• Malaysia Airlines Representative Speaks Out

    MA BoeingHugh Dunleavy, commercial director of Malaysia Airlines, wrote an editorial in The Telegraph to defend the airline's flight path for MH17 and ponder the future of the company. Twice this year, Malaysia Airlines flights have crashed. MH17 was struck down over Ukraine, and earlier this year, MH370 was lost between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing.

    Now, the airline is in jeopardy. Cancellations are up to 20 % in some regions, and the company seems to be running out of cash.

    In his editorial, Dunleavy says that was happened to MH17 could have happened to any airline and defers responsibility for flight paths away from the industry:

    "For too long, airlines have been shouldering the responsibility for making decisions about what constitutes a safe flight path, over areas in political turmoil around the world.

    "We are not intelligence agencies, but airlines, charged with carrying passengers in comfort between destinations.

    "Against the backdrop of areas with increasingly volatile political situations, such as Ukraine and Gaza, we as an industry must act now to create a system of approval that guarantees safe air passage for all commercial airlines."

    Dunleavy admits that the Malaysian government, which owns a majority stake in the company, was already in "a process of assessing the future shape of our business" before the more recent MH17 loss. PR Daily wonders whether a name change and repositioning of the brand would help save the airline.

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • If you had a scheduled flight on Malaysia Airlines, would you cancel it? Discuss your rationale.
    • What do you think would help the struggling airline at this point?
    • When PR Daily proposes a name change and a "radical brand overhaul," what do you think they mean? What would this look like? What other companies have done something similar?
  • A Tribute to Kathy Berggren

    My friend and colleague Kathy Berggren died suddenly last week, a terrible shock to the Ithaca community. Kathy taught courses in the communication department at Cornell for more than 20 years and recently moved to a management communication position at the Dyson School.

    Although Kathy served in this role for only one semester, she already made her mark. She built the program from scratch, creating a practical course to develop students' personal and professional communication skills. From this semester and from her many in the communication department, it's hard to say how many students would call her "mentor." 

    Perhaps Kathy's greatest contribution was her work with teaching assistants. She mastered the large lecture, which many business and management communication faculty resist, by developing a cadre of students who could teach and coach other students. Her comprehensive guide for teaching assistants should help sustain the course now that she's gone.

    One of the many modules Kathy taught exceptionally well was an "elevator pitch." I'm guessing that thousands of students can sell themselves within minutes because of Kathy's guidance.

    As a frequent Facebook poster, Kathy might enjoy the outpouring of comments on her page. Friends and family are posting memories and photos for everyone to enjoy. I found out about her death from a mutual friend who texted me about some Facebook posts. And so goes our communication world today.

    As a colleague, I'll miss Kathy's forwarded articles, including recommendations for BizCom in the News. I know she found this blog useful as a teaching tool, and I'm glad for that.

    As a friend, I'll miss Kathy's direct communication. She set me straight on more than one personal issue I was whining about. I told her that I have many friends who will empathize with me but too few who will tell me what to do when it's clear what must be done. 

    I regret never seeing Kathy work with students directly. I imagine they benefited from her delicate balance of caring for people regardless of their ability and telling them what they needed to hear. I know I did.

  • Weird Al Parodies

    Weird Al Yankovic videos seem to be everywhere. To promote his new album, "Mandatory Fun," Yankovic partnered with seven different producers and released a video each day. The producers, which include College Humor and Funny or Die, paid for the video and keep the ad revenue generated.

    Two videos are relevant to business communication. The first, "Word Crimes," a parody of Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," reminds audiences of proper grammar.

    John McWhorten, at Columbia University, explains the linguist's dilemma:

    Linguists have been trying forever to get the public to stop looking down on casual speech, including the words and expressions often condemned as “mistakes.” It’s not that we don’t understand that you need standard English too, but we cherish the idea that people can speak that way in public and the casual way with their intimates.

    The Word Crimes video, skewering people who neglect the “Sunday best” grammar as degenerates, is one of an endless stream of indications that linguists are fighting a losing battle. When I myself pitch in from the linguist’s corner on such matters, I get to savor reams of indignant correspondence, including frequent declarations that I should not be teaching at a university.

    And it’s time linguists admitted that part of the problem is with us. When a songwriter is clever enough to remind America to distinguish less from fewer “like people who were / never raised in a sewer,” it won’t do for linguists to say one more time that people should be able to talk however they want to—especially since that’s not really what even we mean ourselves.

    The second video, "Mission Statement," pokes fun at corporate cliches and jargon, some of which you'll read in Chapter 5 of the text.

    In Rolling Stone, Yankovic describes his inspiration for "Mission Statement":

    "'I wanted to do a song about all the ridiculous double-speak and meaningless buzzwords that I’ve been hearing in office environments my entire life,' Yankovic said. 'I just thought it would be ironic to juxtapose that with the song stylings of CSN [Crosby, Stills, & Nash], whose music pretty much symbolizes the antithesis of corporate America.'"

    My favorite of the Yankovic series is "Tacky," a parody of "Happy," particularly the lyrics: "I would live-tweet a funeral."

    Discussion Starters:

    • Watch the "Word Crimes" video, and describe Yankovic's choices. Why did he choose the examples he did? What other common errors would be appropriate to include?
    • Look at five or ten corporate mission statements online. How many of Yankovic's "Mission Statement" examples do you see?
    • These are popular videos, with more than 10 million views of "Word Crimes." Do you think they will make a difference in how people speak and write?
  • Comcast Internal Message Addresses the Call

    Last week, a customer service call with a Comcast representative went viral and embarrassed the company. The agent was relentless in asking the customer why he wanted to cancel his account, and the call lasted way too long.

    At the time, Comcast said that the rep didn't act as he was trained. But in a message on Comcast's intranet, COO Dave Watson admits that, at least in part, he did follow protocol.

    A Message From Dave Watson,
    July 21, 2014

    You probably know that there has been a fair amount of media attention about a recording of a phone call between one of our Customer Account Executives (CAEs) and a Comcast customer. The call went viral on social media and generated news headlines. We have apologized to the customer privately and publicly on Comcast Voices, making it clear that we are embarrassed by the tone of the call and the lack of sensitivity to the customer’s desire to discontinue service.

    I’d like to give you my thoughts on the situation.

    First, let me say that while I regret that this incident occurred, the experience that this customer had is not representative of the good work that our employees are doing. We have tens of thousands of incredibly talented and passionate people interacting with our customers every day, who are respectful, courteous and resourceful.

    That said, it was painful to listen to this call, and I am not surprised that we have been criticized for it. Respecting our customers is fundamental, and we fell short in this instance. I know these Retention calls are tough, and I have tremendous admiration for our Retention professionals, who make it easy for customers to choose to stay with Comcast. We have a Retention queue because we believe in our products, and because we offer a great value when customers have the right facts to choose the package that works best for them. If a customer is not fully aware of what the product offers, we ask the Retention agent to educate the customer and work with them to find the right solution.

    The agent on this call did a lot of what we trained him and paid him — and thousands of other Retention agents — to do. He tried to save a customer, and that’s important, but the act of saving a customer must always be handled with the utmost respect. This situation has caused us to reexamine how we do some things to make sure that each and every one of us — from leadership to the front line — understands the balance between selling and listening. And that a great sales organization always listens to the customer, first and foremost.

    When the company has moments like these, we use them as an opportunity to get better, and that’s what we’re going to do. We will review our training programs, we will refresh our manager on coaching for quality, and we will take a look at our incentives to ensure we are rewarding employees for the right behaviors. We can, and will, do better.

    Thank you for your support, and many thanks to the thousands of exceptional employees all around the country who work so hard to deliver a great customer experience every day. I am confident that together we will continue to improve the experience, one customer at a time.

    Dave Watson
    Chief Operating Officer, Comcast Cable

    I'm curious how Comcast's reward and compensation systems are linked to these calls. (And why is "Retention" capitalized? Clearly, this is important to the company.) It's also surprising that these calls aren't monitored. Most call centers have supervisors listening for coaching purposes. Or, perhaps they are listening, and this type of call is far more frequent than Comcast will admit. 

    Regardless, Comcast is making top-ten lists of companies with the worst customer service. Nothing to be proud of, for sure.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Assess Dave Watson's message: content, organization, tone, and so on. What works well, and what could be improved? How do you think employees reacted?
    • If you were Dave Watson, what, if anything, would you change in the message thinking that it may go public?
  • Fake Facebook Accounts of MH17 Victims

    FB scam pageIf the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 and the looting of victims' belongings at the crash site didn't depress you enough, here's more news. Several fake Facebook pages were set up in the names of Australian victims of the crash.

    Among the accounts were three pages created in the names of children who died in the crash. When clicked, video images open external pop-up ads for gambling, sex, and counterfeit drug sites.

    Although early reports said Facebook wasn't taking action and couldn't until the sites were proven illegal, the company has since taken them down. A Facebook spokesperson said, "We are disabling these profiles as soon as we are made aware of them. We encourage people to block those responsible and report suspicious behaviour to our team of experts via our reporting buttons so that we can quickly take the appropriate action."

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • What are the potential consequences of Facebook's decision to remove these pages? Why would the company not act immediately?
    • If the creators of these pages were caught, what would be appropriate action against them?
  • Malaysia Airlines' Communications About MH17

    After harsh criticism of Malaysia Airlines' communications when MH370 disappeared, the airline may be under a microscope for how it handles the recent tragedy, MH17 shot down over eastern Ukraine. The company's home page has this simple message:  

    Malaysia 1


    Following a link to "Latest Updates on Flight MH17" brings this media statement:

    Friday, July 18, 08:20 PM GMT +0800 Media Statement 4 : MH17 Incident

    Media Statement 4: MH17 Incident

    1.    Flight plan

    MH17’s flight plan was approved by Eurocontrol, who are solely responsible for determining civil aircraft flight paths over European airspace. Eurocontrol is the air navigation service provider for Europe and is governed under ICAO rules.

    The route over Ukrainian airspace where the incident occurred is commonly used for Europe to Asia flights. A flight from a different carrier was on the same route at the time of the MH17 incident, as were a number of other flights from other carriers in the days and weeks before. Eurocontrol maintains records of all flights across European airspace, including those across Ukraine.

    In April, the International Civil Aviation Organization identified an area over the Crimean peninsula as risky. At no point did MH17 fly into, or request to fly into, this area. At all times, MH17 was in airspace approved by the ICAO.

    2.    Altitude

    MH17 filed a flight plan requesting to fly at 35,000ft throughout Ukrainian airspace. This is close to the ‘optimum’ altitude.

    However, an aircraft’s altitude in flight is determined by air traffic control on the ground. Upon entering Ukrainian airspace, MH17 was instructed by Ukrainian air traffic control to fly at 33,000ft.

    3.    Nationalities

    Following this afternoon’s press conference, Malaysia Airlines can confirm that a further 16 passengers’ nationalities have been verified. The latest breakdown of nationalities of those on board the flight is as follows:

    ·         189 Netherlands

    ·         44 Malaysia

    ·         27 Australia

    ·         12 Indonensia

    ·         9 UK

    ·         4 Belgium

    ·         4 Germany

    ·         3 Philippines

    ·         1 Canada

    ·         1 New Zealand

    Four passengers’ nationalities remain to be verified.

    4.    New flight route

    Following this incident, Malaysia Airlines now avoids Ukrainian airspace entirely, flying further south over Turkey.  


    Friday, July 18, 06:40 PM GMT +0800 Cargo Manifest and Airway Bill for MH17 

    Discussion Starters:

    • Who are the audiences for Malaysia Airlines' communications?
    • What's your view of the simple posting on the airlines' homepage?
    • The statement, above, certainly gives the facts, but should it include some emotional appeal as well? What is appropriate at this point?
    • What other communications do you think we'll see from the airline? What do you think the public expects to see?
    • What are the similarities and differences in MH370 and this situation? How should this background influence how the airline executives should handle their communications? 
    • What can the airline executives learn from their experience with MH370? 
  • Comcast Employee Gives Customer a Tough Time

    When Ryan Block tried to cancel his Comcast account, it took him 18 minutes to convince an employee to let him.  This audio starts 10 minutes into the conversation.  

    Slate writer Jordan Weissman helps us understand the situation: 

    "I can hardly imagine what horrible, punitive incentive structure Comcast has put in place for its employees that might inspire this sort of interaction." 

    An Awl writer tells us more about the pressure the employee may be under: 

    "If you understand this call as a desperate interaction between two people, rather than a business transaction between a customer and a company, the pain is mutual. The customer service rep is trapped in an impossible position, in which any cancellation, even one he can't control, will reflect poorly on his performance. By the time news of this lost customer reaches his supervisor, it will be data—it will be the wrong data, and it will likely be factored into a score, or a record, that is either directly or indirectly tied to his compensation or continued employment. It's bad, very bad, for this rep to record a cancellation with no reason, or with a reason the script should theoretically be able to answer (the initial reasons given for canceling were evidently judged, by the script, as invalid). There are only a few boxes he can tick to start with, and even fewer that let him off the hook as a salesman living at the foot of a towering org chart. The rep had no choice but to try his hardest, to not give up, to make it so irritating and seemingly impossible to leave that Block might just give up and stay. The only thing he didn't account for was the possibility the call would be recorded. Now he's an internet sensation. The rep always loses."

    Comcast issued this apology:

    "We are very embarrassed by the way our employee spoke with Mr. Block and are contacting him to personally apologize.  The way in which our representative communicated with him is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives. We are investigating this situation and will take quick action.  While the overwhelming majority of our employees work very hard to do the right thing every day, we are using this very unfortunate experience to reinforce how important it is to always treat our customers with the utmost respect."

    Management's instructions at Comcast are likely similar to those at AOL, which was criticized for a ridiculous call back in 2006. In that conversation, Vincent Ferrari did his best to cancel the account: 

    "Cancel the account. Cancel the account. Cancel the account. CANCEL THE ACCOUNT. CANCEL THE ACCOUNT. CANCEL THE ACCOUNT. FOR GOD’S SAKE JUST CANCEL THE ******* ACCOUNT."

    For fun, I tweeted to Vincent Ferrari and received this reply—and some unconfirmed information about Ryan Block.

    Comcast TweetsDiscussion Starters: 

      • Why would a Comcast employee behave in this way? What's the company's responsibility? How isolated do you think this situation is? 
      • Assess Comcast's statement. What's the approach, and is it successful? 
      • In the statement, Comcast promises to take "quick action." What do you think is appropriate in this case?

  • NPR Tweets DO Reflect on the Organization

    A National Public Radio employee got her hand slapped after tweeting from @npr_ed (NPR's Education Team):


    Anya Kamenetz apologized, saying that her tweets don't reflect on the public radio station. But NPR executives don't agree. In response, NPR Standards & Practices supervising editor sent this email to employees:

    From: Mark Memmott
    Sent: Tuesday, July 08, 2014 2:24 PM
    To: News-All Staff
    Subject: Reminder: There Is No Privacy On The Web, And ‘Personal’ Pages Are Not Safe Zones

    “If you wouldn’t say it on the air, don’t say it on the Web.”

    That’s been the basic guidance for quite a few years.

    In reality, Twitter and other social media sites allow us to show more of our personalities than we might on the air or in a blog post.

    BUT, though the words may be on “personal” Twitter or Facebook accounts, what we say can reflect on NPR and raise questions about our ability to be objective.

    Matt Thompson offers a test. Before posting something about your work or a news event or an issue, even if you’re putting it on what you think of as a personal page, ask this question: “Is it helping my journalism, or is it hurting my journalism?”

    Here’s a bit more from the Ethics Handbook:

    “We acknowledge that nothing on the Web is truly private. Even on purely recreational or cultural sites and even if what we’re doing is personal and not identified as coming from someone at NPR, we understand that what we say and do could still reflect on NPR. So we do nothing that could undermine our credibility with the public, damage NPR’s standing as an impartial source of news, or otherwise jeopardize NPR’s reputation. In other words, we don’t behave any differently than we would in any public setting or on an NPR broadcast.”

    Also, despite what many say, retweets should be viewed AS endorsements. Again, from the handbook:

    “Tweet and retweet as if what you’re saying or passing along is information that you would put on the air or in a ‘traditional’ NPR.org news story. If it needs context, attribution, clarification or ‘knocking down,’ provide it."

    The email provides sound advice for people representing the organization, perhaps even when they're not representing the organization. 

    Discussion Starters:

    • PR Daily asks readers good questions for business communication students: "Do tweets, even from personal accounts, reflect on employers? Do retweets equal endorsements?"
    • @NPR is another Twitter handle, but there are no tweets about this incident. Should the account holder have written something? If so, what?
  • Nadella's Email to Microsoft Employees

    Nadella emailThe beginning of a new fiscal year inspired Microsoft's new CEO Satya Nadella to send a 3,187-word email to employees about the company's future. (Thanks for counting, Business Insider!)

    The email includes a mix of jargon and simple language. You'll see the typical verbs: reinvent, empower, deploy, maximize, thrive, and of course, digitize (What would Microsoft be otherwise?).

    "Developers and partners will thrive by creatively extending Microsoft experiences for every individual and business on the planet." Whatever that means...

    But Nadella uses a few striking verbs and lines that pop: swimming, obsess, light up, and "We help people get stuff done."  He also effectively uses one-sentence paragraphs to call out key messages: "This is an incredible foundation from which to grow" and "Our first-party devices will light up digital work and life" (although the latter is repeated, and I don't think it's intentional).
    The email is easy to skim and nicely arranged on Microsoft's website for all to see.

    Discussion Starters:

    • What key messages do you take from the email?
    • The email is long. Do you think employees will read it? Why or why not?
    • Who are the primary and secondary audiences? What are the objectives?
    • What advice do you have for Nadella as a writer?
  • #WorldCup Twitter Records

    Forget the games, the real World Cup action is on Twitter, where 580,000 tweets traveled per minute during Germany's fifth goal against Brazil. #BRAvGER was the most popular hashtag, and #WorldCup had been consistently trending.

    WorldCup tweets

    The game also was the most highly tweeted in sports history, with 35.6 million tweets—significantly more than the Super Bowl's 24.9 million. A heat map shows Twitter traffic around the world during the game.

    Twitter activity had its consequences. Rumors about riots in Brazil had some traction, and I wonder whether all of the negative posts hurt an already depressed nation. Here's a sampling: 

    • Russell Brand (@Rusty Rockets): "It's gone from might win the World Cup to maybe we should get other jobs. It's like watching an accident."
    • Brick Tamland (@BrickCh4News): "Brazil, where'd you learn to play defense? At the toilet store?"
    • Rob Burnett (@RobBurnett): "Yeah but they're *really* good at singing their anthem."

    I tried to encourage more positive tweets and did get a response from the Ministry of Tourism.

    2014-07-10 07_37_58-Twitter _ Search - #BeautifulBrazil

    Discussion Starters:

    • What, if anything, is the significance of this news? How do numbers of tweets compare to, say, TV viewers? 
    • What is @VisitBrasil saying in its response tweet? What's your view of how the organization handled the #BeautifulBrazil tweet?
  • Another Case for Direct Bad-News Messages

    Good-news-bad-nesThe 9th edition of the book challenges the traditional advice of presenting bad-news using the indirect organizational style. In an HRB blog post, "How to Start a Conversation You're Dreading," Peter Bregman offers examples of when beating around the bush doesn't work.

    A performance issue with someone got out of hand because he delayed speaking with her about it. Then, the news took so long during a conversation that she had to break it herself. In another example, a CEO's long introduction to bad news was called a "complete waste of time."

    We avoid giving bad news because we aren't good at it and because we're worried about the other person's reactions. But the other's reactions are likely worse when we aren't direct.

    Jamie Dimon's letter about his cancer has the news right up front: "I wanted to let you know that I have just been diagnosed with throat cancer."

    Image source

    Discussion Starters:

    • How do you feel about giving bad news? If you tend to delay it, why?
    • Think about a time when you received bad news or negative feedback.
  • Google Intercepted a Goldman Email

    A Goldman Sachs contractor accidentally sent a confidential email to a Gmail address instead of the "GS.com" domain. Unlike most of us who have mistyped an address (and who hasn't), the contractor, client, and company will suffer no humiliation.

    Goldman asked Google to intercept the email. The appeal to Google was simply that it's an easy action for Google to take compared to the potential damage of the client's data being revealed. (I'm nosy: Who's the client, and just how much are we talking about?)

    Google complied with the court order, and it's a happy ending, sort-of. Critics say Goldman's legal machine made this happen, and some wonder whether we could see a legal precedent, but this is unlikely because Google didn't fight the request, so there's no court decision to ponder.

    Goldman Sachs v. Google

    Discussion Starters:

    • Did Google do the right thing? What are the potential pros and cons of the company's decision to comply with Goldman's request?
    • What are the potential implications of this situation?
  • #LikeAGirl Video Hits 18 Million Views

    A Procter & Gamble Always video, with more than 18 million views in a few days, shows people asked to "act like a girl." Adults and a young boy dance and run with uncoordinated, sloppy moves, but young girls run like, well, normal people.

    When asked, "What does it mean to you when I say, 'run like a girl'?" an (adorable) little girl says, "It means run fast as you can." Then the screen reads, "When did doing something 'like a girl' become an insult?"

    The campaign encourages girls' confidence:

    "Using #LikeAGirl as an insult is a hard knock against any adolescent girl. And since the rest of puberty's really no picnic either, it's easy to see what a huge impact it can have on a girl's self-confidence.

    "We're kicking off an epic battle to make sure that girls everywhere keep their confidence throughout puberty and beyond, and making a start by showing them that doing it #LikeAGirl is an awesome thing."

    AdAge reports that #LikeAGirl is the second most popular video this week, behind The Last Game, posted by Nike Football, with a remarkable 59 million views.

    Discussion Starters:

    • The campaign is clearly getting a lot of attention. Why do you think this video is so popular?
    • How, if at all, do you think the viral video will translate into sales?


  • EO Jamie Dimon Reveals Cancer

    In a message to employees and shareholders, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon revealed his throat cancer, explained the treatment plan, and described his "business-as-usual" approach.

    Dear Colleagues and Shareholders -

    I wanted to let you know that I have just been diagnosed with throat cancer.
    The good news is that the prognosis from my doctors is excellent, the cancer
    was caught quickly, and my condition is curable. Following thorough tests that
    included a CAT scan, PET scan and a biopsy, the cancer is confined to the
    original site and the adjacent lymph nodes on the right side of my neck.
    Importantly, there is no evidence of cancer elsewhere in my body.

    My evaluation and treatment plan are still being finalized, but at this time
    it appears I will begin radiation and chemotherapy treatment shortly at
    Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital, which should take approximately eight
    weeks. While the treatment will curtail my travel during this period, I have
    been advised that I will be able to continue to be actively involved in our
    business, and we will continue to run the company as normal. Our Board has
    been fully briefed and is totally supportive.

    As you all know, we have outstanding leaders across our businesses and
    functions – the best team I’ve ever had the privilege of working with – so our
    company will move forward together with confidence as we continue to deliver
    first-class results for our customers, communities and shareholders.

    I feel very good now and will let all of you know if my health situation

    I appreciate your support and want to thank our employees for the amazing work
    they do day-in and day-out. I’m very proud to be part of this company and
    honored to be working with such an exceptional group of people.


    Dimon has been at JPMorgan for 10 years. Critics thought he should have been ousted after the bank lost more than $2 billion and then paid $20 billion in fines because of bad trades. But he had the support of his board to stay. In fact, they gave him a raise.

    It's interesting to contrast Dimon's approach with Steve Jobs's. Jobs had pancreatic cancer while CEO of Apple and was quite private about his condition. One difference may be the prognosis. Although Jobs lived with pancreatic cancer for seven years (2003 - 2011), the prognosis typically is far worse, with a survival rates a mere 3%.

    Posted on Business Wire, the notice is called a press release, a memo, a letter, and a note in various news articles.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Assess Dimon's message and approach. How do you find his openness? Transparent, TMI, or something else?
    • In Chapter 8, we discuss how to organize bad-news messages. Dimon's message clearly follows the direct organizational plan. Is this the best choice? Why or why not?
    • What direction do you think Dimon got from the board in composing the message? In other words, how, if at all, do you think they influenced Dimon's communication?