• Conversational Customer Service Wins Big Points

    When Skyscanner travel app suggested a 47-year itinerary for a customer, he asked what he could do during the layover. Jen, the customer service rep didn't miss a beat: she's quick and fun, and includes her promise in the P.S.

    The post went viral on Facebook, with people commenting on her spontaneity and lack of script. Customers are getting tired of the template response. The Houston Chronicle wrote, "We aren't sure who Jen is, but she totally just owned the Internet and we all loved it."

    Social media responses have been getting friendlier. Perhaps companies (or their social media reps) are taking more risks. Sure, a negative post can cause all sorts of trouble, but this example and others prove that a positive, personal style by a human being can garner a lot of attention.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Look at recent social posts by your favorite company. Analyze the tone and approach. Have you noticed a change over time?
    • Jen's strategy may not work for everyone. What are some risks of her casual style?
  • Sponsorships Getting Less Clear

    The Federal Trade Commission has guidelines for celebrities and bloggers to reveal their sponsorship ties, but they are not consistently followed, and some say the guidelines could be clearer. Companies shell out thousands of dollars for people with large numbers of followers to mention their brands on social media. But what's the difference between testimony and an ad?

    Mary K. Engle, the FTC’s associate director for advertising practices told The New York Times that, although an endorsement has to be clear, they are not "prescriptive" about what's included in a social mention. The FTC guidelines suggest starting a post with something like "#Ad." According to the Times, "For example, simply saying 'thank you' to a brand or adding '#sp' or '#spon' probably isn’t clear enough, while saying a brand is a 'partner' probably is," Engle said.

    The organization Truth in Advertising wrote a letter to the Kardashian/Jenner family about recent posts they consider to be deceptive marketing. On her Instagram account, Kylie Jenner displays Fit Tea but fails to mention that this is a paid endorsement.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Should the FTC create more specific guidelines for what to include in social media posts? Or should celebrities know better?
    • What's the value of disclosing that a celebrity is compensated by a brand? How, if it all, would a clearer marking affect your decision to buy a product?
  • Mylan CEO Defends EpiPen Price Hike

    EipPenFighting critics who call the price hike "greedy" and "outrageous," Mylan CEO Heather Bresch makes no excuses for running a for-profit company. Yet the cost of an EpiPen has increased from about $165 in 2011 to more than $600 today. 

    In a CNBC interview, Bresch stressed that "everybody who needs an EpiPen, has an EpiPen." She focused the costs involved in making the product widely available.

    Trying to deflect blame, Bresch said, "This is a healthcare issue. . . . The system incentivizes higher prices." Pharmacy, retailers, and wholesalers are all taking a cut and are raising their prices. 

    Discussion Starters:

    • Twice, Bresch said, "As a mother..." How effective is this strategy as part of her argument?
    • How well does Bresch convey her points? Which arguments do you find most and least convincing?
    • CNBC's chart is effective because it shows the dramatic increase over time. What's your view of the caption about skiing? 
  • Trump Vs. Morning Joe

    Now, Donald Trump is feuding with the hosts of MSNBC's Morning Joe, Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough. Earlier this month, Scarborough wrote a scathing piece in The Washington Post, "The GOP Must Dump Trump." He ended by encouraging Republicans to withdraw their support and find a new candidate:

    "A bloody line has been crossed that cannot be ignored. At long last, Donald Trump has left the Republican Party few options but to act decisively and get this political train wreck off the tracks before something terrible happens."

    Escalation of the debate has continued, as Brzezinski said he sounded as if "he's had a lot to drink" during a campaign rally speech in Fredericksburg, VA.

    Trump did not enjoy that comment and struck back with a series of tweets matched by Scarborough, who shot back, "Neurotic and not very bright? Look in the mirror."

      Trump to Morning JoeThe tweets came a few hours after Trump's campaign manager said he doesn't insult people. This is from Huffington Post:

    “I don’t like when people hurl personal insults,” Kellyanne Conway told ABC News’ “This Week.” “That will never be my style, I’m a mother of four small children, it would be a terrible example for me to feel otherwise ... [Trump] doesn’t hurl personal insults.”

    And yet Conway told Fox Business, "He has a right to defend himself."

    Trump tweets Morning Joe

    Discussion Starters:

    • When you watch the clip from Morning Joe, what do you notice about Brzezinski's delivery of the comment? How do others on the show react? Do you think she may regret her comment?
    • How should Trump have reacted? And how should Scarborough have responded? As always, all players in the situation had several choices throughout these exchanges.
  • Costco Credit Card Transition Causes Problems

    Costco VisaCostco is doing its best to resolve continued problems after transitioning from American Express to Visa credit cards. The decision was announced in June: 11 million customers would now have Citi and Costco co-branded credit cards, and American Express would no longer be accepted. Issues started early with Citi CEO Michael Corbat addressing questions on an earnings call in June. On the call, Corbat admitted that Citi received a high volume of customer calls:

    "We're working through that. We're gaining on it. We're very focused on it. We've got a lot of resources deployed against it, and it's something we can fix in the short order."

    Today, customers still have trouble getting through to the call center, and the situation has worsened. One customer posted a screenshot of his phone showing a call that lasted 1 hour and 43 minutes. Others complained that they received an incorrect card or none at all, and automatic payments were stopped.

    To make the situation worse, Citi sent emails to some Costco members by mistake. The email should have gone to people who let their memberships expire, so customers thought their accounts had been hacked. Citi spokesperson Jennifer Bombardier focused on the size of the conversion:

    "With a conversion of this magnitude — one of the single largest portfolio conversions in history (11 million cards) — and a brand as beloved as Costco, call volumes were unprecedented," Citi  told Business Insider. "With a portfolio of this size and eight months of pent up demand during which time we couldn’t address questions on the new product or existing accounts as the portfolio was with a different issuer, the call volume was groundbreaking as of June 20th."

    In an FAQ on its website, Costco answered common customer questions.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Who should take the blame for these problems? How can each company explain its role without damaging the partnership and the other's brand? 
    • Review Costco's FAQ. How helpful do you find the answers? What else could the company include on this page?
  • Critics of Under Armour's Decision to Cancel a Sponsorship

    Bowmar huntingUnder Armour has cancelled its relationship with hunter Sarah Bowmar after reports that her husband, Josh, speared a bear and bragged about it. The Human Society called the spearing "giddy and ruthless." 

    Although spear hunting is legal, some believe it is inhumane. An Under Armour spokesperson said, "The method used to harvest this animal was reckless and we do not condone it."

    According to a Reuters report, Josh Bowmar defended the practice as a quicker, more humane cause of death than bullets or arrows.

    On Instagram, Sarah Bowmar expressed her disappointment:

    "I love and care about all of you and wanted to let you know that due to recent circumstances and media attention of a LEGAL hunt, @underarmour and @uahunt have terminated their relationship with us due to international social pressure from anti hunters. It really breaks my heart, we lived and breathed the brand for years and gave them everything that we had. We will never speak ill of the company. Just wanted to let everything know our current situation and how heartbroken we are when we did nothing wrong. Receiving that phone call was one of the hardest things I've ever went through. Don't be silent in this. If this bothers you- please reach out to UA and let them know."

    This may be a lose-lose situation for Under Armour. Now, people are petitioning for the company to reinstate her contract.

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Did Under Armour make the right decision in cancelling Bowmar's contract? Read more about the public reaction. Should the company reinstate her now?
    • How well did Under Armour communicate the decision? Other than the short statement, I don't see any posting on Twitter from the company or its affiliate, @UAHUNT. Should they post something, or let it go?
  • McDonald's Pulls Kids' Fitness Trackers

    McDonald's fitness bandsAfter a sizable backlash, McDonald's is pulling fitness trackers for kids. People complained that worrying kids about their weight could cause more problems than good. Brian Cuban, who writes and speaks about his history of an eating disorder and addition, posted the tweet shown here.  This story reminds me of the teen magazine that showed girls what type of bathing suit they should wear for their body type. Brian Cuban tweet

    Chicago Tribune noted the "apparent hypocrisy of McDonald's encouraging children to exercise while also serving them high-fat foods":

    Indeed, the paradox of a fitness monitor wedged in a Happy Meal box alongside chicken nuggets and french fries is hard to ignore. Even the healthiest Happy Meal combination will have kids ingesting 410 calories and 19 grams of fat, according to the company's online nutrition calculator. That's a lot of steps.

    In announcing the decision to pull the bands, a McDonald's spokesperson said the company had received “limited reports of potential skin irritations that may be associated with wearing the band.” No mention of the controversy was mentioned.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Should McDonald's have been more forthcoming about the controversy? What could have been the positive and negative consequences of admitting the issue about kids' weight? 
    • Articles about the story say that people can distinguish between what companies do for the social good and what companies do for themselves. How does that play into the reaction in this case? Are those goals mutually exclusive?
  • Twitter's New Quality Filter

    Twitter filterTwitter is still trying to make the site a kinder place, with fewer trolls and less abuse. Twitter's user base has been declining, and several celebrities have signed off permanently. The company, led by Jack Dorsey, has responded to complaints: "We are going to continue our work on making Twitter a safer place."

    The latest attempt is a "quality filter," which Twitter explains on its blog:

    "Turning it on filters lower-quality content, like duplicate Tweets or content that appears to be automated, from your notifications and other parts of your Twitter experience. It does not filter content from people you follow or accounts you’ve recently interacted with – and depending on your preferences, you can turn it on or off in your notifications settings."

    Twitter frames the new features as ways to "Control Your Experience on Twitter." In addition to the filter, users can limit their notifications, for example, from only people they follow.

    Discussion Starters:

    • How well is Twitter addressing criticism of bullying and harassment on the site? To what extent will these features address concerns?
    • How well did Twitter present the change on its blog?
  • Embarrassment for the Olympic Athletes and an Apology

    LochteU.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte concocted a story about being robbed in Rio de Janiero and later apologized. Lochte said he and three other swimmers were robbed by people claiming to be police officers. Turns out, other U.S. swimmers said Lochte was drunk and unruly, and we learned later what actually happened: he vandalized a gas station bathroom, and armed guards approached him.

    Lochte posted an apology on Instagram. But the damage extended far beyond the gas station. Rio officials are angry about the hit this incident may have on the city's reputation, and the Olympic's committee is trying to distance itself from Lochte's behavior.

    Lochte's statement hasn't satisfied many people. Quoted in The New York Times, sports commentator Rodrigo Mattos said, “Lochte apologizes but doesn’t admit lying. He’s still portraying himself as a victim. So much arrogance.”

    Discussion Starters:

    • Why did Lochte lie? How believable was the story, and what role did the other swimmers play?
    • Another approach, of course, is to come forward with the truth even before the story got out. What could have been the consequences of this approach?
    • Should Lochte have said something different in his apology? What is at stake?
    • Do you agree with Mattos's views that Lochte is arrogant? How would you define arrogance, and how does Lochte show this trait?
  • Data Breach Affects 20 Hotel Properties

    Twenty HEI properties suffered a data breach of payment information. HEI is a hotel owner/operator and has branded hotels under Marriott, InterContinental, Starwood, and Hyatt.

    HEI posted a list of the properties, which includes an Equinox, two Le Meridiens, six Westins, and others. The company also posted a notice on its website.HEI Breach

    Individual hotels don't seem to be communicating much; for example, the Boca Raton Marriott and Westin Philadelphia websites aren't displaying the typical breach notices. These brands may be smart to leave the trouble with HEI.

    Discussion Starters:

    • What's your assessment of HEI's message? What principles of business writing are followed? Who is the audience, and how well are their needs met?
    • What are the most important messages for customers to hear after a data breach?
    • Should individual properties do more? Why or why not?
  • Biles Handles the Media

    Biles 2In addition to winning an Olympic gold medal for gymnastics, Simone Biles made headlines for handling two difficult situations beautifully. 

    Tired of hearing some media coverage for the games, Biles shot back, “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.” An article in The Atlantic called NBC's coverage of the Olympics:

    The coverage of women’s gymnastics has a long tradition of emphasizing the contrasts of its competitors: traditional girlishness on the one hand, traditionally masculine qualities—“power” chief among them—on the other. And NBC’s gymnastics commentators (under a mandate from NBC to address themselves to a notional “Madeleine in Middle America, who doesn’t know gymnastics”) have reveled in those easy contradictions. Biles stands, they have emphasized, at only 4 feet, 8 inches tall. She giggles a lot. A promotional package NBC aired during Rio’s women’s gymnastics qualifying round featured Biles’s parents talking about her love for shopping. It also showed her getting a manicure.

    The article went on to say it was as though NBC were saying, "Look at that girl do all that! She’s powerful like Michael Phelps, but a girl!." Biles

    In another incident drawing attention to her (and needing her attention to clear things up), an NBC commentator, Al Trautwig, referred to her parents as Biles's grandfather and his wife. The couple legally adopted and raised Simone. Trautwig repeated his position on social media.

    Biles simply said, “I personally don’t have a comment. My parents are my parents, and that’s it.”

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Biles is getting a crash course in media attention. Do you agree with my assessment that she's handling it well? What else can she do? 
    • Read The Atlantic article about NBC's portrayal of women and the Olympics. Do you agree with the author's criticism? What rings true for you, and what doesn't? 
  • Arizona Mayor Angry About Bilingual Invitation

    Border AssocWhen John Cook, executive director of the U.S.-Mexico Border Mayors Association, sent invitations to mayors in border states in the United States and Mexico, he didn't expect the strong reaction he got from Ken Taylor, mayor of Huachuca City, AZ. The invitation was sent in both English and Spanish, which The New York Times calls "standard for any type of official communication about binational events."

    "The excitement is building and we are ready for a great meeting of the Border Mayors Association in Laredo. We hope to see you there at 9 a.m. on August 24th at the Laredo Country Club.  The draft agenda and a list of hotels is attached to this email," Cook said in the email, which then provided the Spanish translation. "La emoción está construyendo y estamos listos para una gran reunión de la Asociación de alcaldes de la frontera en Laredo. Esperamos contar con su presencia a las 9 am el 24 de agosto en el Laredo Country Club. El proyecto de programa y una lista de hoteles se adjunta a este correo electrónico."

    Taylor responded to the invitation: "I will NOT attend a function that is sent to me in Spanish/Mexican."

    Cook said, "I don't want to pick a flight," "I will certainly remove you from our email list. Ours is a bi-national association with mayors from the United States and Mexico that were elected to serve border communities. All of our communications are intended to inform mayors from both sides of our border about our association." Cook also said, "The purpose of the Border Mayors Association is to speak with one voice in Washington, D.C., and Mexico City about issues that impact our communities, not to speak in one language. My humble apologies if I ruffled your feathers."

    The concession wasn't enough for Taylor: "American is going ‘Down Hill’ fast because we spend more time catering to others that are concerned with their own self interests. It is far past time to remember that we should be ‘America First’ ... there is NOTHING wrong with that."

    Discussion Starters: 

    • What's your view of the invitation? Should invitations to U.S. mayors be written only in English?
    • Given Taylor's objection, how well did he handle the situation? What else could he have said and done? What are the consequences of his response? 
    • How well did Cook handle Taylor's reaction? 
  • Huffington Steps Down

    ThriveAfter building Huffington Post into a significant brand and news source, CEO and founder Arianna Huffington is leaving the company after 11 years. The company was sold to AOL 2011, and then Verizon acquired AOL in 2015. Huffington stayed on since but has become less visible in the company.

    Now, she's starting a venture, Thrive Global, which focuses on employee well-being and is based on two books she's written. She explains the decision:

    "As Thrive Global moved from an idea to a reality, with investors, staff, and offices, it became clear to me that I simply couldn’t do justice to both companies."

    The New York Times reports her position at Verizon as "increasingly precarious." The liberal news site has become a smaller part of a global media company, and perhaps the voice has been shrinking, particularly with Verizon's recent purchase of Yahoo. 

    Huffington tried to reassure staff, who have been leaving the company steadily for the past year:

    “Great companies always succeed beyond their founder. Even though HuffPost bears my name, it is absolutely about all of you and about this amazing team we’ve been for over 11 years.”

    AOL CEO Tim Armstrong also tried to do his part:

    “Today, The Huffington Post is a firmly established and celebrated news source, and AOL and Verizon are committed to continuing its growth and the groundbreaking work Arianna pioneered."

    Discussion Starters: 

    • What else could Arianna Huffington, and perhaps the executives at Verizon, say to reassure HuffPost employees? They are likely concerned about their future without the founder at the helm. 
    • In her statement, Huffington talks only about her new wellness company. Should she say more about the company's position within Verizon? Why or why not?
  • Lessons from Delta Outage

    Delta experienced one of those crisis situations during which it's impossible to make customers happy. After cancelling 1000 flights on Monday, 775 on Tuesday, and more than 300 on Wednesday, the airline finally reports, "Delta's Flight Operations Return to Normal." 

    When the power outage first hit on Monday, now blamed on equipment failure, customers weren't kept informed about their flight status. In most cases, passengers received no notification, others received text messages that there flights were ready to board when they were not, and others sat on a plane on a runway for five hours. Because Delta's entire communication system was down, the company had limited ways of getting accurate messages to passengers. The failure does raise questions about Delta's backup systems, although CEO Ed Bastian said they have redundant systems.

    On Monday on Twitter, representatives responded to customers, but they could say little other than, for example, "Hi there. I am really sorry for the inconvenience. Our systems are down everywhere. Hopefully it won't be much longer. *SD."

    The company had kept the public updated on its website. A string of posts shows Delta's optimism—real or imagined—to maintain the airline's image:

    Employees helping customers in Salt Lake City after outage
    Delta's flight operations return to normal
    Aircraft in Atlanta with beam of sunlight
    Flight schedule continues moving towards normalcy

    Also to keep customers loyal to Delta, grounded passengers got a full refund and a $200 certificate for a future flight. Bastian apologized in a video, below, and was interviewed on the Associated Press about the situation. His theme is "This is not who we are," which could work well for the company to isolate this incident and point to long-term successes that built the brand. 

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Do you agree with my assessment of "This is who we are"? What are the dangers of that communication theme? 
    • What's your view of Bastian's video? Analyze the audience, key messages, delivery style, and so on.
    • What else, if anything, should the company have done on Twitter?
  • Saatchi Chair Resigns Admitting, "'Fail Fast, Fix Fast, Learn Fast"

    RobertsSaatchi Chairman Kevin Roberts told Business Insider that the "debate is over" about gender diversity in the advertising industry:

    "Edward de Bono [the physician, psychologist, and author] once told me there is no point in being brilliant at the wrong thing — the f---ing debate is all over. This is a diverse world, we are in a world where we need, like we've never needed before, integration, collaboration, connectivity, and creativity ... this will be reflected in the way the Groupe is."

    Instead, Roberts pointed to financial services, where he says the issue is "way worse." 

    On Twitter, senior lecturers from other ad agencies as well as major companies disagreed, including PepsiCo's beverage group president, who said he wasn't proud to be client, and the CMO from JPMorgan, who said his comments were "positively Trumpian." 

    Parent company Publicis issued the following statement: 

    Following the comments made by Saatchi & Saatchi Executive Chairman and Publicis Groupe Head Coach, Kevin Roberts, in a recent interview with Business Insider, Publicis Groupe Chairman & CEO, Maurice Lévy addressed a statement internally to all Publicis Groupe employees to reiterate the Groupe’s no-tolerance policy towards behavior or commentary counter to the spirit of Publicis Groupe and its celebration of difference as captured in the motto Viva la Difference!

    It is for the gravity of these statements that Kevin Roberts has been asked to take a leave of absence from Publicis Groupe effective immediately. As a member of The Directoire, it will ultimately be the Publicis Groupe Supervisory Board's duty to further evaluate his standing.

    Diversity & inclusion are business imperatives on which Publicis Groupe will not negotiate. While fostering a work environment that is inclusive of all talent is a collective responsibility, it is leadership’s job to nurture the career aspirations and goals of all our talent.

    Promoting gender equality starts at the top and the Groupe will not tolerate anyone speaking for our organization who does not value the importance of inclusion. Publicis Groupe works very hard to champion diversity and will continue to insist that each agency’s leadership be champions of both diversity and inclusion.

    For his part, Roberts apologized

    "Fail fast, fix fast, learn fast" is a leadership maxim I advocate. When discussing with Business Insider evolving career priorities and new ways of work/life integration, I failed exceptionally fast. My miscommunication on a number of points has caused upset and offence, and for this I am sorry. I have inadvertently embarrassed Saatchi & Saatchi and Publicis Groupe, two companies I love and have been devoted to for almost 20 years. I have expressed my regret and apology to the companies for the furor my remarks and language stimulated, and I extend this to colleagues, staff and clients.

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Read more from Roberts' interview with Business Insider. Where did he go wrong? 
    • Assess his apology. What works well to instill trust in the brand? How authentic does it sound to you?
  • Time's Layoff Jargon

    Time IncI'd like to see a layoff announcement without "realignment," "leverage," and "content creation." Time Inc. couldn't manage it in the recent statement about laying off about 110 of its 7,200-person team: 

    "Over the last couple of weeks, we have been realigning our organizational structure to better leverage our content creation, sales and marketing and brand development operations. Our primary objective has been to better position ourselves to operate with greater agility and optimize the growth areas of our operation. As a result, there will be some job eliminations. That is always painful but an unfortunate reality in today's business climate."

    According to AdAge, employees aren't surprised, based on recent memos announcing new management and a new editorial structure. CEO Joe Ripp also admitted, "We're always looking at costs."

    Part of the restructuring includes new ad teams for technology and telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, and automotive.

    Image source

    Discussion Starters: 

    • What's the harm in using jargon in a layoff announcement? What are some alternatives?
    • Time representatives won't say when the layoffs will take place. How does this strategy affect employees? What are the factors involved in the timing decision?
  • Should Miss Teen USA Give Up the Crown?

    Karlie Hay, from Texas, was crowned Miss Teen USA on Saturday, but evidence of her using a racial slur in 2013 and 2014 has surfaced. Hay apologized for her tweets in a statement and in an interview with George Stephanopoulos: 

    "I am very sorry. It's embarrassing. It's something I'm ashamed of. I've grown up from that 15-year-old girl who used that type of language. It's never acceptable and now I know how hurtful it is. It hurts me to know that at one point in my life I used that language. I said that. It's not me."

    The Miss Universe organization decided not to have Hay give up the crown:

    "As Karlie stated, she was in a different place in her life and made a serious mistake she regrets and for which she sincerely apologizes." 

    I don't watch beauty pageants, but I can't imagine how the judges chose a winner from the top 5 contestants. The New York Times called them "striking similar in physical appearance." 

      Miss Teen USA

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Should Hay give up the crown? If she chooses not to, should the Miss Universe organization force her to?
    • Hay's tweets emerged just hours after the show ended. Should social media screening be part of the pageant process? Why or why not? 
    • Another option was for Hay to present this information as part of her application or maybe to discuss her personal growth in her speech or interview. (Do they still do that?) What do you think of this get-out-ahead-of-it strategy?