This was a target rich month. We have BIMBOs from Tiger Woods and his mom, Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Democratic nominee (briefly) for Illinois lieutenant governor and former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. We have “Wrong Thing to Say” winners and illustrations of the impact of negative words from singer John Mayer, Texas gubernatorial nominees Debra Medina and Farouk Shami, the International Luge Federation, the daughter of the nut who crashed his plane into an IRS building, a Republican state representative, ESPN host Tony Kornheiser and Elton John who says Jesus was gay. We have two big banks strike out this month: Wachovia makes the mistake of responding to an emotional complaint with facts and statistics, and Bank of America doesn’t respond at all. We have apologies from Southwest Airlines, Virgin Air CEO Sir Richard Branson, Akio Toyoda, and of course, Tiger Woods.
THE WINNING BIMBO
“We are not covering up anything and we are not running away from anything,” said Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda, grandson of the founder.
The Detroit News, “Toyota president: “We are not covering up anything,” Feb. 17, 2010
“I am upset the way the media treated him, like he’s a criminal. He didn’t kill anybody. He didn’t do anything illegal,” said Tiger Woods’ mother, Kultida Woods, after the golf star made his highly scripted apology to a tightly controlled group of friends and employees.
US Weekly, Feb. 20. 2010
“I am not a hypocrite,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., about criticism that he was caustically criticizing the budget deficit and spending by democrats while fighting the administration’s effort to end the human flight space program.
The New York Times, “Cut deficit, but not in my state, lawmakers say,” Feb. 7, 2010
“Although I may have taken steroids and or performance enhancing drugs in the past, I have not utilized any of these drugs in the last two weeks…although from time to time, I have screamed and yelled at my children, that is my parenting style and my prerogative. I have never abused my children, I have never hurt my children and I have never done any harm to them,” said Scott Lee Cohen, who won the Democratic nomination for Illinois lieutenant governor only to have reports come out about domestic abuse, drugs, being behind on child support payments and violence. (How did this guy win the nomination? And he said these things in a petition for visitation rights to his children! He also added, “I will not step down. I did nothing wrong. I don’t believe I’m an embarrassment to the ticket.” On his website, he reiterated, “I have no intention of stepping down or stepping aside.” Predictably, he stepped down. What a shame! I was looking forward to the debates! The media needs to take a serious look at how they failed to report any of this until after he won. A lot of the bad stuff was in public records.)
Salon.com, “Sex, lies and steroids in Illinois,” Feb. 5, 2010
“I have been in office 55 years, and even my public enemies, my political enemies, my other enemies have never implied that I took a penny that wasn’t owed to me,” said the always colorful and shameless former D.C. mayor and now councilman, Marion Barry, about an investigation accusing him of public corruption for securing a $15,000 contract for his former girlfriend and thoughtfully taking a percentage for himself. (Barry isn’t denying the facts; he’s arguing that the council didn’t have written procedures on council members who can give earmarks in their own wards. When the Washington Post asked his former girlfriend, Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, whether she gave Barry “kickbacks,” she replied “No comment.” Completing the commentary is the lawyer for Brenda Richardson, a Barry supporter who ran six organizations that got $450,000 in city funds who said she “continues to maintain that she did nothing illegal, unlawful or wrong in connection to these grants.” And we wonder why D.C. is in such trouble as an entity. Of course, it would be uncharitable to remind readers that Barry, as mayor, was convicted of possessing cocaine and of failing to pay taxes.)
The Washington Post, “Former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry is accused of corruption,” Feb. 17, 2010
“Cheating,” was how golfer Scott McCarron described a square-grooved Ping Eye 2 lob wedge used by Phil Mickelson. (The debate revolves around the use of a club, which was grandfathered into an agreement outlawing similar types of clubs. McCarron actually said, “It’s cheating and I am appalled that Phil has put it in play,” although he insisted, “I never called Phil Mickelson a cheater.” Yeah, you did. This is an example of the power of a “bad” word. Interestingly, since this brouhaha involves how golfers try to bend rules, writers were reminded of a 1999 incident where Tiger Woods hit a tee shot into the desert behind a large boulder. He asked the rules official if the boulder was a “moveable obstruction” and when he was told it was, he enlisted several large men in the gallery to help him move it. Little did we know that action was an omen of how Tiger thought he could adapt the “rules.”)
The New York Times, “Word Choice Used Against Mickelson Outweighs Accusation,” Feb. 3, 2010
HOW TWITTER AMPLIFIES BAD WORDS
Singer-songwriter John Mayer was interviewed by Playboy and insisted that “Black people love me,” and that he could use sensational, abusive lyrics in his music because he had a “hood pass, and by the way it’s sort of a contradiction in terms because if you really had a hood pass, you could call it sort of a n***** pass.” (This guy is a songwriter? Another of his quotes is, “My two biggest hits are ‘Your body is a wonderland’ and ‘Daughters.’ If you think those songs are pandering, then you’ll think I’m a douche bag. It’s like I come on very strong. I am a very…I’m just very. V-E-R-Y. And if you can’t handle very, then I’m a douche bag. But I think the world needs a little very. That’s why black people love me.” Surprise, surprise, the “n” word exploded in controversy on Twitter, and Mayer started tweeting his apologies within half an hour. At least he got it right when he wrote, “I think it’s time to stop trying to be so raw in interviews…it’s gotten out of hand, and I’ve created somewhat of a monster.” )
Playboy, “Playboy Interview: John Mayer” Feb. 10, 2010
WRONG THINGS TO SAY
“I think some very good questions have been raised in that regard. There are some very good arguments, and I think the American people have not seen all the evidence there, so I have not taken a position on that,” said Texas GOP candidate Debra Medina responding to a question about whether the U.S. government had any role in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. (Medina made this astonishing statement during an interview with radio and television host Glenn Beck. He actually gave her several opportunities to retract or clarify it, but it just got worse. Finally, over a week later, on a local radio show with Mark Davis, she managed to emphatically deny she thought the government was involved in 9/11, but not before significant damage was done. Then, when an Austin man flew his plane into the IRS building, she was asked if he was a “Hero” and could only muster the comment that she understood his frustration.)
Glenn Beck, Feb. 11, 2010
The Dallas Morning News, “Medina says Austin plane crash reflects hopelessness some feel about government” Feb. 19, 2010
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had to backtrack quickly after he said that the owners of six million Toyota and Lexus vehicles should stop driving them. He called it a misstatement and that he meant to encourage owners to get their cars fixed quickly.
Wall Street Journal, “U.S. Widens Toyota Probe to Electronics,” Feb. 4, 2010
The International Luge Federation said Georgian athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili’s fatal accident was his own fault, and that he had failed to compensate properly when coming out of the track’s risky turn. (This is an example of how to take a disaster and make it worse. Tragic as they are, fatal accidents have a protocol, particularly when involving a young person at a high profile venue like the winter Olympics. The comment generated a storm of criticism as well as the very analysis of how the people who constructed the track ignored safety concerns in favor of speed and sensational time scores. So, in trying to deflect criticism, they only brought more while reinforcing their own lack of concern for their own athletes. Where’s a good trial lawyer when you need one?)
Bloomberg, “Olympic Luger’s Death Shouldn’t Surprise Anyone,” Feb. 16, 2010
“Wins for Toyota” was how an internal Toyota document described a negotiation with government safety regulators that allowed the company to replace 55,000 floor mats instead of a larger scale recall as the solution to complaints of sudden and unexplained acceleration. The document estimated that the company saved $100 million. (This is an example of how communiqués viewed as internal can leak outside. An outside eyeballing of this presentation should have caught the word “win” and suggested that certain audiences would interpret it as willingness to compromise safety. We call this phenomenon “porous barriers,” meaning that documents, PPTs, e-mails and videos are increasingly being seen by audiences they weren’t intended for. Be careful!)
USA Today, “Toyota memo: Savings on safety,” Feb. 22, 2010
When the daughter of Joe Stack, the man who crashed his plane into an Austin IRS building, was asked if her father was a hero, she replied, “Yes, because now people will listen.” (Predictably, the comment generated a wave of shock and criticism. Stack’s daughter, Samantha Bell, was set-up by ABC reporter who framed the “hero” question as a “yes/no” question. But she still fell into the trap, and she only called what he did “inappropriate.” Inappropriate? How about a tragedy? An act of madness? Ken Hunter, the son of Vernon Hunter, who was killed by the attack, had the last and best comment: “How can you call someone a hero who after he burns down his house, he gets into a plane and flies it into a building to kill people? My dad Vernon did two tours of duty in Vietnam. My dad’s a hero.” We agree. Ken, please accept our condolences. Also note that the word “hero” made it into the headline, another example of how powerful words will be repeated.)
Associated Press, “Daughter says pilot who targeted Austin IRS offices was a hero for antigovernment views,” Feb. 22, 2010
“The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children,” said Bob Marshall, a Republican Virginia State Delegate, to a local newspaper. (Marshall tried to say that his comments were taken out of context, but the reporter stood by his story. Indeed, Marshall’s other comments were equally inflammatory. He insisted that he was quoting from medical journals which showed that women who have had an abortion have increased rates of cerebral palsy, low birth weight and premature births. “These are both peer-reviewed medical journals, this is not Pat Robertson, this is not the Pope, this is not some yahoo preachers in a right–wing fever swamp.” He followed this up with a classic BIMBO, “I don’t believe that disabled kids are God’s punishments.” He finally issued a press release that said, “I regret any misimpression my poorly chosen words may have created as to my deep commitment to fighting for these vulnerable children and their families.”)
TPM.com, “Virginia State Delegate: ‘I Don’t Believe That Disabled Kids Are God’s Punishments, Period.’”
Feb. 22, 2010
“Hannah Storm in a horrifying, horrifying outfit today,” said ESPN host of “Pardon the Interruption” Tony Kornheiser about one of the channel’s anchors. He added, “She’s got on red go-go boots and a catholic school plaid skirt, way too short for someone in her 40s or maybe early 50s by now.” Not stopping there, he raced on, “She’s got on her typically very, very tight shirt. She looks like she has sausage casing wrapping around her upper body.” (This is one more example of someone whose mouth is moving without being connected to any brain cells. ESPN suspended Kornheiser who apologized saying, “I’m a troll, look at me. I have no right to insult what anybody looks like or what anybody wears.” Of course, the problem is once those words are spoken, you can’t take them back.)
Fox Sports, “ESPN suspends PTI’s Kornheiser,” Feb. 24, 2010
“I think Jesus was a compassionate, super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems,” Elton John told Parade. (In addition to dumping 2000 years of scripture in a single sentence, Elton did get it right when he added, “Jesus wanted us to be loving and forgiving. I don’t know what makes people so cruel. Try being a gay woman in the Middle East- you’re as good as dead.”)
Parade, “Elton John: ‘There’s A Lot Of Hate In The World’” Feb. 17, 2010
“We have killed lots of innocent people in the state of Texas,” claimed Houston businessman Farouk Shami and Democratic candidate for Texas governor. (Shami was trying to support the Innocence Project, which provides DNA testing to death row inmates and has exonerated a number of people. But, it’s a big jump from exonerating people who were convicted to executing innocent people. This is the kind of big mistake that disqualifies him as a statewide candidate.)
The Dallas Morning News, “White, Shami spar on death penalty, gas tax in Texas Democratic governor Debate,” Feb. 9, 2010
Emaar Properties, a Dubai company that manages the world’s tallest building said, “no comment” after an elevator full of people was stuck on the 124th floor for 45 minutes. Observers heard a bang and then smoke was coming out of a crack which predictably frightened people. (This should have been handled easily. It’s a formula. The company needed to articulate the aspirational headline, “Safety is always our top priority,” followed by “We will investigate to make sure those traveling to the observation deck are safe.”)
MSNBC, “Faulty elevator to blame for Dubai tower closure,” Feb. 9, 2010
21-year-old art student, Heather Lynn, contributed $10 to a Haiti relief fund, only to find that Wells Fargo took a three percent “international service fee” to process it. The first lesson is that Lynn, when she didn’t get an adequate response, complained on the Internet about Wells Fargo’s parent, Wachovia. The bank responded by saying, “We have given $100,000 to the American Red Cross, and on January 19, we pledged an additional $250,000 to support the nonprofits in Florida that are mobilizing the relief efforts,” adding that “It would take the equivalent of $35 million in transactions to raise the amount of money we actually donated.” (Wachovia missed completely that Ms. Lynn’s complaint was an emotional one. Her view was that the bank was profiting from the contribution. Their response was a mistake because they tried to counter emotion with statistics. In addition, Visa and MasterCard waived transaction fees. Wells Fargo got $25 billion in bailout funds; they should have bowed to the trend. Ms. Lynn was concerned about her money, not the bank’s money. One of my favorite quotes is from Fleishman-Hillard executive, Don Etling, who wrote, “You cannot communicate your way out of a situation you have behaved your way into.” A number of people, including me, would add as the second commandment, “You can not counter emotion with facts and statistics.”)
Strategically Speaking, “Growing Your Own Crisis: How a Bank and an Auto Giant Grew the Seed of Trouble,” Feb. 8, 2010
Movie director Kevin Smith was asked to get off a Southwest Airlines flight because he needs two seats due to his weight. He had booked two seats but tried to take an earlier flight where only a single seat was available. (Smith looks bad. He sent out dozens of angry Tweets including, “some new f**k you Tweets for @southwest air, you f**ked with the wrong sedentary processed food eater.” Southwest was its usual classy self. They offered an apology, explained that Smith himself wanted to take the earlier flight and put the incident into a safety issue. The airline humbled itself, “When we hear about a customer who has had a less than favorable experience on Southwest, we respond to their concerns and apologize for any potential missteps. Again, we personally phoned Mr. Smith shortly after we learned of the event, and again, we immediately offered our apologies to him via Twitter. We can assure all of you that we will use this experience in our Customer Service training programs and will utilize the occurrence as a learning experience when discussing the correct way to apply our Customer of Size policy.” I love the “customer of size” nomenclature!)
US Weekly, “Director Kevin Smith Kicked Off Plane for Being Too Fat,” Feb. 14, 2010
A passenger on a Virgin Air flight wrote a humorous letter of complaint about the food illustrated with pictures. It generated a personal response from CEO Sir Richard Branson who invited him to help select meals for the airline in the future. Another example of how important it is to respond quickly, to have a conversational and humane tone, and to use humor. If communication is to be a strategic tool for business, this is a good example of how to handle complaints.
Telegraph, “Virgin complaint letter: Author of Virgin letter offered chance as airline’s food tester,” Jan. 28, 2010
“I am deeply sorry,” said Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda at congressional hearings. We were very impressed with Mr. Toyoda’s statement and profound regret. He was forthright and did not spare himself nor his company. “Toyota has, for the past few years, been expanding its business rapidly. Quite frankly, I fear the pace at which we have grown may have been too quick. I would like to point out here that Toyota’s priority has traditionally been the following: first safety; second quality; and third volume. These priorities became confused.” (Kudos to Mr. Toyoda. It took them too long to “fess up”, but we believe the company is now serious.)
USA Today, “Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda to House committee: Rapid growth to blame for safety lapses,” Feb. 25, 2010
I give mixed reviews for Tiger Woods’ “apology.” “I have let you down,” the golf star said direct to camera. Many of his lines were right on: “I don’t get to play by different rules… I felt I was entitled... I thought only about myself.” My criticisms: it should have been done months ago. There was only a brief reference to his foundation where I would have expected the announcement of a major commitment to some sort of good works and not just his existing foundation. The set-up was bizarre, with the small podium in front of very uncomfortable looking people squashed into small chairs. Tiger’s notes were flat on the podium, which meant he had to look down. Notes should be raised so that the speaker can glance at them and out at the audience. Except for the sound bites direct to camera, Tiger didn’t make eye contact with individuals. His eyes bounced all around. And, the camera at the rear of the room apparently went out, so half the event was filmed over Tiger’s left shoulder. Who produced this? That was a disaster! Finally, the timing: right in the middle of the Accenture tournament? OK, so he was leaving Saturday for treatment. This should have been done Wednesday so as not to deflect attention from the golfers who are actually golfing.
HOW NOT TO HANDLE A COMPLAINT
Bank of America foreclosed on the wrong house in Florida, changing the locks, disconnecting the utilities and stripping the personal possessions. The foreclosure was supposed to be on a property down the block. The owners had to travel from Massachusetts and hire a lawyer. Bank of America responded to press inquiries with an e-mail, “We have reached out to the Cardosos’ representatives and hope to have the opportunity to work with them to properly assess and address their allegations. We are reviewing the allegations in the lawsuit, the actual events that led to the causes of those events, and will consider any hardship that resulted.” (Ouch! They are tone-deaf and certainly sound guilty. Bank of America should have responded immediately with the aspirational headline about the importance of every customer and a commitment to investigate the situation. IF – and that’s IF – they did grab the wrong house, particularly after being notified that they had the wrong house, they needed to adopt Southwest Airlines tone and strategy, and make it right quickly by paying all the costs including travel and refurbishing the house. Sounds like the lawyers were driving the communication.)
MSN, “Bank tried to take the wrong house,” Feb. 12, 2010
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