedIn has responded to the incident with this post on its website:

    We want to provide you with an update on this morning’s reports of stolen passwords. We can confirm that some of the passwords that were compromised correspond to LinkedIn accounts. We are continuing to investigate this situation and here is what we are pursuing as far as next steps for the compromised accounts:

    1. Members that have accounts associated with the compromised passwords will notice that their LinkedIn account password is no longer valid.
    2. These members will also receive an email from LinkedIn with instructions on how to reset their passwords. There will not be any links in this email. Once you follow this step and request password assistance, then you will receive an email from LinkedIn with a password reset link.
    3. These affected members will receive a second email from our Customer Support team providing a bit more context on this situation and why they are being asked to change their passwords.

    It is worth noting that the affected members who update their passwords and members whose passwords have not been compromised benefit from the enhanced security we just recently put in place, which includes hashing and salting of our current password databases.

    We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this has caused our members. We take the security of our members very seriously. If you haven’t read it already it is worth checking out my earlier blog post today about updating your password and other account security best practices.

    LinkedIn has been active on Twitter, with four tweets so far about the incident.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • The company's communication process via email is a bit complex. Do you understand why the management team chose this process? Would you propose a better process?
    • This paragraph could be written more clearly: "It is worth noting that the affected members who update their passwords and members whose passwords have not been compromised benefit from the enhanced security we just recently put in place, which includes hashing and salting of our current password databases." What changes would you suggest to the writer?


  • Typos by the Romney Campaign

    It hasn't been a good week for Romney copy. The candidate's campaign made three typos this week. Romney Typo

    First, the campaign launched its new app, which promises "A Better Amercia." Users can overlay Romney messages onto their own photo, but the typo became an embarrassment  for the candidate.

    Next, the campaign misspelled a Facebook post, offering a "sneek peak" of an upcoming ad.

    The third error was spotted on the Romney website, which misspelled "official" as "offical."

    Now, the campaign is hiring a copyeditor—probably a good idea:

    We are looking for talented writers with proven ability to write and concept clear, concise, punchy, and effective content across web, mobile, print, and video. Must be able to deliver creative headlines, social media posts, promotional tactics, email copy, website landing pages, blogs, interactive experiences, and application assets.

    Skills and Responsibilities: 

    • 2+ years of professional experience writing in marketing, advertising, or journalism (agency experience preferred)
    • Conceptual thinker and storyteller
    • Ability to edit and proof own work
    • Thrive in a fast-paced, deadline driven environment and generate high-quality work
    • Ability to follow and improve upon established brand voice guidelines
    • Salary based upon experience level and quality of samples submitted
    • Portfolio or writing samples and resume required

    Discussion Starters:

    • What's your view of these typos? Are they poor reflections on the Mitt Romney campaign, no big deal, or something else?
    • In what ways will the copyeditor position help prevent future typos? In what ways might this position not help the situation? In other words, what else needs to happent to prevent future typos?
  • "I Love New York" Makeover

    To increase tourism, Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo is spending $5 million to reinvent the classic logo, "I (Heart) New York." David Lubars, chairman of BBDO, the advertising firm working on the campaign, says that the logo needed to be revitalized because it's been "co-opted" by other countries:

    “If you go to Russia, if you go to Spain, you see ‘I heart something,’ and it’s lost its New York cachet. My team’s assignment was to bring new cachet back to that logo and make it mean something important.”

    As part of their summer campaign, The New York State Tourism website, http://www.iloveny.com/, encourages people to draw their own "heart." Drawings are varied and creative but perhaps a little boring.

    In a press release, the Govenor's office explained the rationale for this approach: 

    "This is the first time in nearly 40 years, since the logo’s inception, that New York State has officially asked the public for their interpretations of the 'I Love NY' and for the reasons they love New York."

    New TV commercials will air for seven weeks during the summer. You see the logo prominently used during the commercials, which target tourists within 5 or 6 hours of driving distance to major NY cities. 

     Discussion Starters: 

    • At the end of the press release, the Governor's office cites several statistics about NY tourism and spending. What in this section are most and least convincing reasons to invest $5 million in this campaign? 
    • Offering the failed "New Coke" campaign as an example, Brian Sheehan, advertising professor at Syracuse University, warned, "You should mess with an icon at your own risk." What is your interpretation of Sheehan's view, and do you agree with him? What are the risks to NY in this campaign?  
  • Twitter: Flat Percentage of Users, but Deeper Engagement

    New research shows that only 15% of online adults use Twitter, and only 8% use the service every day. Although the percentage of users remains fairly stable and is fairly small, the number of daily users has doubled since May 2011 and quadrupled since late 2010.

    Authors of the February 2012 Pew Research Center's report credit smartphones with the increase in usage. According to Aaron Smith, Pew senior research specialist, "I do think it's notable that typical day Twitter usage is growing even as the overall usage stats have remained fairly consistent, [which] would imply that existing Twitter users are growing more engaged over time, with mobile being a big part of that story."

    It took a while, but younger users are getting on board with Twitter. Between November 2010 and February 2012, the percentage of Internet users between 18 and 24 on Twitter has increased from 16% to 31%. In addition, one in five in this age group uses Twitter.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Read the Pew report. What other conclusions can you draw from the study?
    • What is your own use of Twitter? If you fit within the category of growing users, why has your usage increased?
    • How is this new information relevant to corporate communicators?