• Head of Job Bank Apologizes for Nasty Emails

    The winner of the IABC (International Association for Business Communication) "Communicator of the Year" award in 2013 may want to give back the prize. Kelly Blazek runs a Cleveland-based job bank and was tired of people asking for access to her connections. But her emails are too harsh.

    Blazek email

    When her emails became public on Reddit and other sites, Blazek deleted her Twitter account, LinkedIn recommendations, and blog posts. She also apologized for her approach.

    I am very sorry to the people I have hurt.

    Creating and updating the Cleveland Job Bank listings has been my hobby for more than ten years. It started as a labor of love for the marketing industry, but somehow it also became a labor, and I vented my frustrations on the very people I set out to help.

    Hundreds of people contact me every month looking for help, and as the bottom fell out of the job market, their outreach and requests demanded more of my time. I became shortsighted and impatient, and that was wrong.

    My Job Bank listings were supposed to be about hope, and I failed that. In my harsh reply notes, I lost my perspective about how to help, and I also lost sight of kindness, which is why I started the Job Bank listings in the first place.

    The note I sent to Diana was rude, unwelcoming, unprofessional and wrong. I am reaching out to her to apologize. Diana and her generation are the future of this city. I wish her all the best in landing a job in this great town.

    Discussion Starters:

    • IABC is getting pressure to rescind the award. Should the organization do so? Why or why not?
    • Try to see Blazek's perspective. Why would she send such emails to job seekers?
    • What's your reaction to Blazek's apology? Is it sincere? Is it enough?
  • "Milk Life" Replaces "Got Milk?"

    MilkLife2After 21 years of success, the "Got Milk?" slogan is being replaced by "Milk Life." The original campaign started in 2013 and was best known for its celebrities sporting a milk mustache. Now, the Milk Processor Education Program is updating the slogan and producing new ads to address declining milk sales.

    On a new website, the campaign features images of active people and milk-based products. A theme seems to be "8 grams of protein," and a new video, below, shows people being powered by milk as a windmill and parachute. The campaign emphasizes drinking milk in the morning to get the "power of protein."

    Earlier phrases, such as "it does the body good," have fallen out of favor. According to one of the advertising executives who worked on the campaign, "It reminds them of why they didn't want to drink it in the first place."

    Discussion Starters:

    • Who do you think is the target market for this campaign?
    • Assess the current campaign: look at the website photos, text, and images. What works well, and what could be improved?
    • The AdAge article discusses non-dairy products, such as soy and almond milk. How does this campaign stack up to the competitors' messaging?
  • PIMCO CEO Resigns in "Long" and "Thoughtful" Email to Employees

    PIMCO CEO and Co-CIO Mohamed El-Erian resigned suddenly, and Business Insider obtained a copy of his internal communication to employees. Some speculate  about "fatigue" and "tension" among the leadership team.

    Business Insider provided this excerpt from the email:

    I was so fortunate back in April 1999 to join such an exceptional firm. I vividly remember how I immediately felt at home in a culture that always puts the client first, that is determined to excel, and that values thought leadership as a foundation for continued success.

    During my wonderful time at PIMCO, I worked with amazing colleagues who taught and inspired me. I grew professionally and personally. I made lasting friendships. And I had great fun.

    But the significance of the “I” pales when compared to the “we” and “you.”

    Collectively as a firm, we have achieved amazing things for our clients around the world.

    It is hard to believe when you see today’s PIMCO but, back then, I joined in 1999 a firm that had some $150 billion in assets under management, serving essentially US clients. We offered primarily core fixed income U.S. products. And we were around 500 colleagues working in 4 offices.

    Today we are around 2,500 in 13 offices around the world. Our truly global client base has entrusted us with some $2 trillion in assets to manage. And we provide them with a much more diversified set of investment products whose performance continues to excel – once again, over 90 percent of our assets under management are out-performing their benchmarks for the last 5-year period (as of December 31, 2013, before fees).

    Yes, collectively, we have been on a meaningful and amazing journey – of serving well more clients, in more places, and with an expanding set of investment solutions to help them meet their objectives.

    As you can imagine, the last six years have been particularly exciting and significant as we have helped our clients navigate a global financial crisis and its aftermath. Together, we have worked very hard to safeguard and grow their retirement funds, pensions, investments and savings. And because PIMCO delivered, they have rewarded the firm’s hard and effective work by almost tripling our assets under management during this six year period. Or, from another perspective, it took PIMCO 39 years to reach the first $1 trillion mark and just over 3 years to reach the $2 trillion mark.

    It has been a period of amazing growth in other meaningful ways too. We are a much stronger and more diversified firm.

    Our increasing revenues achieved yet another new record in 2013, as did the level of PIMCO’s profits. Our assets under management are more diversified with the share of non-traditional (non-core fixed income) assets, which stood at 56 percent of our business in December 2007 when I rejoined as CEO and co-CIO, now at 66 percent – and this is despite that fact that PIMCO’s traditional business continued to grow strongly over this period.

    We are also a much more global firm, and getting more so by the day. In the last six years alone, the share of our non-US business has risen to over 30 percent, and again notwithstanding solid growth in our U.S.-based business.

    Together, we have done more than successfully expand and diversify PIMCO – we have also successfully grown and made significant strides in diversifying our people.

    Our expanding Inclusion and Diversity programs have become an integral part of our talent management and, already, are an important contributor to our success. That, together with our closely-related collective emphasis on promoting and engendering cognitive diversity, puts PIMCO in an even better position to deliver more for our clients in the future.

    Because of the way we have done all this – namely, by never losing sight of our mission to deliver to clients superior long-term investment performance, world class client servicing, innovative products, and the right mix of business resilience and agility – PIMCO’s success has been recognized worldwide; and not just by the multiple awards (including last week’s Morningstar award for Alfred Murata and Dan Ivascyn, joining Bill Gross and Mark Kiesel as past winners) but also, most importantly, by the very high level of client satisfaction.

    You are extremely talented, dedicated, and hard working in serving clients. You provide a level of investment excellence, intellectual stimulation and operational efficiency that also allow others to grow and shine. You interact in a way that make the whole much bigger than the sum of the parts. You find a way to maintain your composure and effectiveness regardless of the volatility of markets. And, somehow, you do all this again and again!

    What is really impressive about you is not limited to what you consistently deliver to our clients and how you do so; it is also about how you find the time and energy to also give back to our local communities...

    PIMCO also published a press release announcing the new leadership team.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Compare the email except to the press release. What similarities and differences do you see?
    • What's missing from the press release?
    • Business Insider refers to the internal communication as a "memo," but I call it an "email." Why?
  • Microsoft's Communications About Its New CEO

    Microsoft hit the news with its appointment of a new CEO. Born in Hyderabad, India, in 1967, Satya Nadella will be the company's third CEO. He worked at Microsoft for 22 years, most recently as the head of the Cloud and Enterprise group.

    On a splashy web page, Microsoft announces the news, provides videos and photos fit for a magazine, and includes links to:

    This web page is good example of a new media release.

    Nardella looks very cool in this picture—kind-of like the Apple guy.

    Nadella

    You can learn more from Nadella himself on the web page and from his interview with The New York Times.

    Discussion Starters:

    • In what ways is the web page like and unlike the company's traditional press release?
    • After reading the web page announcement, press release and two emails, what message themes emerge? Do you also find inconsistencies or contradictions?
    • Watch the webcast. How is the video tailored to the defined audiences: customers and partners? What is done well, and what could be improved?
  • Register.com's Obvious Sales Letter

    Do people fall for the free "consultation" companies offer? Register.com sent an email to me with the subject, "Account Notice: Schedule Your Consultation."

    With a thinly veiled sales strategy, the email promised a "Complimentary Business Consultation and Evaluation" in a graphical invitation:

    Register

    The body of the message futher explained the "offer":

    Dear Amy,

    You've been selected for a free 30-Minute Business Consultation with one of our Web Experts. This consultation is your chance to get tips and recommendations on how to improve any aspect of your businesses' online presence from one of our top Web Consultants.

    Your Consultant will work with you to ensure your business is optimized for success utilizing their extensive experience and knowledge in website development, search engine marketing, social media, mobile advertising and more.

    Call 844-282-2290 for your complimentary consultation.

    When you click on the invitation within the email, you get a page on registerpromotion.com that explains Register's services beyond hosting: customizing a website, improving search engine optimization, and increasing "Facebook presence."

    Discussion Starters:

    • What makes Register.com's message so obviously a sales tactic?
    • What types of people would respond to Register's "offer"? What do you think they expect when they do respond?
    • Am I over-reacting? So what if it's a sales tactic? Maybe it's obvious to people, and the services are useful.
  • Ellen Page Comes Out

    In a speech hosted by the Human Rights Campaign, Actress Ellen Page came out as gay.

     

    Her voice is shaking, and she's doing this bouncing thing with her arm. She's clearly nervous. So what? To me, this is a good example of someone who's understandably uncomfortable. Does it detract from her message or endear her to the audience?

    Discussion Starters:

    • What's your view of Page's nervousness? In what ways did it help and hurt her speech?
    • Why was Page so nervous? Is it a big deal to be gay today?
  • Ad Campaign: "I Wish I Had Breast Cancer"

    A new advertising campaign from the Pancreatic Cancer Action, a British organization, has caused an uproar. 

    The marketers knew what they were doing: planning for outrage, Founder Ali Stunt introduced the campaign in a website post  "No Cancer Advert That Saves a Single Life Can Be Accused of Going Too Far":

    "I  want to remind all those that read this blog post that today 160 women will find out they have breast cancer, eight women will find out they have cervical cancer and seven men will be diagnosed with testicular cancer.  It is vital that everyone finds out about the signs and symptoms of these cancers too.  Please find the relevant charity details below.

    "Today sees the launch of the UK’s very first awareness advertising campaign for pancreatic cancer, which is being shown on the London Underground stations and tube cars as well as in London and Manchester newspapers such as the Metro and Evening Standard." (Read more.)

    This post includes survival rates for cancers, with pancreatic at a sad 3%:Cancer stats

    Criticism of the campaign has been harsh, including this retort on the site IHateBreastCancer.com

    "Oh boy. Because obviously the best way to call attention to one disease is at the expense of another.

    "There’s just one problem. Breast cancer is a like a fat man wearing a Hawaiian shirt: It covers a lot of ground. If you’re going to wish for breast cancer, make sure you put in a special request for the non-metastatic kind. Because in 2014, there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer. The median survival rate is surely not as good as the Pancreatic Action Network  seems to think it is. In general, breast cancer survival figures don’t necessarily represent significant gains, as they are distorted by the over diagnosis of Stage I breast cancers, which have increased five-fold since the advent of mammography in the 1980s.

    "Also, our research situation is much like yours: it sucks. Metastatic breast cancer is responsible for 90 percent of the morbidity and mortality, but gets less than 5 percent of the research budget."

    Pancreatic Cancer Action stands by its campaign. On its website, it posted a video with interviews about the approach."

    Discussion Starters: 

    • What's your view of the ad campaign: appropriate for the cause, insulting, or something else? 
    • Watch the Pancreatic Cancer Action organization's video about its approach. Do you find this response convincing ? 
  • Facebook's New Gender Options

    Facebook is joining the twenty-first century, offering multiple options when users select "Gender" in their profile. Recognizing that not everyone self-defines as strictly "male" or "female," Facebook now provides more than 50 labels in its drop down menu:

    FB gender

    On its diversity page, Facebook explains the change:

    When you come to Facebook to connect with the people, causes, and organizations you care about, we want you to feel comfortable being your true, authentic self.  An important part of this is the expression of gender, especially when it extends beyond the definitions of just “male” or female.”  So today, we’re proud to offer a new custom gender option to help you better express your own identity on Facebook. (Read more.)

    Users also can select the pronoun by which they would be referred on the site: he, she, or they. Students of business communication know that "they" isn't standard as a singular pronoun, although "one" is dated, "she/he" and "she or he" are clunky, and other variations haven't stuck. But considering the large number of gender labels, I wonder why more pronoun options aren't available.

    Both the Human Rights Commission and GLAAD, which worked with Facebook on the change, applaud the move.

    Discussion Starters:

    • What's your view of Facebook's new options?
    • What could opponents of the move say? What would be their rationale for limiting gender options?
    • Why don't we have a common, neutral singular pronoun. If you were to invent one, what would it be?
  • "Whitest" Valentine's Day Ads Ever

    Vice.com criticized FTD for producing stereotypical, white-only ads for Valentine's Day:

    "Besides jewelers, the other big early February advertisers are of course flower-delivery companies. The biggest—Florists’ Transworld Delivery—just released four new commercials, all featuring generic, white, hetero, annoying-as-humanly-possible actor-couples."

    In four videos, FTD's ad agency Epsilon Chicago portrays couples arguing. 

    AdWeek also criticized the ads:

    "These ads don't bite—they're amusing and well acted—but they do feel dated. The rhythm and style recall late-'90s/early-'00s sitcoms, with bird-brained guys and whiny women over-obsessing about their relationship woes. And why do we get youngish white hetero couples each time?"

    The Vice.com article was particularly critical of the ad agency:

    "Be thankful, Hispanics, African Americans, and Gays, who you are not in FTD’s target demo. Because those scripts written by the white hack copywriters from the very white Chicago ad agency Epsilon would have been wincingly awkward, and probably racist."

    Discussion Starters:

    • With same-sex marriage winning popularity across the country and the population becoming increasing non-white, why would FTD focus only on white straight couples?
    • Do you agree with Vice.com's concern that attempts for diversity would fail? Is it better to just play it safe? What are the other options?
  • Sands Casino Struggles to Recapture Website

    Sands Casino's email and websites were hacked on Monday, and they're still down four days later. Sites in the U.S. and Asia, including Venetian Las Vegas and Palazzo, were affected by the invasion, which the FBI and Secret Service are investigating. 

    In place of the company websites, hackers posted employees' names, email addresses, and social security numbers; however, officials say that no customer information was compromised. The hacking may be in response to Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson's support of Israel. One posted image shows Adelson pictured with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—and flames instead of hotel pictures around the world.

    Sands' Hacked Website

    In a statement, a Sands spokesperson said, "While we have been able to confirm that certain core operating systems were not impacted by the hacking, the company remains focused on working through a step-by-step process to ascertain what, if any, additional systems may have been impacted."

    In the meantime, the company has this image posted on its home page:

    Sands' Hacked Website2

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Assess Sands' communications: how well is the company keeping people informed in its statement , on its website, and through other communications you find online?
    • What could account for the long time the website has been under someone else's control? How does this happen to an organization?
  • Face Off or Faceoff, and Other Writing Tips for the Olympics

    O-SOCHI-OLYMPICS-facebookThe AP Standards Center has provided an overview of the Winter Games and tips for writing about the Olympics at Sochi. The purpose of the guide follows, in an introduction:

    "To help with spellings and usage in coverage of the Sochi Winter Olympics, The Associated Press compiled an editorial style guide of essential terms, spellings and definitions. Some terms are from the AP Stylebook: http://www.apstylebook.com/. Others are used in AP sports stories or contributed by Stephen Wilson, AP's Olympics beat writer.

    In a section on "Spellings and usage," the guide offers these suggestions:

    Capitalize games when attached to the host city or year: the Sochi Games and the 2014 Games.

    When standing alone, spell games lowercase: The games open Feb. 7.

    Olympics or Olympic Games are always capitalized: Winter Olympics and Summer Olympics. Each is staged every four years, but two years apart. The next Summer Games is 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

    Olympic (adj. without s) is always capitalized: Olympic gold medal, Olympic host city, Olympic flame, etc.

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Read all of the style tips for the Winter Olympics. Which, if any, surprise you?
    • Faceoff vs. face off follows the same rule for other nouns and verbs. What other examples fit this rule?
  • Southwest's Travel Advisory

    Southwest Airlines is communicating clearly to customers affected by upcoming storms. In a tweet, the company linked to a simple page with further instructions.

    SW travel advisory tweet

    SW travel advisory

    Southwest isn't wallowing in the bad news (after all, it's not the company's fault that we're getting an insane amount of snow). Rather, it's focusing on what customers can do to reschedule. On the Travel Advisory page, customers can easily see which cities are affected on which dates and how they can rebook flights.

    On the website home page, however, Southwest has only a small link with red text:

    SW travel advisory home page

    Compare this approach to JetBlue's. On JetBlue's website, the "Winter Storm Update" is one of three, large screens on the home page:

    JetBlue Winter Storm

    Discussion Starters: 

    • What could account for the airlines' different approaches?
    • What works well about Southwest's Travel Advisory page? If you had travel plans during this time, what else, if anything, would you like to know?
  • AOL CEO Addresses Criticism

    Like all CEOs, Tim Armstrong of AOL wants to keep health care costs under control. But he seemed to use two employees' "distressed babies" as his rationale for reducing the company's 401(k) program.

    The current 401(k) program matches employees' contributions every pay period, but Armstrong announced that the plan would match only at the end of the year. This changed would have affected employees who leave the company before that time; they would receive no company match for the year.

    In a town hall meeting with employees, Armstrong explained the rationale as prioritizing the benefits for employees who stay with the company. This makes sense, but his examples offended people:

    “We had two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were OK in general. And those are the things that add up into our benefits cost."

    In an email to employees, Armstrong apologized for his comments: 

    AOLers -

    We began our journey together in 2009, and for the last four years have had an employee-first culture. As I have said before, the ability to change is a strategic advantage for us.  With benefit costs increasing, we made a strategic, financial decision last year to revise our employee matching 401K program from a per-pay-period contribution to a yearly lump-sum contribution.  We then communicated this decision in the fall through multiple channels to every AOL office in the US.    

    The leadership team and I listened to your feedback over the last week.  We heard you on this topic.  And as we discussed the matter over several days, with management and employees, we have decided to change the policy back to a per-pay-period matching contribution.  The Human Resource team will be in contact with all employees over the next week to explain the change and to answer any other benefits related questions you might have.  We are proud to provide AOLers with a robust benefits offering that spans from exceptional healthcare coverage to 401K's to AOL fitness programs and beyond.  On a personal note, I made a mistake and I apologize for my comments last week at the town hall when I mentioned specific healthcare examples in trying to explain our decision making process around our employee benefit programs. 

    Thursday we announced an outstanding Q4 and end to our fiscal year.  More importantly, it validated our strategy and the work we have done on it.  AOL is positioned for future growth and our long-term strategy to be one of the world's leading media technology companies.

    Now, as we begin 2014, let's keep up our momentum. Thank you for the great 2013 year and for your ongoing passion.  And know that I am a passionate advocate for the AOL family – TA

    This isn't the first time Armstrong is backtracking. Last year, he fired someone during an employee conference call that was recorded and went viral.  He later apologized.

    Discussion Starters:

    • In what ways are Armstrong's financial concerns and comments understandable? Try to see the situation from his perspective.
    • How could he have described the company's pressures in a different way?
    • Did he make the right decision to retract the 401(k) plan change?
    • How do you assess his email to employees? What works well, and what could be improved?
    • In an interview with CNN Money, Armstrong boasted about being named one of the best places to work for working mothers, saying that AOL offers benefits for people with at-risk pregnancies. Do you think his comments will affect the company's ranking next year?
  • McDonald's Vietnamese Communications

    McDonald's has entered the Vietnamese market, opening its first restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City.

    McDonald's also has a fledgling Vietnamese Facebook page with a mere 143 likes as of this writing. Looking at the photos, McDonald's seems to be marketing to a collectivist society, which defines Vietnam. Although we see a few product images, most of the photos are of happy people, some singles, but mostly in small and large groups. 

    Graphics around the restaurant also may be tailored for the Vietnamese people. Big plastic forms surround the store, an usual image for Americans.

    In a time-lapsed video, McDonald's shows the construction of its new restaurant.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Compare McDonald's Vietnamese communications to those tailored to other countries. Use examples from Chapter 2 of the textbook, or find your own examples online.
    • Other than the obvious difference in language, what other examples in the videos seem to be targeted to the Vietnamese people?
    • How does the new Facebook page compare to McDonald's restaurant pages in other parts of the world? Choose a few examples of individualist societies to draw some conclusions about intercultural communication.
  • I'm Sorry, But Our Apologies Have Gone Too Far

    Christie newsFirst, we had Bill Clinton, refusing to apologize for the affair that eventually became public. But now everyone seems to be apologizing—no matter how small the offense and no matter how sincere it is. A search of BizCom in the News for "apologize" reveals a whopping 96 stories over 3-1/2 years.

    The author of an article in Dealbook, "Calling for an Apology Cease-Fire," complains of "knee-jerk" apologies instead of real apologies: "Saying you’re sorry should be a way to get into the difficult process of grappling with authentic change." Current examples of Lance Armstrong and Anthony Weiner fall far short. 

    The article points to another recent apologizer, Chris Christie, who apologized for his administration's role in a retaliatory bridge lane closure 30 times in a press conference. Instead, the author encourages authentic apologies that meet these criteria:

    • They must be painful. If an apology doesn’t create vulnerability and isn’t therapeutically painful, it’s not an apology at all.
    • They must be authentic and not an excuse. An apology can’t have ulterior motives or be a means to an end.
    • They must probe deep into the personal or organizational values that permitted the offense. Apologizers need to conduct a “moral audit” by looking themselves in the mirror and asking, “How did I get here and how did I drift from the person I aspire to be?”
    • They must encourage feedback from the aggrieved. This includes truly opening up to input and two-way conversation during and after an apology, and embracing ideas as to how to improve.
    • They must turn regret into a real change in behavior. The new behaviors they elicit must be continuing, reinforced by a sustained investment in avoiding the same mistakes in the future.

    Whether Chris Christie's apology meets these criteria remains to be seen.

    Discussion Starters:

    • What would convince you that Christie's apology is authentic according to the author's criteria?
    • In what ways did Lance Armstrong's and Anthony Weiner's apologies fall short?
    • What, if anything, would you add to the criteria list?
  • Email Still Preferred for Pitching Stories

    In a landslide vote, email won as the way media professionals want stories pitched. In a survey, Vocus: State of the Media 2014, 256 representatives from TV, newspapers, magazines, and online media chose email over social media, phone calls, and instant messaging.

    Vocus 1a

    Slides summarizing the findings show that, although respondents rely on social media for their reporting, they prefer not to receive stories through social media.

    Vocus 1

    Vocus 2

    Discussion Starters:

    • In what ways, if at all, do the survey results surprise you?
    • Why do you think media professionals prefer email?
    • For those who do prefer social media for story ideas, why do you think they prefer Facebook and Twitter to LinkedIn and Google+?
  • CVS Announces No More Cigarette Sales

    CVS will stop selling tobacco products in its stores. Under the heading, "This is the right thing to do," the company explained the plan on its website.

    Business Insider calls the move "a clear victory for public health" and "a shrewd tactic to bolster the public image of the pharmacy chain, which is increasingly positioning itself as a health care provider, not just a one-stop shop for greeting cards and cosmetics."

    Management expects to more than make up the expected $2 billion revenue loss with other services. Without tobacco sales, CVS can boost its in-store MinuteClinics, which operate like health clinics, offering flu-shots and services for minor ailments.

    Discussion Starters:
    • Assess the CEO's video message. What works well, and what could be improved?
    • Assess video messages by other CVS executives on the company website.
  • Coca-Cola Boycotts After "It's Beautiful" Ad

    People are boycotting Coca-Cola because of a Super Bowl ad showing "America the Beautiful" sung in different languages.

    Tweets reflected the sentiment of people angry about the commercial, with some calling it unpatriotic and un-American.

    Coke ad

    Coke ad2
    Discussion Starters:

    • What's your view? Do you find the ad offensive?
    • Mediaite refers to the reaction as a "Racist Twitter Backlash." Do you agree that the comments are racist?