Amy Newman is a senior lecturer of management communication at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, School of Hotel Administration. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in business writing, persuasive speaking, and corporate communication. Amy is author of Business Communication: In Person, In Print, Online, 10e and Building Leadership Character: Lessons from Communication Failures. Prior to joining Cornell, Amy taught at Ithaca College, eCornell, and Milano. She also has 20 years of corporate and external consulting experience for Reuters, Canon, Scholastic, and other companies.
The Week has chronicled 11 "controversies" of Urban Outfitters in the past few years.
The most recent is the company's new t-shirts that some say promote drinking. With slogans such as "I Love Vodka," "USA Drinking Team," and "Misery Loves Alcohol," Urban Outfitters is targeting its main demographic, 18- to 24-year-olds. MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) has taken a strong stance against the product line. The group's president, whose daughter was killed by a intoxicated, underaged driver, said, "Kids shouldn't be wearing these t-shirts."
The Week tallies other questionable products:
Several rhetorical devices were thrown about at the Republican National Conventional on Tuesday. But the most popular was anaphora in Chris Christie's speech. (Transcript)
As the keynote speaker for the convention, the governor of New York uses repetition at the beginning of his sentences at least four times:
"Proud of my party, proud of my state, and proud of my country."
"I am her son.
"I was her son as I listened to “Darkness on the Edge of Town” with my high school friends on the Jersey Shore. I was her son as I moved into a studio apartment with Mary Pat to start a marriage that is now 26 years old.
"I was her son as I coached our sons Andrew and Patrick on the fields of Mendham, and as I watched with pride as our daughters Sarah and Bridget marched with their soccer teams in the Labor Day parade.
"And I am still her son today, as governor, following the rules she taught me: to speak from the heart and to fight for your principles. She never thought you get extra credit for just speaking the truth."
"But tonight, I say: ‘enough.’
"I say, together, let’s make a much different choice. Tonight, we are speaking up for ourselves and stepping up.
"We are beginning to do what is right and what is necessary to make our country great again.
"We are demanding that our leaders stop tearing each other down, and work together to take action on the big things facing America.
"Tonight, we choose respect over love. We are not afraid. We are taking our country back."
"Tonight, we choose the path that has always defined our nation’s history. Tonight, we finally and firmly answer the call that so many generations have had the courage to answer before us.
"Tonight, we stand up for Mitt Romney as the next President of the United States."
Christie used metaphors as well:
To raucous applause, Ann Romney also used anaphora in her speech Tuesday night (13:20):
"No one will work harder. No one will care more. And no one will moveheaven and earth like Mitt Romney to make this country a betterplace to live."
Why wait for employees to forward internal messages to the press? RealNetworks founder and interim chief executive Rob Glaser has posted a layoff email to employees on Facebook.
Dear RealNetworks Team,
I’m writing to provide an update on the progress we’ve made over the past 8 weeks and to provide some context and information regarding the layoffs that are taking place today.When I came back in as Interim CEO on July 3rd, I said we would focus on 3 things: Reviewing and assessing all of our businesses and new initiatives, Coming up with a go-forward Strategy for RealNetworks that would set us up to grow and thrive, and Putting together a plan to stop burning cash and to return the company to profitability.I also said we would move fast, have a bias towards action, and would work hard to complete all 3 of these efforts within 2 months.After a lot of hard work by many people across the company and around the world, today I report to you that we have indeed achieved the 3 objectives we set out to work on beginning 8 weeks ago. Very soon I will have a lot more to say about our collective assessment of our businesses & new initiatives, and about our go forward strategy. Specifically, we have scheduled a series of company meetings – both in Seattle and at our main offices around the world – for on or around September 6th. After these meetings I believe that each of you in attendance will walk away with a clear understanding of our strategies and excitement regarding where we’re going. Today I will discuss our plans to return the company to profitability -- in a way that will set us up for future growth & success. As we mentioned on our financial results call on August 8th, our senior team has put together a plan to cut at least $45 Million of annualized costs. This plan has several aspects to it; one of the main ones is to streamline our operations and to do things more efficiently. Unfortunately, a major part of this streamlining entails reducing our workforce from approximately 1140 people to about 980 people. We are doing this in two phases. The first phase, which begins today, involves laying off approximately 80 people, who are being given notice today. The second phase, which will take place over the next 3 to 7 months, involves approximately 80 more people, who are being notified today that there is a specific future date when their current assignment will be ending. We hope to redeploy a number of these people when their current assignments end, but as of today don’t know how many we will find positions for. These people are working on projects that will merge duplicate systems or otherwise make us more efficient. I want to express my deepest gratitude to the approximately 160 people affected by today’s announcement, and also my remorse that we have had to take these steps. You have all made major contributions to RealNetworks. We are grateful for everything you have done for our company and our customers. I also want to express my appreciation to the approximately 980 people who are not directly impacted by today’s actions, and to acknowledge that many of you are indirectly affected, because of the impact on your colleagues and friends.Permit me to close on a personal note. When I came back into Real after having been away from day-to-day operations for 2 ½ years, I thought there was a pretty high likelihood that there would be a day like today. I knew it would suck for everyone, and indeed it does. But I promised myself that if we did have to do a significant layoff, I would do everything in my power to make sure that when we did it we also knew where we were going. I wanted to be able to look everyone in the eye and tell them that we have a plan to succeed that I believed in from the bottom of my heart. I feel like we are almost there. While we still have a few areas to work out, we have made great progress. I can honestly tell you today that we are at least 80% of the way to having such a plan for every major part of our company, and have line-of-sight on the final 20%. This clarity on strategy, as you would expect, has significantly influenced how and where we are cutting costs, and where we are investing for the future. I look forward to discussing this further when we meet next week. Rob
Glaser responded to a New York Times inquiry about his decision by saying that he will limit his Facebook posts to major company-wide messages. The few comments he's received on Facebook support his transparency.
Fortunately, the email also is well written and appropriate for a layoff message. And it's not the first. The New York Times reports that Glaser has been keeping employees informed throughout the process, so this email is no surprise.
New Orleans is bracing itself for Hurricane Isaac, just upgraded from a "Tropical Storm" and sadly reminiscent of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in 2005. Local authorities generally are doing a good job of keeping residents informed through social media.
The city has an updated website with easy-to-understand links on the left side. However, these might be improved with parallel phrasing and more consideration to the order. Is "Past Emergency News" the most important, implied by its top position? At this point—when the storm is quickly approaching—maybe "Leaving Town" is most important?*
On Twitter, the city's preparedness team and mayor use the same "NOLA Ready" logo, which connects the feeds nicely. Both are tweeting regularly with updated information and responses to questions and concerns.
Although the mayor's tweets are timely and seem relevant, some criticize the tone. One media trainer suggests a more personal tone to emphasize the city's focus on keeping people safe. Another communications expert calls the NOLA website "too politically correct," and says, "It seems more about the local politicians than an emergency service for residents."
Social media is sure to have a front-and-center role as Isaac moves closer.
* Update: After I tweeted about the ill-conceived order, NOLA changed its website links, now leading with "Emergency Updates," with instructions for signing up for notifications from the site. This wouldn't have been my choice, but it's better than referring to past emergencies.
The Obama campaign is taking a hit because of emails that some consider strange and "increasingly weird" and "desperate." Business Insider is criticizing the Democrats' fundraising emails for their strong language:
In an email that Business Insider calls "the creepiest yet," the campaign uses a very casual tone and invites donors to enter for a chance to meet the president and shoot some hoops.
This isn't the first time Obama's emails have been criticized. Jon Stewart lambasted the campaign on The Daily Show, calling the tone in emails "fake familiarity."
A recent Romney email also was criticized. Before he announced his VP running mate, Romney sent an email teasing supporters with the name of his VP pick. The subject line was "My Vice President," but the email didn't reveal Paul Ryan's name:
An editor for a small-town newspaper in California is fed up with critical Facebook posts. Apparently, Jackie Kaczmarek at the Hanford Sentinel hasn't read the literature on how to handle social media comments. Rather than engaging customers, he's pushing them away.
We can understand Kaczmarek's frustration: people can be irrational and just plain rude online, but does his approach help matters? As one writer says, "The first rule of digital media is that commenters are often irrational, but those who take commenter’s comments to heart are even more irrational."
On the other hand, Kaczmarek has gotten quite a bit of support on the newspaper's Facebook page. And another staff member at Hanford has posted to soften the blow.
A slaughterhouse in Central California is being investigated after a video showed sick cows killed for meat, a violation of federal regulations. Although it's still unclear whether tainted meat made its way into the food system, McDonald's and In-N-Out Burger have "severed ties" with the plant, which has been temporarily shut down.
According to the Associated Press, the video seems "to show workers bungling the slaughter of cows struggling to walk and even stand."
In-N-Out Burger has issued this statement:
McDonald's home page, we see a different approach: photos of meat suppliers and this page title:
"Meet some of the hard-working people dedicated to providing high quality food every day. And get the story behind your McDonald's favorites."
Kaitlin Nootbaar said "hell" in her graduation speech, angering the school principal, who refused to give her the diploma without an apology.
In her speech at Prague High School in Oklahoma, Nootbaar told of her challenges in choosing a career path and her tendency to change her plans. Nootbaar said that she responds to questions about her career by saying, "How the hell do I know? I've changed my mind so many times." The quote was inspired by a graduation scene in "Eclipse," of "The Twilight Saga." In the film, Anna Kendrick's character says, "who the hell knows?"
"Heck" was used in the written version of Nootbaar's speech, but she says that she changed to "hell" at the last minute. Still, she didn't know anything was wrong because the crowd responded well.
According to Nootbar's father, when he went to pick up the diploma, "The principal shut the door on us and told us she [Kaitlin] will type apology letters to him, the school board, the superintendent and all of the teachers." Nootbaar's father was angry and said his daughter had received straight As and that she "excelled beyond anything I'd expect ever being my child."
In response to questions by the press, Superintendent Dr. Rick Martin said, "This matter is confidential, and we cannot publicly say anything about it."
Nootbaar explained her perspective to a local newspaper:
"First off, I would like to thank everyone who is backing me on this, especially my friends and family. And to those who don’t agree with me, that is fine also. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and is free to comment however they choose. It’s one of the great advantages of living in a free country. A country where we are free to speak. I would also like to note that I do not hate Prague. I have loved that town since I was a child. I don’t hate the school either, the teachers have always been great! I don’t feel that the whole town should suffer from the mistakes of few. Again, thanks:)"
A salmonella outbreak in cantaloupes has caused two deaths and 141 illnesses so far. In 20 states, people have eaten tainted cantaloupes that have been linked to a farm in Indiana. On its information page, the Center for Disease Control says that cantaloupes not shipped from southwestern Indiana are safe to eat.
Joe Bell, Kroger's manager of marketing and public affairs, confirmed that the grocery store's cantaloupes aren't from the affected region:
"The cantaloupes which are currently in our Kroger stores are not from the area of Indiana being investigated. Cantaloupes in the Kroger’s Delta Division, our region, are coming out of California, and the investigation involves Indiana-grown cantaloupes. At this time, the focus is not on any of the suppliers we have used this year. The last cantaloupe shipments that came out of Indiana, to any of our stores, was in late July."
Jonathan Alexander, a manager at Paul’s Fruit Market, said, "We’ve fielded all kinds of phone calls and people coming in asking about it. If we had any, we’d pull them." Paul's Fruit Market is in Kentucky, the hardest-hit state with more than a third of the illnesses and both deaths.
A negative New York Times book review has caused a fiery reaction on Twitter. William Giraldi's review of Inside and Signs and Wonders, two fiction stories by Alix Ohlin, includes these criticisms:
Giraldi sums up his review: "Every mind lives or dies by its ideas; every book lives or dies by its language."
Although Giraldi got some support on Twitter, several tweeters found the review too harsh.
We get a glimpse into the Romney Campaign by looking at the PowerPoint shown on a recent bus tour. The slides were intended as a briefing for press, who were on board to visit Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida.
Romney bus tour ppt
Of course, the slides are the requisite red, white, and blue, but we notice several other interesting components of the PPT. Without judging the content, overall, the slides conform to basic business writing principles:
But the slides could be improved:
Also, I'm all for a conversational style, but some of the language looks odd (e.g., "a ton," "under water"?).
Progressive Insurance lost a lawsuit and a social media battle. When Katie Fisher was killed in a car accident, Progressive fought to avoid paying a settlement to her family. The company was obligated to contribute because the other driver was underinsured. Katie's brother, Matt, wrote a blog post that captured attention: "My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to Defend Her Killer In Court."
When Progressive was criticized on Twitter and on other social media sites, the company produced repeated tweets, which only fueled the backlash:
The app TwitLonger linked to Progressive's full message, which was longer than 140 characters:
"This is a tragic case, and our sympathies go out to Mr. Fisher and his family for the pain they've had to endure. We fully investigated this claim and relevant background, and feel we properly handled the claim within our contractual obligations."
The response wasn't received well either, and Progressive has since deleted the tweet and issued this longer statement:
Discussion Starters and Assignment Ideas
Using data from 150 million sources, Salesforce Radian6 tracked social media conversations about the Olympics on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and others sites.
The chart shows social media mentions of the top medal-winning countries during the second week of the Olympics. Consistent with the number of wins in the actual games, the United States ranks first.
From a business communication perspective, the chart is rather easy to understand, but it can be improved. Also, at least one description of the chart is questionable:
"But Great Britain, fourth in the medal standings, surges to the second spot in social media mentions."
For participants, the press, and others writing about the games, the International Olympic Committee published social media guidelines. The guidelines encourage social media participation and explain acceptable uses of photographs and trademark symbols. As expected, the guidelines warn writers about violations of policy:
"The IOC will continue to monitor Olympic on-line content to ensure that the integrity of rights-holding broadcasters and sponsor rights as well as the Olympic Charter is maintained. The IOC asks for the support of all participants and other accredited persons in halting any ambush activity or any sites engaged in conduct which is offensive to or adversely affects the goodwill associated with the Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement. The IOC asks that participants and other accredited persons discovering unauthorised content, please report it immediately to www.olympicgamesmonitoring.com."
As we know from some examples, not everyone respected these guidelines.
Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's choice for vice president on the Republican ticket, gave his first speech in the role.
Ryan had an awkward start: Romney mistakenly introduced him as "the next president of the United States." Romney recovered by rejoining Ryan at the podium saying,
"Every now and then I'm known to make a mistake. I did not make a mistake with this guy. But I can tell you this: he's going to be the next vice president of the United States."
Coincidentially, in 2008, President Obama made the same mistake when introducing Joe Biden, his running mate at the time: "So let me introduce to you the next president—the next vice president of the US of America, Joe Biden." I guess they were both a little nervous.
Much of Ryan's speech touted Romney's qualifications for the job:
"And I believe there is no person in America who is better prepared—because of his experience, because of the principles he holds, and because of his achievements and excellence in so many different arenas—to lead America at this point in its history."
Predictably, he also criticized the Obama Administration:
Read the Romney's and Ryan's speeches here.
Horizon Air President Glenn Johnson has apologized to a man who many say was mistreated at the gate. According to the company, the man showed up at Horizon's sister airline, Alaska Airlines, late and intoxicated. At the time, it was not clear to gate agents that the man needed special assistance.
Cameron Clark, also a passenger on the flight, saw the scene and apparently tried to intervene and help the man get on a flight to see his daughter, but he was not successful. Frustrated, Clark sent a Facebook post to some friends, calling Alaska Airlines "the worst of humanity." Clark also wrote,
"what happened to our collective sense of decency, of compassion, of our disposition to help those in need of extra help. alaska airlines. you broke a man's heart today. you maintained your policy, and ignored an opportunity to do the right thing. you broke my heart too."
Over the weekend, Alaksa Airlines has been responding to negative comments on Twitter and Facebook, such as this one:
In an updated Facebook post, Johnson apologized and explained plans for improvement:
A Message from Horizon Air President Glenn Johnson
I've seen a lot of concern by our customers about the treatment of the gentleman who flew out of Redmond, Oregon, to see his daughter. Now that we've been able to largely complete our review, which I've been overseeing throughout the weekend, I'd like to share some information with you. First and foremost, we've determined that we could and should have handled this better and I apologize to our passenger on behalf of all of us at Horizon Air and Alaska Airlines.
I’m happy to report the gentleman has been able to visit with his daughter after arriving at his destination before noon on Saturday. We are providing him with complimentary roundtrip flights for this trip and have offered free tickets for another visit down the road. We're also working with Open Doors Organization, a disability advocacy group that focuses on travel issues, to learn from this customer’s experience and to help us with our ongoing care for passengers with disabilities. Alaska and Horizon have partnered with various disability organizations for years to help our employees better serve our customers.
This experience has reminded us of the importance of assisting passengers with disabilities and making sure every one of them receives the special care they may need. The information we've gathered during our review will certainly improve our efforts going forward. I'd like to say again that we're sorry for the experience of this customer and thank everyone who has brought this to our attention.
President, Horizon Air
Thomas Joyce, CEO of Knight Capital Group, has lost no time in addressing concerns about a trading software problem that almost doomed the company. The error caused price distortions in almost 150 stocks, and Knight lost $440 million in a half-hour. In total, Knight has lost 600 million shares.
Joyce has been vocal on business news programs, trying to rebuild confidence in Knight. Sources say he has been transparent about the error and about the company's decision to accept a cash infusion.
On CNBC, Joyce started on a positive note. He said that the industry has responded well to the crisis: "The wildly flattering thing was how our clients responded to us." Joyce then said that the company made clients the priority, admitting, "There was a problem. We took the consequences. None of our clients took the consequences. And, importantly, the industry didn't suffer."
Joyce also explained what happened: "Sadly, it was a very simple breakdown...an issue with trading technology... Right now, we're doing an internal investigation." Joyce was firm about coming up with solutions.
When Joyce was asked about an interaction with SEC chair Mary Shapiro, Joyce addressed the question directly. He admitted contacting her while on vacation to request that the SEC cancel some of the incorrect trades. She refused.
"She did what she thought was right for the industry... I'm kind of biased, I wish she had made a different decision, but she did what she thought was right..."
Public opinion rages on after Chick-fil-A's CEO said he supported "the biblical definition of the family unit." First, we heard outrage from supporters of gay marriage and saw the company's softened stance on the issue.
The saga continues as one man wanted to tell a Chick-fil-A employee—at a drive-through window—how he felt. Adam Smith, the (former) CFO of Vante, a medical supplies manufacturer, posted a video of the interaction on YouTube. Smith ordered a free water, referred to Chick-fila-A as "a horrible corporation with horrible values," and told the employee, "I don’t know how you live with yourself and work here."
Vante didn't appreciate Smith's behavior or the publicity and fired the CFO. In response, Smith posted another video in which he apologizes to the employee; refers to her "beauty," "kindness," and "patience" in dealing with him; and explains that he "lost it." He said, "You should be very proud of how you handled the stressful situation. Great job. Wow."
An article in Bloomberg Businessweek gives us a legal perspective on this situation and others: "Where Free Speech Goes to Die: The Workplace." The author explains:
"In America you can say pretty much whatever you want, wherever you want to say it. Unless, that is, you’re at work. Simply put, there is no First Amendment right to 'free speech' in the workplace—potentially perilous for many employees in a polarized political year with a tight presidential race."
Mark Trapp, an employment lawyer further clarifies the limitation of "free speech":
"The First Amendment applies only to employees of the government in certain situations, and all citizens when they’re confronted by the government."
For the first time in 60 years, Sharp has announced 5,000 job cuts this year, which is about 8.8% of its workforce. The company posted a June-quarter loss of $1.2 billion, blaming a difficult economic environment and power outages.
In a PowerPoint presentation, Sharp explained the report and how the company will address declining revenue.
In its quarterly report, Sharp explained its plans for the future including the following:
Discussion Starters and Assignment Ideas: