• Walmart Stops Carrying Some Rifles

    130221034718-walmart-guns-sales-620xaWalmart will stop some selling high-powered rifles, and the company says the decision is based on sales, not politics. Although speculation links the news to Wednesday's on-air shooting of two television reporters, Walmart's announcement came first.

    Spokesman Cory Lundberg said, "It [the decision] was done purely based on customer demand." He also told Forbes, "We previously carried modern sporting rifles in less than a third of our stores. Our merchandising decisions are driven largely by customer demand. In our everyday course of doing business, we are continually reviewing and adjusting our product assortment to meet our customers’ needs."

    At the same time, news reports question Walmart's motivation. According to a New York Times article, sales of assault rifles have not fallen (although the sales process may be slowed by background checks). Further, after the terrible church shooting in Charleston, S.C., chief executive Doug McMillon "indicated in an interview with CNN that he wanted to curb sales of such weapons."

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Why is Walmart focusing on sales rather than political motivations for discontinuing these guns? Consider Walmart's constituencies when you answer this question.
    • Walmart has not posted a news release on its website to describe the decision. Why do you think the company might avoid this?
  • Google Fights EU's Antitrust Allegations

    In a post on Google's "Europe Blog," Kent Walker, SVP & General Counsel, focuses on the company's innovation and quality. In a previous post, Google argued against the contention that search results favor the company. Now Google is trying to reframe the argument for us to see the value the company brings.

    The first three paragraphs of the post, shown here, explain the European Commission’s Statement of Objections (SO), including how Google ads shift users away from shopping on other websites.

    Google Europe Blog

    Read more.

    The posts ends, "We believe that the SO's preliminary conclusions are wrong as a matter of fact, law, and economics. We look forward to discussing our response and supporting evidence with the Commission, in the interest of promoting user choice and open competition."

    Discussion Starters:

    • Assess the organization of Walker's post, particularly the paragraph organization. What principles of business communication are demonstrated by the article?
    • Assess the video included in the blog post. What works well about the interviews and examples, and what could be improved? What value does the video add to the blog post?
  • Candidate Word Clouds

    A Quinnipiac University poll isn't good news for Hillary Clinton—or the other candidates. Sixty-one percent of voters said Clinton is untrustworthy. When asked to identify words associated with the democratic candidate, the most frequent was "liar."

    For republican candidate Donald Trump, the most common word association was "arrogant" and for Jeb Bush, it was "Bush," which could mean bad news if he's too closely associated with the family, particularly George W. Bush, not a very popular president. The word cloud shows mostly negative words for Clinton, and the one below, for Trump, isn't much more inspiring. 

    Hillary Clinton Word Cloud

    Donald Trump Word Cloud

    The word clouds can be deceptive. Even if the word height is representative of sentiment, several aspects may skew visual impressions, for example, 1) the (presumably) random color choice, 2) the length of the word (number of letters), and 2) the position of the words, which may make some stand out more than others.  

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Looking at these word clouds, which words stand out most to you? Of the smaller words, which ones stand out that may be equal in height to others, but capture your attention because of color or word length? 
    • Does this poll influence your opinion of either leading candidate? If so, how?
  • Is Dr. Dre's Apology Enough?

    Straight Outta Compton

    The movie "Straight Outta Compton" about hip hop has raised questions about Dr. Dre's history of domestic violence. One victim called the film "revisionist history" because it omitted incidents of abuse by members of N.W.A.

    Dr. Dre did issue this statement to The New York Times:

    "Twenty-five years ago I was a young man drinking too much and in over my head with no real structure in my life. However, none of this is an excuse for what I did. I’ve been married for 19 years and every day I’m working to be a better man for my family, seeking guidance along the way. I’m doing everything I can so I never resemble that man again."

    He added, "I apologize to the women I’ve hurt. I deeply regret what I did and know that it has forever impacted all of our lives."

    Apple, which hires Dr. Dre as a top consultant, also issued a statement:

    "Dre has apologized for the mistakes he's made in the past and he's said that he's not the same person that he was 25 years ago. After working with him for a year and a half, we have every reason to believe that he has changed."

    Victims and reporters have been highlighting Dr. Dre's past. And the LA Times reported that an abuse scene was in an earlier version of the movie but was cut.

    The controversy doesn't seem to be affecting movie goers. Box office results show "Straight Outta Compton" leading this weekend with $26 million in sales after a $60 million opening.  

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Are you convinced by Dr. Dre's apology? Is it enough?
    • Did Apple do the right thing by issuing its own apology? What are the risks?
  • Video Interviews on the Rise

    According to a Futurestep (Korn Ferry) survey, more companies are interviewing candidates via video, and they are reporting good results. Of the 700 companies surveyed, 75% use video to interview leading candidates, and 50% use it to narrow down the pool. Respondents say video has the following benefits:

    • Less time for candidates and hiring managers
    • Less travel expense
    • Faster process

    A representative at Novartis reported, "We have had some impressive results. In the past year, 2,700 video interviews have taken place with a cost-avoidance savings of $475,000 and a reduction in manager interview travel by 220 trips."

    Companies are also using set questions for candidates to respond to by video. About 25% are using this method, and another 24% have "employee testimonials or messages from recruiting managers" on their websites.

    A representative at Futurestep summed up the value of video on a company's career webpage: "Day-in-the-life videos with real employees can showcase a particular job function or office location. Also, welcome videos from the CEO or hiring managers are easy, inexpensive and effective ways to personalize the job seeker’s experience and communicate an organization’s employer brand." Deloitte has been including videos for some time, as shown here.


    Discussion Starters:

    • Some of the benefits seem to focus on organizational fit. How does video contribute to this determination about a candidate and company?
    • What do you see as the potential dangers of using video for interviews? What could get lost?
    • Have you experienced a video interview? How did it go?
  • McDonald's Copies Burrito Ads

    McDonald's has apologized for using photographs similar to another campaign. About a month ago, photos of a man getting engaged to a burrito were making the rounds on Twitter. Recently, McDonald's showed a series of photos of people in similar positions with its food. Compare the left and right images below, shown on Adweek.


    David Sikorski, a freelance writer, told Adweek that he created the idea:

    "I came up with the concept as a satirical take on the engagement photos that flood my everyday social media channels. The photos are in fact licensed. We gave permission to BuzzFeed for the first use of the photos within an article highlighting the project."

    Kristina Bakrevski was the photographer for the campaign. She said, "My reaction was shock, disbelief. I was mad, even though a lot of friends told me the imitation was a form of flattery." For its part, McDonald's responded:

    "This shouldn't have happened, and, with our agency partner, we're working to find out how it did. We're reaching out to David Sikorski and Kristina Bakrevski. We apologize to them, their fans and ours."

    Discussion Starters:

    • McDonald's statement says they will explore how this happened. What are your theories, and how could this have been prevented?
    • What else, if anything, should McDonald's do? How could the company avoid a lawsuit at this point?
    • Sikorski and Bakrevski said they would like to be paid. How much do you think is appropriate?
  • Update on Subway's Jared

    Last month, Jared Fogle, who was featured in Subway's advertisements for more than 15 years, was under investigation for child pornography. At the time, the company reported that they "agreed to suspend their relationship." Now, Fogle intends to plead guilty to charges of paying for sex with minors and distributing child pornography. He is expected to serve 5 to 12 years in prison. 

    On its Twitter feed, Subway tried to announce the final cord-cut with a simple tweet but, 20 hours later, issued a second tweet, presumably after pressure to say more. Tweets asked, "Where are the disclosures?" and are calling for a boycott. 

      Jared update

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Was Subway's first tweet enough? Should the company have said more and, if so, what?
    • Or, perhaps the company shouldn't have said anything at all. They had already "suspended" the relationship. What could have been the consequences of that decision? 
    • Did the second tweet add value? People want to hear more, but what else is there to say? 
    • Would you boycott Subway after hearing the news?
  • Amazon Responds to NYT Article

    A New York Times article revealed a tough work environment at Amazon, and the company has responded. "Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace" includes examples of long working hours and little tolerance for employees' personal lives or health. Within three days, piece received more comments than any other NYT article.  

    Amazon article

    Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos isn't happy about the portrayal. In an email to employees, Bezos wrote, 

    "The article doesn't describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day. But if you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR. You can also email me directly at jeff@amazon.com. Even if it's rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero.

    "The article goes further than reporting isolated anecdotes. It claims that our intentional approach is to create a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard. Again, I don't recognize this Amazon and I very much hope you don't, either. More broadly, I don't think any company adopting the approach portrayed could survive, much less thrive, in today's highly competitive tech hiring market. The people we hire here are the best of the best. You are recruited every day by other world-class companies, and you can work anywhere you want."

    Nick Ciubotariu, Amazon's head of infrastructure development, also wrote a rebuttal—a long piece with counterarguments for many claims in the article. He admits that some examples may have been true of Amazon in the past, but they don't reflect his experience today:

    "During my 18 months at Amazon, I’ve never worked a single weekend when I didn’t want to. No one tells me to work nights. No one makes me answer emails at night. No one texts me to ask me why emails aren’t answered. I don’t have these expectations of the managers that work for me, and if they were to do this to their Engineers, I would rectify that myself, immediately. And if these expectations were in place, and enforced upon me, I would leave."

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Does the article change your opinion of Amazon? Will you still buy from the company? Would you apply for a job? 
    • Assess Ciubotariu's rebuttal. What are his most and least convincing arguments? 
    • How, if at all, should the New York Times reporter respond? 
  • Chicago Tribune Takes Heat for Katrina Op-Ed

    An opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune titled, "In Chicago, wishing for a Hurricane Katrina," has offended many who survived the devastating storm. The author's point was that New Orleans is better off today than before Hurricane Katrina. Kristen McQueary gives examples of an overthrown government, new housing, and improved schools: "Hurricane Katrina gave a great American city a rebirth."

    Still, people didn't appreciate the humor: 

      Chicago Tribune

    The newspaper has changed the article title to "Chicago, New Orleans, and rebirth" and removed some of the more offensive parts. But McQueary doesn't seem moved. 

    Chicago Tribune response

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Read the original article. What's your reaction: does it offend you, do you see McQueary's point, or something else?
    • McQueary's tweet seems to imply that, if would just read the piece, we would understand her perspective and why it's valid. How is her thinking flawed? 
    • If she were to write an apology, what could she say to rebuild trust in herself as a journalist and for the Chicago Tribune?
  • Zirtual Ends Service, and Communication Is Criticized

    After starting business just 18 months ago, Zirtual has abruptly announced its demise. Customers and the 400 employees of the virtual personal assistant company were surprised and angry. 


    Business Insider points out the irony in the shoddy communication. Just three weeks ago, Zirtual CEO Maren Kate Donovan discussed in a Fortune magazine article how important it is to keep employees "in the loop": 

    "My team is without a doubt my biggest asset, which is something I never take for granted. So it’s vital to keep them in the loop during periods of change and consistently show support. Because what my employees don’t know could ultimately hurt the entire business. The sooner your team knows about upcoming shifts in the company—the better.

    "Additionally, give your employees ample time to adjust, as change in a company can often lead to people feeling unstable in their positions. And be transparent."

    Zirtual has backpedaled, indicating that it's taking a "pause": 

    "The decision to pause operations was the most difficult message I’ve ever had to deliver. I have spent every waking hour over the past four years working to build the most vibrant community of empowered workers only to have to let them know at once that we could no longer service them."

    The upside is that Startups.co will be taking over operations, so some service and some employees will be reinstated. 

    Discussion Starters: 

    • How, if at all, could this situation have been avoided? It's understandable that Zirtual scaled up too quickly and had to cease operations, but how could the communication have been better? 
    • Now that Zirtual will be bought out, what should Startups.co and the former CEO communicate?
  • First Debate of Republican Candidates

    The presidential election is still more than a year away, but the Republican candidates already debated for the first time. 

    Trump debate

    Donald Trump has been leading in the polls, and he was positioned in the center of the 10 candidates. Trump won the debate in terms of airtime with 11 minutes, 14 seconds.

    Debate airtime

    In its casual, sardonic style, The Skimm summarized the debate as follows:

    "That Donald Trump likes to talk a lot. And everyone else would like some more attention. Trump is going for the White House — even if he doesn’t get the GOP nomination. And he clarified that he doesn’t like to insult all women. Just Rosie O’Donnell. Jeb had to talk about his last name. But he’d prefer if you call him ‘ Veto Corleone.’ Dr. Ben Carson reminded everyone that he exists, and that he’s separated Siamese twins. Scott Walker is proud to be normcore. Rand Paul and Chris Christie do not — repeat DO NOT — like each other. Everyone likes the Iran nuclear deal just about as much as they like Hillary Clinton (hint: they don’t, but Kimye does). John Kasich said he still doesn’t like the idea of gay marriage, but he’d still love his daughter if she were gay. Marco Rubio feels #blessed to be on stage with all these candidates, since the Dems can’t even find one. And Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee were there too." 

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Who do you think won the debate? What criteria do you use for deciding?
    • Compare The Skimm's summary to that of other news reports. How do they compare, and what could account for the differences?
    • Questions about climate change weren't included in the debate. Why do you think this is the case? Should they have been included? 
  • Marriott Hires Comedian for Video Campaign

    Marriott is encouraging guests to book directly with the hotel rather than through third-party sites. In a video campaign, YouTube comedian Grace Helbig tells viewers to book on Marriott.com to "get the best rates right there. It pays to book direct."  

    The hashtag #ItPaysToBookDirect is getting some attention. One video was favorited on Twitter more than 800 times. 

    A USA Today Road Warriors article identifies six reasons to book online. The best reason is to avoid rouge booking sites that inflate prices and don't guarantee a room. Guests who book directly also may get a better room and better service.

    Critics say Helbig is adding a "kinda-sorta-a-little-bit funny dose of humor" to the ads. She is, after all, a YouTube celebrity, whatever that means. 

    Discussion Starters: 

    • The grammar bugs me. The campaign needs the adverb directly (book directly). I realize the standards are different for marketing. Am I just being picky?
    • What's your view of the online video campaign? Do you find the ads funny? Will they encourage people to book on Marriott.com?
  • Controversy About CEO Pay Disclosure

    The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission voted to require CEOs to disclose how their pay compares to that of employees in their organization. The requirement is part of the Dodd-Frank Act, passed in 2010 to prevent another financial crisis and to protect consumers. 

    SEC Press Release

    The decision is one strategy for what people consider pay inequity between high- and low-earners in the United States, which has increased dramatically, as reported by BloombergBusiness

    "Average CEO pay at the 350 largest U.S. companies by revenue surged 997 percent from 1978 to 2014, while the compensation of non-supervisory employees rose 10.9 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a research group that advocates for workers.

    "While CEOs earned about 30 times what the typical employee did in 1978, corporate chiefs’ pay had jumped to more than 300 times their employees’ compensation as of 2014, the institute said."

    Opponents say the ruling creates an expensive process and will serve only to embarrass CEOs. But the decision offers several ways for companies to calculate wages, excludes up to 5% of foreign workers, and requires reporting only every three years.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • What's your view of the ruling? Is this the right move, and will it achieve its purpose? 
    • How do you assess the Economic Policy data shown above? What story do the numbers tell, and what may be missing? 
    • How could you display the Economic Policy Institute data visually? What chart type(s) would be most appropriate? 
  • Kraft's Direct Recall Notice

    In a straightforward press release, Kraft announced a recall of its Singles products. The headline is clear and specific, and the main point is up front. The notice begins as follows: 


    Only 3-Lb. and 4-Lb. Packages of Kraft Singles Included in Recall

    NORTHFIELD, Ill.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jul. 31, 2015-- The Kraft Heinz Company is voluntarily recalling select code dates and manufacturing codes of Kraft Singles individually-wrapped slices due to the possibility that a thin strip of the individual packaging film may remain adhered to the slice after the wrapper has been removed. If the film sticks to the slice and is not removed, it could potentially cause a choking hazard.

    This Smart News Release features multimedia. View the full release here:http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20150731005896/en/

    Kraft calls this a "Smart News Release" because it has more than text. A table and images show how to find affected products.

    Kraft visual

    One line in the release expresses the company's sentiment: "We deeply regret this situation and apologize to any consumers we have disappointed."

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Complete an audience analysis for this situation. What is important for Kraft to know as it navigates this recall?
    • Analyze the entire release for clarity, tone, organization, and so on. Which principles for bad-news messages from Chapter 8 are followed, and which are not?
    • What else, if anything, should the company communicate at this point? Is the apology sufficient?