Bimbo Banter


BIMBO Nominees for June 2011


  • Bimbo
  • June 1, 2011
  • by Spaeth Communications

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This month we have some very interesting examples – good and bad. BIMBOs from oil executive John Fredriksen, Urban Outfitters (a nasty one at that), a fancy schmancy dress shop owner, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., McDonalds’ CEO, a Michigan state representative, Hideki Matsui, and Holland America. A number of these examples involve positive comments coupled with denials, and we explain why that frequently happens. A European council representative admits to lying and Megan McArdle of The Atlantic fingers a fake Martin Luther King Jr. quote and is criticized for it. We have two terrific examples of companies using Twitter and one athlete who let his Twitter account off the “think first” leash. Blogger Richard Connelly is criticized for being too creative (but we stand up for him), and an expert on avoiding whistle-blowers discusses why verbal communication is a key leadership tool. 

THE WINNING BIMBO

“No ‘smear’ campaign was authorized or intended,” Facebook announced in a statement after being caught hiring Burson-Marsteller to push stories critical of Google’s new feature, Social Circles. (Of course it was a “smear campaign.” Facebook mishandled this from the initial decision and then made it worse. First, the company denied ill intent and then finally owned up to it with a halfhearted comment. Losers in this, besides Facebook, are Burson-Marsteller and public relations as a practice. Burson gets the monthly “stupid” award, since two of its hotshots did their trashing by email. What were they thinking? One of the basic rules of email is anticipating it will get shown to someone else. Public relations suffers – see the USA Today headline below – because this isn’t a “PR stunt,” it’s attempted sabotage. On the other hand, Google seized the opportunity to send a positive message, saying, “Our focus is on delighting people with great products.”  Notice the word “smear” appears in numerous headlines, and it appears that this is a classic BIMBO where the media initially suggests the word, and the speaker denies it.)

USA Today, “PR firm’s Google attack fails,” May 10, 2011

Los Angeles Times, “Facebook accused of covert smear campaign against Google,” May 13, 2011

USA Today, “Facebook admits to PR stunt,” May 13, 2011

THE RUNNERS-UP

“Neither Dave nor I feel his Lubrizol purchases were in any way unlawful,” wrote legendary investor Warren Buffett last month in a statement following disclosure that a potential successor had bought $10 million of Lubrizol stock, a company he recommended to Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway. (Why is this comment reappearing a month later? Because we predicted it would show up again and again. Although Mr. Buffett quickly rethought his initial comments, saying that David Sokol “violated the code of ethics. He violated our insider trading rules. He violated the principles I lay out every two years,” it was too late. The “unlawful” BIMBO comment appeared over and over. This is an example where our principles would have prevented this intense embarrassment – or worse. See the headline in Joe Nocera’s Times column.)

The New York Times, “The Party’s Over for Buffett,” by Joe Nocera, April 30, 2011

The New York Times, “Buffett Criticizes Former Lieutenant,” May 1, 2011

Bloomberg Businessweek, “Sokol’s Choice,” May 2-8, 2011

“I am the least racist person there is,” said Donald Trump, impersonating a presidential candidate. Trump was criticized for saying that President Obama should “get off the basketball court” and that an African-American reporter must be an Obama fan. (This is ridiculous. Trump is a genius promoter. Nothing less. Nothing more.)

ThinkProgress.org, “Trump: ‘I am not a racist,’” May 9, 2011

“This isn’t a campaign bus,” said former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, on a motor cycle tour honoring veterans on Memorial Day weekend. (What? Of course it’s a campaign bus. The question is, a campaign for what?)

Los Angeles Times, “Sarah Palin’s bus tour stops at National Archives, Mount Vernon and Baltimore,” May 31, 2011

“We have done nothing wrong,” said John Fredriksen, a Norwegian businessman who owns a number of companies that buy and sell oil. The U.S. Commodities Futures Trading Commission has sued him charging price manipulation. (This rates a BIMBO because his statement began, “It’s what happens in an oil market—buying and selling,” but he then goes on to say, “We have done nothing wrong.”)

The Wall Street Journal, “At Center of U.S. Oil Suit is Norway Shipping Tycoon,” May 28, 2011   

“We are not implying that Koerner stole her necklace idea,” wrote Urban Outfitters in a statement responding to a blog post by designer Stephanie Koerner complaining that the company took her idea. (This is an example of overreaction and bullying. Urban Outfitters stomped on Ms. Koerner, trumpeting its support of emerging design talent, and then came out with the smarmy implication that Koerner herself stole the idea. If the company was truly concerned about media attention, as it claims, it would have simply shown an individual reporter a documented timeline rather than using its massive press operation to send a release to the world.)

Urbanoutfitters.com, “Urban Outfitters Responds to False Allegations by Necklace Designer,” May 28, 2011

“It’s not a matter of being vicious or uncompassionate,” said a dress shop owner who refused to refund $1,200 (the price of a prom dress) to a young woman whose date was killed in an automobile accident. (The dress shop would only issue store credit. This is an example of how an incident can get national attention quickly. When the store refused to refund her money, one of her friends set up a Facebook page which got almost 10,000 fans immediately. The media picked up the story and now the dress shop faces a boycott.)

New York Daily News, “Tragic situation turns into public relations nightmare for famous New Jersey dress shop,” May 21, 2011

“Pakistan did not have a policy of protecting these people,” said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, after the successful raid by Navy Seal Team 6 resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden who was living in a large compound a short distance from a military installation. (This would win the “doth protest too much” award if we had one. Article after article quoted Pakistani officials as being “shocked,” to discover that bin Laden had been in their country. Usually we try to suggest what a company or official could or should have said, but in this case, we’re out of ideas.)

Fox News, “Pakistan Vows ‘Zero Tolerance’ in Bin Laden Probe, Obama Questions Complicity,” May 8, 2011

Ronald McDonald “does not advertise unhealthy food to children. McDonalds does not advertise unhealthy food to children,” said company CEO Jim Skinner while addressing shareholders at its annual meeting. (Skinner was reacting to an ad signed by health care professionals and doctors which accused the company of promoting junk food and savagely attacked the company. Skinner rates a BIMBO because this quote crowded out all of the positive things he had to say about parental choice. The CEO did a good job using quotes and talked about the support he had received from parents after the attack ad campaign started.)

The Wall Street Journal, “McDonald’s CEO Defends Kids’ Marketing,” May 19, 2011

“I don’t believe I’m done,” said baseball MVP Hideki Matsui in a story about whether professional baseball players hang on too long. (This is another example of good comments coupled with negative ones. Mr. Matsui also said, “When I feel I can’t play up to my satisfaction, then I’ll make a decision whether to walk away.” People tend to “over answer” because speech has a natural pattern and one sentence doesn’t feel complete. Our solution is to add a quote or example which allows the speaker to repeat the thought but in a different format. The risk, illustrated by several people in this month’s memo, is that the speaker keeps talking and contradicts or undercuts the better thought.)

USA Today, “Stars flickering, but is light fading for good?” May 10, 2011

“The hull was not breached,” Holland America announced in a statement after one of its cruise ships hit what was described as a large piece of ice. (Yet one more example of constructive comments which are weakened by negative structure. The statement read that there was a “mild indentation in the hull.”   They should have noted that safety is always the top priority. The statement also included comments that no one was injured and no pollution occurred. Instead, they should have said that everyone was safe and the company maintained its record of environmental protection.)

MSNBC.com, “Holland America’s Westerdam hits ice in Alaska,” May 12, 2011

“We are not a paid bunch of bullies,” said Congressman John Dingell, D-MI, when asked about a hearing where Elizabeth Warren, director of a new consumer protection agency, argued with a congressman and told him he was “causing problems” because she had agreed to only an hour of testimony. (She has a real entitlement problem. Even though many of my clients have suffered through hours of abusive “testimony” from congressmen, including Mr. Dingell, these sessions are like Edward Albee plays or Kabuki Theater. Stick to the script.)

The New York Times, “The Polite Way to say ‘No Way,’” May 29, 2011

DO NOT LIE

In a flap over an article in the German magazine, Der Spiegel, about whether the government of Greece threatened to drop the euro, a spokesman for the euro’s council of finance ministers admitted lying about whether a meeting took place to discuss the issue. (This story received very little attention, but it’s shocking. It’s very rare for a government spokesperson to admit lying openly about something which can be checked, like whether a meeting took place. We’re concerned that this is an example of the continued degradation of truthfulness. Who will ever believe this guy again?)

Bloomberg.com, “Greeks Blaming Speculators a Sure Sign of Panic,” May 5, 2011

ATTENTION EDITORS

A picture of Kate and William kissing on the balcony on the day of the royal wedding sat atop an article with the headline, “Osama bin Laden is dead.”

The Telegraph, “Osama bin Laden is dead,” May 6, 2011

A headline read “U.S. demands to interview Obama bin Laden’s 3 widows,” (Osama vs. Obama: potentially a copy editor’s worst nightmare.)

DallasNews.com, “U.S. demands to interview Obama bin Laden’s 3 widows,” May 8, 2011

HOW QUOTES GET TWISTED

A quote, ostensibly from Martin Luther King Jr., was sent around the Internet after the Navy Seal Team 6 killed Osama bin Laden. It read, “I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive our hate, only love can do that.” (Megan McArdle of The Atlantic thought the quote didn’t sound right. She blogged about it and tracked down the real story. A 24-year-old English teacher Facebooked the King quote which began with “Returning hate for hate…,” but added the first sentence as her own thought. In passing it around, someone stripped out the quotation marks, effectively linking it to the real King quote, making it sound as though King had said it all. What’s most interesting in this mini case study is the speed at which the fake quote was sent around the world, reaching 9,000 Google hits within a few days. And, McArdle was attacked for unmasking the incorrect quote. People accused her of editing King’s comments, and tried to say that King would have said it if he’d thought of it, and so on. Truly, it’s a whole new world.)

The Atlantic, “Anatomy of a Fake Quotation,” May 3, 2011

TWITTER

A passenger on Southwest Airlines tweeted the airline to ask which side of the plane he should sit on to get the best scenery on a flight to San Diego. The airline passed the tweet on to one of its pilots, who tweeted back with a recommendation. The passenger was surprised and delighted to get a personal response.

USA Today, “Airlines Put Twitter to work,” April 26, 2011

Alabama Power kept in touch with customers through Twitter during the recent storms. There’s a real lesson here. The company responded to requests about when power would be restored with the expected comments about working as hard as they could, but they included pictures of crews at work. Ike Pigott who manages the company’s social media said, “One of the elements they talk about when you’re dealing with a protracted crisis is the importance of visual communication. We wanted people to see just what neighborhoods we were in.” (This is an incredibly important lesson with implications for virtually every company and organization. Pass it on.)

Ragan.com, “Amid deadly storms, Alabama Power kept customers informed through Twitter,”

May 12, 2011

But of course, there’s another example of a celebrity, Pittsburgh Steelers’ Rashard Mendenhall, who let his Twitter account off the ‘think first’ leash. After the news of Osama bin Laden’s death, he tweeted that he doubted that the World Trade Center towers were brought down by hijacked jet liners and that we had heard only one side of the story. (This cost him a lucrative endorsement. He withdrew the comments quickly but once tweeted, they bounce around forever.)

Slate, “Twitter in a Wringer,” May 10, 2011

GOOD EXAMPLES

Southwest Airlines gave us another good example when a woman accused the airline of trying to kick her off a plane for being “too fat to fly.” A supervisor stepped in and got the woman on the plane, but she went public with her complaint. Upon seeing a blog post she wrote, one of the airline’s executives wrote her personally. (This is a nice example of how the new channels of communication present opportunities, and how Southwest empowers its own executives to act. Too many companies continue to discourage employees from one-on-one responses like this. Thumbs up to SW!)

NBCDFW.com, “Too Heavy to Fly?” May 13, 2011

Blogger Richard Connelly was trying to get parents to pay attention to how to protect their children from sexual predators, so he came up with the idea of naming the ten “hottest” women on the state of Texas’ sex offenders list. The blog achieved its purpose; people paid attention. Unfortunately, readers thought he was trivializing child abuse and rape. Connelly apologized quickly and profusely. We want to stand up for Mr. Connelly. He was trying to do something important, and he proved his point. He got people to pay attention to the idea that sexual predators look very much like people who might live next door to you. We encourage people to take risks.

Houstonpress.com, “The 10 Hottest Women on the Texas Sex Offenders List,” May 12, 2011

THE IMPORTANCE OF VERBAL COMMUNICATION

A great comment about the importance of verbal communication, leadership and the creation of corporate culture comes from Daniel Westman, a Virginia lawyer with Morrison & Foerster LLP, in an article about whistle-blowers. Westman advises that the best way to avoid whistle blowers is to create a culture of integrity. “A written policy is not enough. It’s got to be talked about. It’s got to be internalized. Employees have to be made to care about it. Of course, they won’t if they think management doesn’t.” (This is a great quote and article to show to the C-suite as a reminder about why they need to proactively communicate verbally.)

HR Magazine, “Whistle-Blowers: Threat or Asset?” April 2011


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