Bimbo Banter


BIMBO Nominees for May 2011


  • Bimbo
  • May 1, 2011
  • by Spaeth Communications

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There are a number of lessons to be learned from this month’s examples. We have BIMBOs from a medical executive, Warren Buffett (we’re so sorry to include it), President Obama (maybe?), Apple, a Hollywood impresario making an unsolicited bid for the parent company of “American Idol,” a city manager of a small town in Michigan, and the former “hiccup” girl who’s now in big trouble. Bad words, like radiation, continue to cause trouble as Kobe Bryant and an Orange County Republican commissioner discover. (Kobe is a good example of how to apologize; the Republican provides a bad example.) On Twitter, Doug Young discovers how obscenities can get you in trouble and a stranded Seattle driver tweets to deflect anger from other drivers. Dodgers’ owner Frank McCourt provides another “wrong thing to say.” There are two examples of “no comment” and the Czech President gets reminded that the camera is always, always on. (Put back that pen.) There’s a “good example” from John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, and for students of our Persuasive Presentation SkillsSM course, we have an excellent example of how to interact with your audience.

THE WINNING BIMBO

“Not withstanding the tragic loss of life in the Gulf of Mexico, we achieved an exemplary statistical safety record,” said Transocean Ltd. when awarding its executives multimillion dollar bonuses for 2010. (This also falls into the “what were they thinking?” category. Not withstanding the tragic loss of life? That’s like saying, other than the shooting, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play? This is a leadership issue, and it was predictable that the executives were shamed into donating the bonuses to charity. Interesting sidelight, while the press coverage was uniformly outraged, The Wall Street Journal went out of its way to find a family affected by the explosion and included a quote supportive of Transocean.)

The Wall Street Journal, “Transocean Cites Safety in Bonuses,” April 2, 2011

THE RUNNERS UP

Remember the hole that ripped in the top of the Southwest plane at 34,000 feet? Pure fatigue cases “don’t really all that often cause the loss of an airplane,” said Kevin Darcy, former chief accident investigator at Boeing. (Don’t “often” cause a plane to go down? How reassuring! Here’s an instance where he needed to reiterate the safety message and the importance of a robust inspection culture and process. It’s a shame Southwest’s name got linked to this guy, who’s now an independent consultant. Southwest’s people would never have stumbled like this.)

USA Today, “Jet metal fatigue a rare risk” April 6, 2011

“There is a misconception that if you practice voodoo you can turn your friends into goats,” said Jack Laroche, a New York City engineer explaining what voodoo can – and can’t – do, and its growing appeal to Haitian-Americans. (It would be nice if the reporter could have tackled some of the issues Haitians face.)

The New York Times, “A Spiritual Anchor, Voodoo Rises Again,” April 10, 2011

“I’m not a gold digger,” was how Jenn Sterger, the former New York Jets employee who claimed quarterback Brett Favre sent her racy text messages, tried to defend herself. She added that she “hasn’t made a dime off anything in this whole situation.” (She should have said, “I’ve always conducted myself professionally and expect my colleagues to do the same.)

Newser.com, “Jenn Sterger: ‘I’m not a Gold Digger,” April 11, 2011

“We are not just sending people home to die,” said Nancy Armistead, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Renal Coalition, about a major challenge faced by health care facilities. (Thirty nine years ago, Congress passed a law providing free care to people whose kidneys failed. The original intent was to keep young and middle age people productive, but huge numbers of elderly, extremely sick people are opting for dialysis, even when it results in more hospital stays and other serious medical conditions. The government and partner organizations are trying to figure out how to talk to patients about their choices. They’ve tried “medical management without dialysis,” essentially palliative care, but without any cost implications – at all – to the patient, it’s a difficult communication challenge. This is a preview of the greater discussions about changes in the health care system where provision of care is separated from payment.)

The New York Times, “When Ailments Pile Up, Asking Patients to Rethink Free Dialysis,” March 31, 2011

“The iPhone is not logging your location,” Apple announced in a statement after a week of chatter and debate when it was revealed that iPhones and iPads were, in fact, storing location data. The company release continued, “The reason the iPhone stores so much data is a bug we uncovered and plan to fix shortly.” (The company should have responded quicker.)

CNN, “Apple blames iPhone tracking file on ‘bug,’” April 27, 2011

“Neither Dave nor I feel his Lubrizol purchases were in any way unlawful,” wrote Berkshire Hathaway CEO and business icon Warren Buffet, in a highly unusual press release, written as a letter to shareholders and the public explaining the abrupt resignation of Dave Sokol, who was frequently viewed as a possible successor to Buffet. (We include this with embarrassing apologies as we’re huge fans of Mr. Buffett. The letter is, like Buffet, highly personal and an example of his commitment to a lean and transparent management style. But the specifics surrounding the resignation are eyebrow raising. It’s not credible that neither Mr. Sokol – nor Mr. Buffett – realized that Mr. Sokol’s purchase of over 100,000 shares of a company he was discussing with Mr. Buffett should raise a red flag. Mr. Berkshire has made high ethical standards a hallmark of doing business. The statement that the purchases were not “in any way unlawful”– sounds like it was written by someone other than Mr. Buffett. The issue is more than was it “unlawful.” Was it right?)

Bloomberg, “Warren E. Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Announces the Resignation of David Sokol”

April 3, 2011

“I don’t make vanity deals,” said Alec Gores who made his fortune fixing up mid-size tech companies and now wants to buy CKX, the company that owns the rights to “American Idol.” (We wish him well but entertainment is a little different from mid-size technology companies.)

Bloomberg Business Week, “The Man Trying to Buy American Idol,” April 11, 2011

“President Barack Obama wants you to know that he is not a golf addict,” was the first line of Rick Dunham’s report on the president’s comments during a session with Hearst Magazines. (Interesting, we couldn’t find the word “addict” in his actual comments. It’s a characterization–we think.)

Houston Chronicle, “Not 2 Be Missed / Presidential dream: long walk in the park,” April 11, 2011

“The intent here isn’t to gouge somebody,” said Richard Haberman, Fraser, Michigan city manager about charging out-of-towners fees if they have an accident in city limits, so-called “crash taxes.” (We understand why Fraser and other cities are looking for revenue sources, but this is an example of when to use an aspirational headline – “We believe it’s fair for everyone to pay their share” – rather than explaining how many police officers they’ve lost. That’s highly relevant to them, but not to people driving through town.)

MSNBC, “’Crash tax’ and other fees target out-of-towners,” April 3, 2011

“I didn’t do nothing wrong. I’m not guilty of anything,” insisted Jennifer Ann Mee, who gained fame in 2007 when she received national attention because she couldn’t stop hiccupping. Mee is charged with luring Shannon Griffin, whom she met on a social network, to a site where two other boys robbed and murdered her. (This is heartbreaking. This young woman said, “I made a mistake. I thought because I was ‘famous’…, young, nothing would happen to me.” Such is the price of celebrity focus in our society. She’s also in trouble because she gave multiple media interviews where she contradicted herself, indicating she may have lied under oath. Remember, as Leslie Stahl once said, “Remember, we’re reporters, we’re not your pals.”

Today.com, “‘Hiccup girl’ on murder charge: ‘I took the path of the devil,’” April 5, 2011

THE POWER OF A ‘BAD’ WORD

The reports on the release of radioactive water from the TEPCO nuclear power plant in Japan continues to generate worldwide news and attempts to educate the public about what radiation is – and isn’t— continues. Traces of radioactive iodine in cities along the U.S. West coast generated national headlines – and lots of jargon quotes. The EPA explained that testing found about 0.2 picocuries of Iodine-131 per liter of water. The agency went out of its way to use comparative numbers, “An infant would have to drink almost 7,000 liters of the water to receive a radiation dose equivalent to a day’s worth of natural background radiation.” We think that’s pretty good. Unfortunately, Eric Hall, a radiation biologist at Columbia University, said that about 25 percent of people get cancer but even twice as much background radiation “would be considered trivial.”  Remember, it’s all about, who’s the audience and what do the numbers and the words mean them.

USA Today, “EPA: Traces of radiation in Boise water,” April 6, 2011

APOLOGIES

“F**king f****t” was how the news reports relayed Kobe Bryant’s anti-gay slurs he yelled at an NBA referee. (While these were clearly “bad words,” Bryant apologized immediately and credibly, appearing on a conservative radio show, expressing remorse and calling his comments “stupid and ignorant.”  Many of us – all of us?—still stumble and even say things we really don’t mean. Remember to apologize quickly and personally.)

Foxsports.com, “Kobe apologizes again for using slur,” April 15, 2011

Republican Orange County commissioner, Marilyn Davenport, sent out an email with a picture of an ape family with President Obama’s face transposed onto one of them with the text, “Now you know why no birth certificate.” (First, this is incredibly stupid. Of course this is going to get passed around. Next, it violates all the Christian teachings about the Golden Rule. It’s OK to criticize the President’s policies – and they deserve it. – but this was personal. Then she made it worse by apologizing with the mealy mouth, “I’m sorry if my email offended anyone.” In these cases, say – as Kobe Bryant did – you should say it was stupid and you’re sorry. Then she said, “I simply found it amusing.” When the Republican Party is trying to reach out to members of minority groups who may share conservative and free enterprise values but think of Republicans as arrogant and hostile, this confirms their worst fears. A good leader understands how to communicate their message. Would Ronald Reagan have done this? Never.)

UPI.com, “Republican denounced for racist email,” April 17, 2011

WRONG THING TO SAY

“It’s extremely unfortunate that this incident took place on what was otherwise a great day at Dodger Stadium for tens of thousands of fans,” said a spokesman for Dodgers owner Frank McCourt about an incident where a Giants fan, wearing Giants paraphernalia, was attacked in a stadium parking lot by Dodgers “fans” (thugs?) and beaten into a state of brain coma. (The Dodgers owner has an “it’s all about me” mentality. His spokesperson is only repeating what his boss said first, “It’s very unfair to take what was otherwise a fantastic day – everything from the weather to the result of the game to just the overall experience – and to have a few individuals mar that.” Unfair? Remember when Jimmy Carter said, “Life isn’t fair.” Who’s the audience? Fans. What do they want to know? That they’ll be safe.  The headline of the Los Angeles Times story added “Dodgers treat opening-day attack as an isolated incident rather than addressing the problem.”)

Los Angeles Times, “Dodgers can’t ignore safety issue,” April 2, 2011

NO COMMENT

“A spokesman for the park’s operator, Euro Disney, did not return calls seeking comment.” Disneyland Paris closed the Thunder Mountain train ride after a piece of scenery fell onto a carriage and injured five people. (This is really inexcusable. In these incidents, it’s incumbent on a company to at least issue a one or two line “aspirational” headline: “The safety of our guests is our top priority. We are cooperating with the investigators and assure the families who enjoy our park that we will take every measure to review the situation and fix it.”)

MSNBC.com, “5 Injured in accident at Disneyland Paris,” April 25, 2011

“Phone calls to the Florida offices of Payday.pro were not returned.” Payday.pro advertisements urged customers to take out loans for bachelor parties, “You don’t want to be the only guy at the bachelor party without any dollar bills to toss around,” and for cosmetic surgery, shopping sprees, vacations, and even for pets like pot belly pigs. (This also falls into the “What were they thinking?” category. Did they totally miss the 2009 and 2010 debates, legislation and regulations aimed at consumer finance? Did they think these ads would go unnoticed? Predictably, consumer groups were outraged and news reports regurgitated all the statistics about payday loans’ interest rates. Again, leaving aside whether people who use payday loans should use them for bachelor parties – or pigs – the company should have said, “It was supposed to be funny. We have pulled the ads. Our customers depend on the role we play in their daily lives.”)

The New York Times, “Yes, that Really Was an Ad for a Bachelor Party Loan,” April 6, 2011

TWITTER

Has anyone developed a Twitter code of conduct? If so, tennis player Donald Young needs to read it. When he lost a match for a wild card spot in the French Open, he sent out an expletive-laced tweet attacking the U.S. Tennis Association. (Patrick McEnroe, who heads the USTA’s player development effort, replied – not with a Tweet – calling on Young to apologize and pointing out that it was an insult to all the players on the team, not just the USTA. We agree. Maybe Mr. Young is watching Kobe Bryant too much?)

USA Today, “Twitter posting offends P. McEnroe,” April 26, 2011

Twitter continues to grow as a resource, even for drivers who have an accident. Michael Micheletti’s BMW broke down right in the middle of one of Seattle’s busiest highways, at one of the busiest times. He tweeted, “That black BMW stalled in the center lane of I-5? Yeah, that’s me. Sorry, I don’t like it either.” He got lots of tweets back.

Slate, “Twaffic: Will Twitter – and tweets about traffic – change the way we drive?” April 4, 2011

THE CAMERA IS ALWAYS ON

Czech President Vaclav Klaus was at a news conference in Chile when the TV cameras caught him picking up one of the ceremonial pens, holding it under the table and then placing his hands – without pen – back on the table. What happened? The pen had been pocketed. (The bizarre thing about this incident is that the pens were souvenirs anyway. The pen – and the ceremonial box – was his, but by surreptiously putting it under the table, he appears to be filching it.)      

MSNBC, “Thief? World leader teased for pocketing pen,” April 13, 2011

GOOD EXAMPLE

“We have disappointed our investors and we have confused our employees. Bottom line, we have lost some of the credibility that is foundational to Cisco’s success—and we must earn it back,” wrote Cisco CEO John Chambers in an email to employees. His unusually straightforward language made a commitment to improve the company’s performance. (The company has had four disappointing quarters.)

Bloomberg Business Week, “Quoted,” April 11, 2011

HOW TO INTERACT WITH AN AUDIENCE

Management expert Dick Grote begins most speeches by asking how many executives in the audience work for a company with an explicit set of company values. Most hands go up. Then he asks how many companies have formal evaluations. Again, most hands up. Then he asks, how many performance evaluations incorporate the values, and most of the hands go down. (This is one of our favorite techniques; it gets everyone listening plus makes the point he’ll spend the rest of the session discussing – that many companies have formal exhortations of values but that they are words, not operational criteria where the executives will be judged.)

HR Magazine, “Evaluating Values,” April 2011  


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