• American Airlines Loses Lots of Luggage

    American Airlines mishandled luggage—and customer complaints. International Business Times joked that MIA is the code for the Miami airport and now lost luggage as well.

    The airline blames the mistake on a technical issue: the conveyor belts weren't working properly, so luggage wasn't loaded onto the plane. Passengers weren't notified until flights landed.

    AA tweet

    At other airports, travelers report being on hold for an hour and waiting in line for 45 minutes before learning about their lost luggage. 

    "We waited another 45 minutes to see a customer service agent to file our locator claim. That was the frustrating part -- American Airlines didn’t say anything. You think they would tell us so we’re not waiting. We wasted a good hour and a half."

    American Airlines representative Joshua Freed gave this statement:

    "The system was back online this afternoon and we are working to reunite those bags with our passengers. Should a customer have a question about their delayed bag, they can work with the baggage service office at their destination or call 1-800-535-5225."

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Should American Airlines have told passengers about the missing luggage before they boarded the plane, during the flight, or only when they landed? Consider the consequences of each. 
    • What else, if anything, should the company do or say at this point? 
  • Dangers of Talking About Political Beliefs at Work

    Vote-for-meA New York Times article warns people about sharing their political leanings in business situations. Alina Tugend lost a sizable account after reacting positively to a news story about President Obama during a meal with a prospective client.

    In the article, she poses these questions:

    HERE’S a quiz for the coming campaign season. Which one of these actions could get you disciplined or fired?

    A) Hanging political cartoons on your office door.

    B) Sending emails to your colleagues soliciting support for a controversial cause.

    C) Writing a blog at home stating your opinions about a local campaign and posting it on Facebook.

    D) All of the above.

    The answer is D. Now, that’s not an absolute. It depends on whether you are a private or public employee. It also depends on where you live.

    Tugend explains that employees in the private sector have few protections. The First Amendment protects speech from government action, not private employers.

    On the other hand, you may have more protection if you belong to a union or work in New York, California, Colorado, North Dakota, or the District of Columbia, all of which protect political beliefs—as long as you don't interfere with business.

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • What are you comfortable sharing or not sharing with coworkers?
    • Argue for and against protections of political beliefs or actions at work. Try to see the situation from the employer and employee's perspective.
    • Should we have a federal law to protect political speech and beliefs as we do for religion? Why or why not?
  • Entertainment Weekly Ranks Oscars Speeches

    Entertainment Weekly has ranked the Oscars speeches from best to worst. Garnering the top spot is Graham Moore, who won for the Best Adapted Screenplay, The Imitation Game. Moore's speech is a lesson in vulnerability, a topic that will be covered in the 10th edition of Business Communication.

    Second best was J.K. Simmons' speech, accepting the award for Best Supporting Actor in Whiplash.

    More speeches this year seemed to have a theme or message for us. These first did as well as the third and fourth ranked on ET's list:

    • John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn, who won for Best Original Song for Selma, "Glory." Performer John Legend also said, "Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now."
    • Patricia Arquette, who won for Best Supporting Actress for Boyhood. She said, "To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America." Perhaps more notable than Arquette's words was Meryl Streep's reaction:

    Discussion Starters:

    • Read the rest of Entertainment Weekly's list, particularly the ones at the bottom. Do you agree with the order and comments? Too harsh?
    • A few years ago, I remember people getting angry about winners using the stage to promote political and other agendas. Do you think that has changed? Or, what makes these speeches different?
  • Starwood CEO Leaves the Company

    Starwood CEOFrits van Paasschen, Starwood CEO since 2007, has resigned. Board Chair Bruce Duncan focused on execution rather than differences over strategy as the main reason for van Paasschen's departure: "This is not about strategy. . . This is all about execution. We want to do better."

    “This is not about strategy. … This is all about execution. We want to do better,” - See more at: http://www.hotelnewsnow.com/Article/15285/Why-Starwoods-van-Paasschen-resigned#sthash.FXnqSRBr.dpuf
    “This is not about strategy. … This is all about execution. We want to do better,” - See more at: http://www.hotelnewsnow.com/Article/15285/Why-Starwoods-van-Paasschen-resigned#sthash.FXnqSRBr.dpuf
    “This is not about strategy. … This is all about execution. We want to do better,” - See more at: http://www.hotelnewsnow.com/Article/15285/Why-Starwoods-van-Paasschen-resigned#sthash.FXnqSRBr.dpuf
    “This is not about strategy. … This is all about execution. We want to do better,” - See more at: http://www.hotelnewsnow.com/Article/15285/Why-Starwoods-van-Paasschen-resigned#sthash.FXnqSRBr.dpuf

    In a news release on Starwood's website, the company announced the decision along with a temporary replacement: Adam Aron.

    Starwood Hotels & Resorts Makes CEO Change
    February 17, 2015

    -- Frits van Paasschen Resigns as President, CEO and Director
    -- Starwood Director Adam Aron Appointed CEO on Interim Basis
    -- Company to Focus on Accelerating Growth and Improving Performance

    STAMFORD, Conn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. (NYSE:HOT) today announced that Frits van Paasschen has resigned by mutual agreement with the Board of Directors as President, Chief Executive Officer and a Director. Adam Aron , a Starwood Director since 2006, has been named Chief Executive Officer on an interim basis while the Board conducts a search for a permanent CEO that will include both internal and external candidates. van Paasschen will continue with Starwood as a consultant to assist in the transition. Read more. 

     On a conference call, Aron emphasized his "bias for action" and outlined four steps he'll take:

    • Drive top-line growth through dedicated marketing campaigns;
    • “perform with a high degree of focus and with higher operational excellence”;
    • manage costs aggressively; and
    • “(expand) the size of our pipeline and footprints as we seek the objective of higher net rooms growth.”
    - See more at: http://www.hotelnewsnow.com/Article/15285/Why-Starwoods-van-Paasschen-resigned#sthash.FXnqSRBr.dpuf
    •  Drive top-line growth through dedicated marketing campaigns
    • "Perform with a high degree of focus and with higher operational excellence"
    • Manage costs aggressively
    • "[Expand] the size of our pipeline and footprints as we seek the objective of higher net rooms growth."

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Assess Starwood's news release. What key messages do you take from the statement? What is not being said?
    • Do you think the company appropriately balanced respect for van Paasschen and plans for the future?
  • Reports on UT Admissions Process

    Kroll UT report imageUniversity of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers is being criticized for admitting students based on their political or financial connections rather than on their merit. An investigation found that Powers overruled admissions advice for at least 73 students.

    Kroll, a risk-management firm, produced a 107-page report to the chancellor of The University of Texas System, identifying "tensions between the Admissions Office and the President's Office." To explain his decisions, Powers said, "They are in the best interest—long-term interest—of the university."

    A July 2014 report from the UT System, "Best Practices in Admissions Processes for Undergraduate and Professional Programs," acknowledges the "suspicion of a double standard that favors well-connected students." The report identifies the following strategies to ensure a fair admissions process: 

    • Ensure transparency throughout the admissions process.
    • Identify for students the criteria used in holistic review.
    • Promote consistency in holistic reviews.
    • Uphold the integrity of the admissions process by eliminating external influences and conflicts of interest.

    (Download report.)

    Discussion Starters:

    • What are your views about Powers' selection process?
    • Imagine that you're one of the 73 or so students who was admitted, presumably, with lower grades and fewer qualifications than other students. How would this news make you feel?
    • Read both reports: Kroll and the UT-System. Compare the organization, design, content, tone, and so on according to principles in Chapter 10. How could both reports be improved?
  • Urban Outfitters: Purposely Offending?

    As Kevin Allen of PR Daily says, "It'd be reasonable to think Urban Outfitters is doing this on purpose." Yes, we are beyond the point of forgiveness for an oversight. Most reasonable people would agree that the similarity between Urban Outfitter's new tapestry and the pink triangle uniform given to gays during the Holocaust is too close to be coincidental. 

    Urban Outfitters pink triangle

    The Anti-Defamation League and B'nai B'rith (in a  letter) have asked Urban Outfitters to remove the product. No word from the company yet.

    Urban Outfitters is making a habit of offending. The Week has identified 14 "missteps," and this makes at least the 15th. The Week staff summarizes the issue well:

    "Over the years, Urban Outfitters, a store aimed at young hipsters and owned by big-time conservative donor Richard Hayne, has managed to offend blacks, Jews, Native Americans, liberals, conservatives, and eating-disorder awareness groups, among others."

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Does this news affect your decision to shop at Urban Outfitters? Why or why not?
    • What, if anything, should the company say at this point? What is there to say, really? 
    • Read the B'nai B'rith  letter. In what ways do you find it convincing—or not?
  • Alex Rodriguez Apologizes. Again.

    After a season leave from baseball, Alex Rodriguez will rejoin the Yankees. Rodriguez was suspended for a record 162 games for using performance-enhancing drugs. On its website, the Yankees refers to his "involvement with Biogenesis and performance-enhancing drugs." 

    In a handwritten letter, Rodriguez apologizes to the league, his team, the Steinbrenner family, the Players Association, and his fans. The first paragraph of his letter is below, and the rest is here.

    Alex Rodriguez letter

    During a news conference in 2009, Rodriguez blames his youth. 

    The news comes at almost the same time cyclist Lance Armstrong is ordered to pay $10 million, the largest settlement for using performance-enhancing drugs. I'm not holding my breath for an apology. 

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Assess the apology letter. Why did Rodriguez choose to hand write the letter? How is it organized? Is it sufficient?
    • Watch the news conference from 2009. What communication strategies does Rodriguez use? 
  • Uber's False-Cause Fallacy

    A Fast Company report gives us a great example of a false-cause fallacy: "Uber Cures Leprosy."

    Uber cures leprosy

    The video pokes fun at Uber's claim that the service reduced the number of drunk driving incidents. Last year, Uber and MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) announced a partnership that includes donations to the organization. However, a news release by MADD, although complimentary of Uber's service, doesn't imply causation:

    "The report released today builds upon a study conducted by Uber in May 2014, which estimated that the entrance of Uber in Seattle coincided with a more than 10% reduction in the number of arrests for DUI. "

    On the other hand, Uber's promotional materials do:

    "A new report conducted in partnership with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) reveals that when empowered with more transportation options like Uber, people are making better choices that save lives."

    Discussion Starters:

    • Is this just a difference in semantics or something more?
    • Is the Fast Company video too critical of Uber?
    • What fallacy does the Fast Company reporter use in comparing Uber's claim to curing leprosy?
  • Brian Williams Gets Suspended

    NBC News president Deborah Turness announced the decision: Brian Williams will be suspended for six months. The suspension comes after a week of controversy about how Williams changed stories over time.

    A New York Times article describes the decision-making process at NBC. Several people were consulted, including the highly respected Tom Brokaw, who was news anchor and managing editor before Williams took the position. The article is a window into corporate politics and decision making.

    In an email to staff, Turness explained the decision process:

    From: Deborah Turness (NBCUniversal)

    Sent: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 7:47 PM

    To: @NBC Uni NBC News All

    Subject: Brian Williams


    We have decided today to suspend Brian Williams as Managing Editor and Anchor of NBC Nightly News for six months. The suspension will be without pay and is effective immediately. We let Brian know of our decision earlier today. Lester Holt will continue to substitute Anchor the NBC Nightly News.

    Our review, which is being led by Richard Esposito working closely with NBCUniversal General Counsel Kim Harris, is ongoing, but I think it is important to take you through our thought process in coming to this decision.

    While on Nightly News on Friday, January 30, 2015, Brian misrepresented events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003. It then became clear that on other occasions Brian had done the same while telling that story in other venues. This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position.

    In addition, we have concerns about comments that occurred outside NBC News while Brian was talking about his experiences in the field.

    As Managing Editor and Anchor of Nightly News, Brian has a responsibility to be truthful and to uphold the high standards of the news division at all times.

    Steve Burke, Pat Fili and I came to this decision together. We felt it would have been wrong to disregard the good work Brian has done and the special relationship he has forged with our viewers over 22 years. Millions of Americans have turned to him every day, and he has been an important and well-respected part of our organization.

    As I’m sure you understand, this was a very hard decision. Certainly there will be those who disagree. But we believe this suspension is the appropriate and proportionate action.

    This has been a difficult time. But NBC News is bigger than this moment. You work so hard and dedicate yourselves each and every day to the important work of bringing trusted, credible news to our audience. Because of you, your loyalty, your dedication, NBC News is an organization we can – and should - all be proud of. We will get through this together.

    Steve Burke asked me to share the following message.

    “This has been a painful period for all concerned and we appreciate your patience while we gathered the available facts. By his actions, Brian has jeopardized the trust millions of Americans place in NBC News. His actions are inexcusable and this suspension is severe and appropriate. Brian’s life’s work is delivering the news. I know Brian loves his country, NBC News and his colleagues. He deserves a second chance and we are rooting for him. Brian has shared his deep remorse with me and he is committed to winning back everyone’s trust.”


    Discussion Starters:

    • Assess Turness' email. What is being said and what isn't? How is the email organized? What works well, and what doesn't?
    • Consider the quotation from Steve Burke, CEO and president of NBCUniversal. Does this belong?
    • Did Turness and the others make the right decision? Why or why not?
  • Job Interviews: "How You Really Sound"

    Fast Company created this fun video to show the difference between what a job candidate says and how the interviewer may hear it.

    I have to admit I found the "perfectionist" funniest. And the "people person" response reminds me of a video clip from the TV show "The Restaurant." I show it in class to freshmen to encourage them to differentiate themselves during the interview process.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Admit it, which of the responses have you given? In retrospect, what could you have said or done differently? 
    • Watch the video clip from "The Restaurant" with successive responses from candidates. Could you see how this might get annoying for a hiring manager?
  • Brian Williams Takes a Hiatus

    After days of controversy and speculation, Brian Williams has decided to take a leave from news reporting. Williams, the anchor and managing editor of "NBC Nightly News," has been criticized for inconsistencies in his reporting over time, raising questions about his credibility. 

    Williams' reporting of the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina are being investigated. He apologized this week for saying that, in 2003, he was on a helicopter that was hit by a grenade. His reporting at the time differed and changed during the past 12 years. During Hurricane Katrina, Williams claimed to have seen bodies floating in the French Quarter, but this is now disputed as well his claim to have contracted dysentery. 

    In a brief statement posted on the NBC News site, Williams acknowledged the distraction: 

    A Personal Note from Brian Williams

    In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions.

    As Managing Editor of NBC Nightly News, I have decided to take myself off of my daily broadcast for the next several days, and Lester Holt has kindly agreed to sit in for me to allow us to adequately deal with this issue. Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us.

    According to The New York Times, the leave may give the NBC executives more time to decide Williams' status with the network. 

    Discussion Starters: 

    • What do you make of Williams' reporting on these situations? Keep in mind that memory does change over time. 
    • Did Williams do the right thing by taking a leave from the news? What are the advantages and disadvantages? Consider the potential consequences of staying and leaving.
  • Twitter CEO Admits Failures in Addressing Cyberbullying

    In two internal discussion posts, Twitter CEO Costolo addressed criticism that the company isn't doing enough to stop cyberbulling.

    An employee raised the issue by citing Lindy West, a victim of harassment on Twitter:

    "I’m aware that Twitter is well within its rights to let its platform be used as a vehicle for sexist and racist harassment. But, as a private company – just like a comedian mulling over a rape joke, or a troll looking for a target for his anger – it could choose not to. As a collective of human beings, it could choose to be better."

    In both posts, Costolo's message is clear: "I take full responsibility."

    Costolo tweet 1

    Costolo tweet 2

    Discussion Starters:

    • What do you see as Twitter's responsibility, and what are the limits?
    • What could the company do to prevent or address cyberbullying?

    Discussion Starters:

  • How to Make Your Tweets More Persuasive

    Tweet-thisResearchers at Cornell University have discovered language that makes tweets more likely to be retweeted. A computer analyzed messages, searching for keywords and combinations of words.

    In their article, published in the June 2014 Proceedings of the Association for Computer Linguistics, the authors pose a basic communication question: "How does one make a message 'successful'?" The authors generated this list of recommendations for people wanting more bang for their tweets:

    • Ask people to share. Words like ”please,” “pls,” “plz” and, of course, “retweet” were common in successful messages.
    • Be informative (often measured by length).
    • Use the language of the community, and be consistent with the language you usually use yourself, with which your followers are familiar. The researchers are also testing on Reddit, where users form distinct communities.
    • Imitate the style of newspaper headlines. (In their tests, the researchers used the New York Times as a model.)
    • Use words that appear often in other retweeted messages.
    • Use words that express positive or negative sentiment.
    • Refer to other people, not just yourself. Use third person pronouns.
    • Use generalizations. Statements that can be applied to a variety of situations are the most often repeated.
    • Make it easy to read. The researchers applied a formula used to measure the grade level of a text.

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Does any of this advice surprise you?
    • Do you find some recommendations more helpful than others?
    • What difficulty could you see in implementing these ideas in tweets?
  • RadioShack Files for Bankruptcy

    In sad, but unRadio20shacksurprising news, RadioShack filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company has been struggling for some time and closed 1,110 stores last year.

    Now, 2,400 of its 4,000 stores will be sold to General Wireless, an affiliate of its biggest shareholder, Standard General. Under the agreement, Sprint will operate most of those stores. In a news release, RadioShack describes the plan. 

    A Wall Street Journal article blames the company for poor decisions. Titled "Strategic Confusion Put RadioShack at Mercy of Lenders," the article says the company "failed to keep up with the changing retail and digital landscape." The company's fate, according to the WSJ, could be worse: Circuit City and Borders were liquidated. 

    RadioShack is on its seventh CEO in the past nine years—probably not a fun position.

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • The Yahoo Finance article reports, "A spokesman for Standard General did not respond to a request for comment." Should the company have prepared a statement?
    • Analyze the news release. What works well, and what could be improved?
  • Metro-North Accident Kills Six

    Another Metro-North train accident caused several deaths—this time a collision with an SUV on the tracks in Valhalla, NY. It's unclear why Ellen Brody's car stopped in the train's path, and the driver behind her didn't understand why she didn't back up.

    As with other Metro-North incidents, the organization provides service updates, but little human connection. The Metro-North news page only references a collision and provides transportation options. The Twitter feed also posts only service updates.

    The MTA CEO did issue this statement: "The entire MTA family’s thoughts are with the relatives and loved ones of the victims of last night’s tragedy. We are tremendously saddened by this tragic accident, and our thoughts and prayers go out to all of them."

    But the MTA press releases are cold statements of the facts:

    MTA press release

    Discussion Starters:

    • Should the MTA do anything differently at this point? To be fair, this accident seems out of the organization's control, unlike the derailment in 2013.
    • Compare the New York MTA's response to DC's statement when a woman died of smoke inhalation. What's different? Should the MTA write a similar apology?
  • Lululemon Founder Resigns

    Lululemon2After a series of controversial PR moves, Lululemon Founder and CEO Chip Wilson has resigned from the board of directors. BizCom has two posts about the company over the past couple of years: 

    The problems seemed to start when customers complained about the sheer fabric used in the company's pricey yoga pants. The New York Times explains the situation: 

    Some women who tried to return the pants at Lululemon stores said they were told to put them on and bend over so staff members could determine just how see-through they were. After a monthslong public-relations disaster, Wilson, who was chairman of the company, went on Bloomberg TV that November to share what he thought was a reasonable explanation. "Some women’s bodies don’t work for the pants," he said. "It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time."

    In a video in 2013, Wilson tried to apologize, but it didn't go very well. The Times writer describes Wilson: "More than once, the way Wilson spoke reminded me of the airhead fashion model Ben Stiller plays in "Zoolander."

    Here's an excerpt from the company's news release about Wilson: 

    Mr. Wilson concluded: "I have achieved the goals I set when I came back, and after careful thought, I believe that now is the right time to step away from the board. I leave behind a new and talented management team and new board construct. By stepping away from lululemon I will now have more opportunity to work with my wife and son as they grow their new business, Kit & Ace. I am so excited for Kit & Ace because it is where street clothing is going. Shannon and JJ have caught the next wave." Founded in 2014, Kit & Ace produces Technical Luxury™ products by using Technical Cashmere™ blends.

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Read the NY Times article about Chip Wilson. What impressions do you get of the man and the situation?
    • Read the entire news release. Analyze the tone, organization, and word choice. How is the company representing the situation? 
  • Nationwide Ads

    In a series of commercials, some of which played during the Super Bowl, Nationwide is encouraging parents to keep their kids safe. In each video, children are telling us that they can't do what they had hoped to do because they died.

    Frank Eliason, a father who lost his child of four years old during a liver transplant, wrote a post describing how the ad affected him:

    Let me introduce you to Gia. She was born in 2000. She never learned to ride a bike. Or got cooties. She never learned to fly. Or travel the world with her best friend. She will never get married. She didn't grow up, because she died during a liver transplant surgery as a result of liver cancer. She passed away on July 26, 2004.

    Imagine Gia was your daughter. It is easy for me, because she is my daughter. Now we are over 10 years later, and I still think of her everyday. Now imagine escaping this troubled world for a few hours to enjoy the Super Bowl. It is an escape that only comes once a year. I enjoy watching the game with my girls, and try to forget the troubles the world brings. Then this commercial comes on:

    How would you feel if you lost a child for any reason? Can you imagine the discussion it creates with your other children who are 7 & 8 about the sibling they never met? Simply put this brought nothing but pain to parents who lost a child, no matter the cause of death.

    I know Nationwide has issued a statement stating that they were hoping to start a dialogue regarding safety in the home. That may be a noble goal, but this is not the way to start a dialogue of any kind. It is obvious to me that no one involved within the company or their advertising agency has ever suffered such a horrible loss. I certainly hope they never do.

    Insurance is supposed to be about making you whole, but there is no insurance in the world that can ever make the loss of a child whole. In my view this commercial was much more than a downer, as the Washington Post stated. To me it was personal.

    Here's Nationwide's press release:
    Columbus, Ohio - Preventable injuries around the home are the leading cause of childhood deaths in America. Most people don’t know that. Nationwide ran an ad during the Super Bowl that started a fierce conversation. The sole purpose of this message was to start a conversation, not sell insurance. We want to build awareness of an issue that is near and dear to all of us—the safety and well being of our children. We knew the ad would spur a variety of reactions. In fact, thousands of people visited MakeSafeHappen.com, a new website to help educate parents and caregivers with information and resources in an effort to make their homes safer and avoid a potential injury or death. Nationwide has been working with experts for more than 60 years to make homes safer. While some did not care for the ad, we hope it served to begin a dialogue to make safe happen for children everywhere.

    In an unrelated Nationwide video, actress Mindy Kaling thinks she's invisible. This one's funny.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Do you find Nationwide's commercials offensive or insensitive?
    • Assess the company's press release. Did it convey Nationwide's goals while recognizing intense reactions?