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.
After criticism, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a 2000-word statement to change the league’s domestic violence policy. Accused of assaulting his finance, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended for two games.
Backlash was fierce, with groups criticizing the punishment as too lenient—less than suspensions for some involvement with drugs.
Goodell admitted his mistake and changed the policy to six games after one incident of assault, battery, sexual assault, or domestic violence involving force. He included all employees in the policy. The New York Times describes the message sent to NFL owners as "a letter and accompanying memo" and called the change “stunning in its earnestness and clarity.”
Here is excerpt from the entire message:
"At times, however, and despite our best efforts, we fall short of our goals. We clearly did so in response to a recent incident of domestic violence. We allowed our standards to fall below where they should be and lost an important opportunity to emphasize our strong stance on a critical issue and the effective programs we have in place. My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families. I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will."
Time Warner Cable had a major service outage on Wednesday morning, but the response was slow and questionable. As people throughout the country took to Twitter to report loss of Internet service, the company was quiet, and calls went unanswered.
Customers joked about how to solve the problem: After about an hour of reported complaints, TWC tweeted about the outage: Another hour later, TWC issued this statement:
"At 4:30 a.m. ET today, during routine network maintenance, an issue with our Internet backbone created disruption with our Internet and On Demand serices. At of 6 a.m. ET services were largely restored, as updates continue to bring all affected customers back online."
Although TWC claims the outage was caused by an Internet backbone problem, some suspect the company’s system was hacked. Reports say that the outage seems more like a DDoS attack (distributed denial of service).
Spring-Serenity Duvall, assistant professor of communications at Salem University, got tired of responding to students’ emails:
"For years, student emails have been an assault on professors, sometimes with inappropriate informality, sometimes just simply not understanding that professors should not have to respond immediately. In a fit of self-preservation, I decided: no more. This is where I make my stand!"
With her department head’s approval, Duvall banned all emails from students unless they are writing to schedule a meeting with her. In her course syllabus, she explains her rationale:
"E-mail: You should only use email as a tool to set up a one-on-one meeting with me if office hours conflict with your schedule. Use the subject line “'Meeting request.' Your message should include at least two times when you would like to meet and a brief (one-two sentence) description of the reason for the meeting. Emails sent for any other reason will not be considered or acknowledged. I strongly encourage you to ask questions about the syllabus and assignments during class time. For more in-depth discussions (such as guidance on assignments) please plan to meet in person or call my office. Our conversations should take place in person or over the phone rather than via email, thus allowing us to get to know each other better and fostering a more collegial learning atmosphere."
According to Duvall, the ban has been successful: She spends less time responding to minor emails and more time talking with students on the phone or in her office. She has made one exception to the policy and allows students to email course-related content.
Entertainment Weekly ranked the 23 acceptance speeches from the 2014 Emmy Awards. Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston (Lead Actor in a Drama Series) topped the list:
"It was Cranston’s night. He had the perfect amount of humility ('Even I thought about voting for Matthew'), humor ('I love you, especially those scenes in bed,' he told Anna Gunn) and inspiration ('find your passion, Sneaky Petes')."
Entertainment Weekly also complimented Aaron Paul, who won for best supporting actor in Breaking Bad:
"Using his Emmy acceptance speech to express his love for Cranston and praise his wife was nice. But really, he gets this high up for having the best exit, jogging backward and pumping his trophy into the air."
Other speeches were deemed too short, too long, cute, safe, uneventful, memorable, etc.
Although sales continue to decline, Best Buy executives are sticking with the plan to turn the business around primarily through cost-cutting. The company has been successful in reducing expenses, but sales continue to lag.
In Best Buy's second quarter results report, CEO and President Hubert Joly said,
"Like other retailers and as reflected in this quarter’s performance, we continued to see a shift in consumer behavior: consumers are increasingly researching and buying online. As a result, traffic to our brick and mortar stores continued to decline, yet our in-store conversion and online traffic continued to increase due to the execution of our Renew Blue strategy which is in direct alignment with this shift. Our Renew Blue strategy is designed to (1) grow our online business; (2) enhance our in-store customer experience; and (3) leverage our multi-channel capabilities; all to deliver to our customers great advice, service and convenience at competitive prices in the channel they want to be served.
"During the quarter, we continued to make progress against this strategy, including (1) increasing our Net Promoter Score across channels by 400 basis points year-over-year; (2) improving our in-store experience by rolling out over 800 new Samsung and Sony home theater, 18 Pacific Kitchen and Home and 7 Magnolia Design Center stores-within-a-store; and (3) leveraging our new ship-from-store and digital marketing capabilities to drive a 22% increase in Domestic comparable online sales."
CFO Sharon McCollam reinforced Joly's message: "Industrywide sales are continuing to decline in many of the consumer electronics categories in which we compete."
The situation in Ferguson, MO, following the police shooting of Michael Brown is so tenuous that the city hired a PR firm to help. As you might expect in any emotionally charged situation, the firm has been criticized. Most of the focus has been on Common Grounds Public Relations as an all-white firm.
CEO Denise Benetele defended her firm's role, calling diversity an "industry-wide challenge" and explaining the involvement of The Devin James Group, a minority-owned firm.
Ferguson clearly needs help. In the middle of a dispute that's getting international attention, Mayor James Knowles said, "There's not a racial divide in the city of Ferguson. That is the perspective of all residents in our city. Absolutely."
Just as an EMT would respond to a 911 call, Common Ground PR was asked to provide immediate, emergency help in the form of fielding the overwhelming number of media inquiries the city was receiving until it assembled a long-term team to handle this crisis.
Our short-term agreement to assist had nothing to do with the preceding tragic events. Rather, as we watched the news of ongoing turmoil, it was apparent that the negative images could forever impact our region’s economic development efforts and the lives of our neighbors.
And so we went to field calls from media around the world, trying to connect them to the appropriate sources while city leadership tended to an incredibly challenging, unfolding situation. The pace of queries was profound – like catching raindrops in a hurricane.
It’s not every day that a city of 21,000 residents gets more than 500 media calls in a day. It’s not every day that the alphabet soup of news networks and stations ALL converge in one of the more than 90 municipalities in St. Louis County. But when all of the cameras are gone, we as St. Louisans will be left to rebuild. We will deal with companies who leave town and others who decide not to invest in St. Louis.
I was dismayed at the negative reaction online and on social media, especially among fellow communications professionals, who pointed at the lack of diversity on our staff as a sign of the “greater problem.” Increasing the diversity of communications professionals is an industry-wide challenge that we all need to tackle. But as a local St. Louisan who watched this tragedy unfold, I offered our assistance because it was clear that this community was overwhelmed and needed immediate help fielding media inquiries. The color of our skin reflected nothing of our concern to help our broader community respond to the watchful world.
In my first conversation with Ferguson city officials, I advised that any solution to strife and development of long-term reconciliation would have to come with the assistance of a member of the black community skilled at community engagement with these key constituents.
To that end, The Devin James Group, a nationally certified Minority-owned firm, has been working with St. Louis County and the City of Ferguson as an independent liaison to handle the public relations and long-term needs, work with community leaders and seek regional support in a grassroots effort to build true engagement. With the long-term coalition and communications help of CEO Devin James, local residents and businesses can focus on determining what’s best for this community.
Devin is currently identifying and recruiting communities and leaders to participate and assessing potential for collaborative capacity which could result in the forming of or partnering of community coalitions, creating an outreach plan for improving awareness as well as developing a platform that gives the local community an outlet to address the issues and media perceptions.
We thank the many people who have shared their support and advice and we hope this helps answer questions our peers have, and hope more importantly that you send your prayers to the long-term healing of St. Louis.
Denise Bentele, APR
President & CEO, Common Ground Public Relations
After denying impact on park attendance, SeaWorld is finally admitting that negative publicity about its killer whales is affecting business:
“The company believes attendance in the quarter was impacted by demand pressures related to recent media attention surrounding proposed legislation in the state of California."
The media attention began with the film Blackfish, which criticized how SeaWorld treated its orcas. Musical performers had cancelled their scheduled shows, and attendance had dropped, but revenue held steady for a while, partly because the park increased prices. Now, shares are down 30% for the year (almost 50% for the past 12 months).
After ignoring the negative publicity, SeaWorld's approach was to contradict Blackfish and other animal rights activists. Then, SeaWorld seemed to take a more proactive approach, highlighting on its Facebook page and Twitter account animals it was saving and protecting.
Now, the company has taken a new approach, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to enlarge tanks and provide exercise treadmills. SeaWorld is also committing $10 million to match funds for killer whale research.
With the headline, "Announcing BIG NEWS on the exciting future of killer whales at SeaWorld parks," an email was sent to SeaWorld customers (entire message):
Read a case study about SeaWorld's Response to Blackfish. If you would like an assignment (a recommendation report) about the case, send me email (https://www.hotelschool.cornell.edu/app/facultydb/instructors/an97).
Form letters are a great way for companies to ensure consistency and save time, but they have to be customized. United Airlines forgot this important step.
A spokesperson for the airline said, "I cannot confirm if it is authentic based on the picture, but it appears to be an unfinished customer response letter. If I knew who the customer was we would reach out to the customer and apologize for the response." The letter was posted on Reddit.
A week before this letter was written, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about airline apologies. According to the article, Southwest employs 200 people just to handle complaints, and Delta employs 150 to answer complaint and compliment letters. Delta no longer uses form letters.
United told the WSJ reporter, "Generally we tell the customer we are sorry they did not have the experience they expected on United. We try to be empathetic to the customer but not sound insincere." The article confirms that United has some work to do:
"United Airlines, which had the highest rate of complaints filed at the DOT among major airlines the past three years, has a team of about 450 customer-care agents handling general issues and refunds. Add to that 400 people handing frequent-flier program issues and about 100 answering baggage-related letters and emails."
United apologies dating back to 1996 were form letters. Here's a comparison on Untied.com.
Real estate website ListedBy.com sent an email to alert its customers that Robin Williams died. Several people thought the announcement was inappropriate and told the firm so.
The situation reminds me of small business advisor who used Amy Winehouse's death to promote her services. Although ListedBy.com was a bit more subtle, the email still feels like an opportunity to connect with prospective customers. Using a death for this purpose just seems wrong.
To its credit, the company sent a nice apology:
Members, I wanted to run in to the office even at this late hour and make sure we issue a prompt apology. Earlier tonight we sent out our wkly newsletter including the news of Robin Williams death. We used our same newsletter template we always use for sending out breaking news and while it was potentially a vocal minority we did receive a couple dozen emails that felt it was simply not tasteful and not our place to send out an email like this. In hindsight we completely agree and understand why this was not a good idea to send and we want to issue our most sincere apology to all our members and anyone who was in any way offended by this. It was simply an issue of us ourselves as human beings receiving the news about half an hour before we were trying to select the “news of the day” to send out to our members, and being that we were sincerely extreme Robin Williams fans it seemed like there was no news we could think of that was more important than this. In hindsight again though we realize we actually could have negatively represented the man we intended to honor and for that we are very sorry. It again was a very fast paced decision from someone that really was shocked by the news and we hope you as members forgive us if this was in bad taste. As an extra part of our apology and to try to accomplish our initial goal of honoring a great person who was such a big part of American culture for so long we will be making a donation this week to his charitable foundation. Thanks again for your understanding our human flaw on this send and from now on we’ll just stick to real estate when it comes to reporting the news! Sincerely, The ListedBy.com Team
Starbucks just updated a statement on its website denying giving support to Israel. This isn't the first time the company is responding to similar claims.
Starbucks' Jim Olson told CNN Money that the decision to close Israeli stores in 2003 "was not related to political issues" but was for "operational challenges." This month, Olson said that the statement, written in 2010, was updated because of an "uptick in false rumors out there about Starbucks and the Middle East."
Some of the rumors were about the possibility of Starbucks investing in SodaStream. The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) threatened boycotts if this were true because SodaStream is manufactured in, according to the group, an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
Facts about Starbucks in the Middle East
Though our roots are in the United States, we are a global company with stores in 65 countries, including nearly 600 stores in 12 Middle Eastern and North African countries employing more than 10,000 partners (employees). In countries where we do business, we are proud to be a part of the fabric of the local community – working directly with local business partners who operate our stores, employing thousands of local citizens, serving millions of customers and positively impacting many others through our support of local neighborhoods and cities.
Our 300,000 partners around the globe have diverse views about a wide range of topics. Regardless of that spectrum of beliefs, Starbucks has been and remains a non-political organization. We do not support any political or religious cause. Additionally, neither Starbucks nor the company’s chairman, president and ceo Howard Schultz provide financial support to the Israeli government and/or the Israeli Army in any way.
What we do believe in, and remain focused on, is staying true to our company’s long-standing heritage – simply connecting with our partners and customers over a cup of high quality coffee and offering the best experience possible to them – regardless of geographical location.
Questions and Answers:
No. This is absolutely untrue. Rumors that Starbucks or Howard provides financial support to the Israeli government and/or the Israeli Army are unequivocally false. Starbucks is a publicly held company and as such, is required to disclose any corporate giving each year through a proxy statement.
No. This is absolutely untrue.
No. We do not make business decisions based on political issues. We decided to dissolve our partnership in Israel in 2003 due to the on-going operational challenges that we experienced in that market. After many months of discussion with our partner we came to this amicable decision. While this was a difficult decision for both companies, we believe it remains the right decision for our businesses.
We decided to dissolve our partnership in Israel in 2003 due to the on-going operational challenges that we experienced in that market.
When and where the business case makes sense and we see a fit for the Starbucks brand in a market we will work closely with a local partner to assess the feasibility of offering our brand to that community. We will therefore continue to assess all opportunities on this basis. At present, we will continue to grow our business in the Middle East as we have been very gratified by the strong reception of the brand in the region. We continue to work closely with our business partner, the Alshaya Group, in developing our plans for the region.
Through a licensing agreement with trading partner and licensee MH Alshaya WLL, a private Kuwait family business, Starbucks has operated in the Middle East since 1999. Today Alshaya Group, recognized as one of the leading and most influential retailing franchisees in the region, operates nearly 600 Starbucks stores in the Middle East and Levant region. In addition to its Starbucks stores, the Alshaya Group operates more than 2,600 retail stores in the Middle East, Russia and North Africa, providing jobs for more than 40,000 employees of more than 110 nationalities.
We are extremely fortunate and proud to have forged a successful partnership for the past fifteen years and look forward to building on this success.
We partner with Alshaya Group to operate Starbucks stores in Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and United Arab Emirates in the Middle East and North Africa region. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to work with so many communities, and we are committed to providing the Starbucks Experience while respecting the local customs and cultures of each country we are a part of. We are also committed to hiring locally, providing jobs to thousands of local citizens in the countries where we operate.
This updates a statement originally posted to the Starbucks Newsroom in 2010.
Technical glitch or avoiding the question? Pundits are debating whether former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren really couldn't hear Andrea Mitchell's question.
Mitchell (MSNBC): "And I just have to ask you very briefly, in ten seconds, were you aware any of eavesdropping on John Kerry by Israeli intelligence?"
Oren: "Andrea, I cannot hear you. I’m sorry." [ear piece touch] "[utterances] I’m in Tel Aviv. I cannot hear you. I’m sorry."
Oren was still the Israeli ambassador at the time of the alleged eavesdropping.
Huffington Post compiled a video of embarrassing question evasions. And this reminds me of the woman who hid under her desk to avoid a reporter. Not the best option.
Embracing the value of interactive graphics, The New York Times created an online calculator for student loans. The results may be depressing, but the calculator tells students how much they will owe and what they need to earn to cover the expense. By filling in a few fields, students can see how interest rates, loan term (years), and additional monthly payments affect their principal and interest.
Using $29,400 as the average loan for a student graduating in 2012, we see that students need to earn that amount per year. Of course, more is better. At $35,923 per year, the loan repayment amount would equal about 20% of a student's discretionary income. (Of course, that may vary tremendously.)
Seeing the data graphically may help students get a clearer picture about what to expect—for better or worse.
So much for embracing feedback. The Union Street Guest House in Hudson, NY, implemented a policy of fining wedding bookers $500 for negative reviews.
The Guest House seems to miss the point about social media, and the policy itself is silly: couples are responsible for each negative review posted by their guests. Imagine a wedding gone bad, which could, theoretically, inspire hundreds of guests to post to TripAdvisor or Yelp. There goes the new house fund.
The policy was as follows:
"If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event. If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500. fine for each negative review."
A scan of the Guest House's Yelp reviews indicates a service issue, with an average of 2 stars out of 5.
The owners haven't handled these reviews very well, on one occasion replying, "I know you guys wanted to hang out and get drunk for 2 days and that is fine. I was really really sorry that you showed up in the summer when it was 105 degrees . . . I was so so so sorry that our ice maker and fridge were not working and not accessible."
The Guest House fares better on TripAdvisor (4 out of 5), but the reviews are still spotty.
After some backlash about the policy, the owners posted on Facebook (since removed) that the policy was a "tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago." This is almost as good as Amy's Baking Company claiming that its Facebook page was hacked and was being investigated by the FBI.
In its latest advertising campaign, Airbnb is pushing its role in sustainability. Taking lessons from Chapters 5 and 7 in the textbook, Airbnb boasts saving the planet in concrete terms.
According to a recent report, published with the Cleantech Group, "In one year alone, Airbnb guests in North America saved the equivalent of 270 Olympic-sized pools of water while avoiding the greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 33,000 cars on North American roads." The company also says that North American Airbnb guests use 63% less energy than do hotel guests, while European guests use 78% less.
The report results are summarized in an infographic on Airbnb's blog.
In a joint statement, SeaWorld and Southwest Airlines announced the end of a promotional partnership started in 1988. The companies aren't answering questions beyond the scant (and dare I say, loose) explanation in the release:
Southwest and SeaWorld have mutually decided not to renew their partnership when the contract expires at the end of the year. Our promotional marketing relationship began in 1988 and was one of the first of its kind – focused on co-marketing opportunities between Southwest passengers and SeaWorld visitors.
The companies decided not to renew the contract based on shifting priorities. Southwest is spreading its wings with new international service, and increased focus on local market efforts. With an increasing international visitor base, SeaWorld is looking to focus on new and growing markets in Latin America and Asia, among others.
The companies will continue to work together through Southwest Vacations. Southwest's three specialty airplanes will return to the company's traditional livery.
Southwest and SeaWorld have enjoyed their long relationship, and wish each other continued success.
The more obvious reason, which The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and others point to, is backlash from "Blackfish." The movie questioned SeaWorld's treatment of killer whales at theme parks and blamed several trainers' deaths on how the animals are held in captivity.
In the statement, the companies mention "shifting priorities." Although both have an increasingly international focus, Southwest is looking towards more local marketing. Huh?