Bimbo Banter

BIMBO Nominees for June 2020

  • Bimbo
  • May 28, 2020
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image d

We feature BIMBO comments this month from a European Union diplomat who still gets an A for honesty and a White House official. You’ll also read examples of the Wrong Thing To Say from New York City’s health commissioner, Trump’s campaign manager (can anyone get the BIMBO Memo to him?) and, of course, a major blunder from Presidential Candidate and Former Vice President Joe Biden.


“The truth will reveal this is not just another act of violent racism,” said Frank Hogue, attorney for Gregory McMichael. (McMichael and his son Travis are accused in the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, an African-American jogger whose death generated national concern and outrage. Hogue added, “Greg McMichael did not commit murder,” thus reinforcing the charge that McMichael committed murder, and Hogue continued with a string of negatives including, “Greg McMichael is not a party to the crime of murder. This is not some sort of hate crime fueled by racism.”)

The Washington Post, “Attorney for man accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery says ‘this is not just another act of violent racism,’” May 15, 2020


 “I will never lie to you,” said new White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany at her first press briefing. (This is a classic BIMBO comment because she was set up by a question from Associated Press Reporter Jill Colvin, who asked, “Will you pledge never to lie to us from that podium?” When she responded, McEnany fell right into the trap. In response to a similar question, President Carter’s Press Secretary Jody Powell said, “I tell a modified, limited version of the truth.” Possible responses McEnany could have asserted instead include: “I’ll try my best,” “Let me put that in perspective. My goal is to share the best information I have at the moment,” or “I’m here to respond to your questions, and I’ll do the best I can with each one.” McEnany shouldn’t have let Colvin put words in her mouth.)

The Washington Post, “Kayleigh McEnany promises reporters: ‘I will never lie to you,’” May 1, 2020

“We’re not going to say it’s not a pain in the neck,” said Dr. Trish Perl, chief of infectious diseases at UT Southwestern Medical Center. (Perl was talking about the importance of wearing masks. This is a clear BIMBO comment because listeners hear, “You bet it’s a pain!” Throughout the entire pandemic ordeal, one clear lesson has emerged: experts need communication skills as much as medical training. For example, leading expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has hurt his credibility by contradicting himself over the months by saying things off the cuff like, “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again.”)

The Dallas Morning News, “‘We prevented New York City from happening in Dallas’: Health experts push importance of staying vigilant,” May 21, 2020

“There was no watering down of our findings,” said Josep Borrell, senior European Union diplomat. (Borrell was trying to explain why a report on disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, described as a “routine roundup of publicly available information and news reports,” was softened to eliminate reference to Chinese efforts to spread falsehoods and propaganda around the world. However, the report was softened only after  Chinese officials criticized the report. Outraged lawmakers comparing early and final versions of the report demanded an explanation. We give Borrell an A for honesty. He replied, “Look, it’s clear and evident that China expressed their concerns. I am not going to reveal how it was done because we don’t explain publicly this kind of the diplomatic context.” Translation: We watered it down and got caught.)

The New York Times, “Top E.U. Diplomat Says Disinformation Report Was Not Watered Down for China,” April 30, 2020

“It’s not muzzling, it’s not blocking,” said a White House official commenting on the decision to decline to let Dr. Anothony Fauci testify before a House subcommittee charged with investigating the coronavirus outbreak and response. (The White House argued it would be “counterproductive” to take Fauci away from his work. The real reason was that the hearing wasn’t an investigation. It was made-for-TV theater and a place where a doctor could have been easily set up for inflammatory soundbites. In April, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield commented on whether the virus would still be present next winter. He responded with a long answer about the virus and the annual flu existing together, but The Washington Post headline was “CDC director warns second wave of coronavirus is likely to be even more devastating.” The White House knew the subcommittee hearing was just an opportunity to find a few phrases for the partisan grist. But that still doesn’t excuse the “muzzling” and “blocking” comment. The White House would have been better served by explaining the likelihood of misquotes.)

The Washington Post, “White House blocks Fauci from testifying before House panel next week,” May 1, 2020


“I don’t give two rats’ asses about your cops,” said New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot to NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan. This was after Monahan asked the city to supply the 55,000 members of the police department with protective face masks for those who have the thankless task of preventing citizens groups from congregating. (This comment was made in late March during a discussion, but it’s a good teaching example of how insults get repeated and cause harm forever. Note that the quote made the headline.) 

Liberty Headlines, “NYC Commissioner Tells Police Chief: ‘I Don’t Give Two Rats’ Asses About Your Cops,’” May 15, 2020

“For nearly three years we have been building a juggernaut campaign (Death Star),” tweeted Brad Parscale, campaign manager for Trump 2020. (It doesn’t inspire confidence that Parscale compared Trump’s campaign to the Star Wars Death Star, “a sprawling spherical construction capable of housing more than a million military personnel, and another 400,000 droids.” Who’s advising Parscale? Leave the hyperbole to President Trump.)

The Guardian, “Trump’s ‘juggernaut’ re-election bid like the Death Star, campaign boss boasts,” May 7, 2020

“If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black,” said Presidential Candidate and Former Vice President Joe Biden during an appearance on syndicated radio show “The Breakfast Club.” The comment was made during the final minute of an 18-minute interview. (This comment has been widely reported and commented on by critics as well as Biden supporters noting it’s just another slip of the tongue. At this point in his career, Biden should know his audience and the importance of choosing one’s words wisely and thoughtfully. We tend to agree with Sen. Tim Scott’s, R-S.C., response: "And so, for Joe Biden to say to 1.3 million African Americans who voted for President Trump that they ‘ain't black’ is arrogant, condescending and it frankly speaks to the families of the 1.3 million African-Americans as well. And frankly, I am just amazed that the last decade Democrats have had an entitlement mentality that they are entitled to the black vote.")

The New York Times, “Biden’s ‘Breakfast Club’ Controversy Shows What His Rivals Already Knew,” May 23, 2020


Is the news staged? Occasionally the public receives a behind-the-scenes peek. CBS News ran a story showing a long line of patients waiting to get into a Michigan health center for coronavirus testing. Project Veritas claimed, “A CBS News crew pulled medical professionals off the floor at the Cherry Medical Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to line up in their vehicles so a CBS film crew would have a long line for their COVID-19 coverage.” The image of the alleged long line was displayed during a CBS report that, “featured Gov. Gretchen Whitmer blaming the federal government for not doing enough to prepare for testing needs.” It turned out that Cherry Health facility hosted a campaign event two months prior for former Vice President Joe Biden, “Where he was lauded by Gov. Whitmer.” CBS included a BIMBO comment in its response, “CBS News did not stage anything at the Cherry Health facility,” as did Cherry Health CEO Tasha Blackmon who said, “I did not instruct any of our staff to get in their cars as part of the line of vehicles.” The problem, and the reason we’re including this example, is that the news stages itself by the very act of what it chooses to cover. We’re willing to believe CBS didn’t officially demand more waiting patients. We’re sure it happened organically. A reporter or camera person likely said something about how the line of waiting cars wasn’t very impressive and the facility responded. Hopefully, the public is aware of the importance of referencing several sources of information.

The Wall Street Journal, “CBS Blames Source for Fake News,” May 6, 2020


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

BIMBO Nominees for May 2020

  • Bimbo
  • April 30, 2020
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image c

Just as the world has seemingly turned upside down, we’re flipping the order of this month’s BIMBO Memo. This is a one-time format change. Due to the severity of the COVID-19 situation, we chose to highlight critically-important communication lessons.


Be aware of the lens through which you are speaking.

Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has become one of the best known and most respected experts regarding the coronavirus. Our readers know the importance of words and how to strategically target their audiences. We recognize Fauci has been thrown into a different arena than his training, which is why he must choose his words carefully. As an epidemiologist, he’s looking only at the rates of infection and mortality, urging the continuation of a total or strict economic lockdown. At a White House briefing, he noted, “It’s inconvenient from a societal standpoint.” It’s more than “inconvenient.” This assessment not only ignores economic costs, but psychological and emotional costs as well. Fauci also said, “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again.” While he was trying to say that we’ve all learned the importance of much more attention to hygiene and its direct connection to staying healthy, he managed to trash millenniums of human interaction with that suggestion. When speaking to an audience craving reassurance that life will return to normal, a little humility and a lot of communication awareness are in order.

Time Magazine, “'I Don’t Think We Should Ever Shake Hands Again.’ Dr. Fauci Says Coronavirus Should Change Some Behaviors for Good,” April 9, 2020


Statistics and the correlation of the quote famously attributed to Mark Twain, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” will certainly be the epitaph of the coronavirus. It’s already the headline.

The New York Times reported that, in late February, the estimate of expected mortality globally was one percent, which sounds small but is ten times the rate of typical flu mortality. The New York Times reported an estimated 13 percent mortality rate for Italy—making it sound like historical reports of medieval plagues—although Italy also has the world’s second oldest population after Japan. The report estimated a 4.3 percent mortality rate in the U.S. One big problem in the analysis: different standards of reporting deaths. Professor Ali H. Mokdad of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said, “To know the fatality rate you need to know how many people are infected and how many people died from the disease. We know how many people are dying but we don’t know how many people are infected.” Experts call this tendency to overestimate the “severity bias.” A more recent editorial published in the New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Clifford Lane and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, suggested COVID-19 may be “less lethal than initial predictions.” There are huge implications in these predictions and statistics. The media is largely responsible for creating the perception that we must choose between protecting the populace—lockdown—and a healthy economy. What if we’ve gotten the numbers all wrong? Mandatory reading are the comments of a professor at Stanford’s School of Medicine, Dr. John Ioannidis. It’s easy to get buried in the confusing statistics regarding COVID-19, so instead focus on Ioannidis’s conclusion that most disagreements between scientists are about perspective, not facts. He said, Probably usually I’m a pessimist, but in this case, I’m probably an optimist.”

The New York Times, “Why We Don’t Know the True Death Rate for Covid-19,” April 17, 2020


Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell repeatedly said Trump is not to blame for the coronavirus pandemic, which created an implied BIMBO comment that, of course, Trump is to be blamed for the pandemic. But we agree with Rendell’s comment, “The one thing people don’t want during a national emergency is political backbiting.”

NBC News “As coronavirus upends 2020, Trump may have a hard time keeping Pennsylvania red. Here’s why,” April 23, 2020


Responding to President Trump’s claim that, as the president of the United States, he had the power to make states reopen activities, former vice president and presidential candidate Joe Biden said, “I am not running for office to be King of America.” (This is not a bad comment, but the big issue is it doesn’t say why he is running for office.)

The Hill, “Biden blasts Trump comments: ‘I am not running for office to be King of America,’” April 14, 2020


Michael Caputo, appointed Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at HHS, erased his Twitter history from before April 12; however, it was preserved on Internet Archive’s “The Wayback Machine.” One now-deleted tweet read, “millions of Chinese suck the blood out of rabid bats as an appetizer and eat the ass out of anteaters.” Caputo responded he was only tweeting in a “spirited fashion,” and said reporting on his past tweets is “fair game” and that he doesn’t mind them becoming widely public. (He claimed he wasn’t bothered, but the rest of us are! This is not how leaders talk. A reminder that these comments live forever. As general counsel of the FTC, Jack Carley used to caution, “How would you feel reading your comment on the front page of The Washington Post?” Good advice then and now.)

CNN “New HHS spokesman made racist comments about Chinese people in now-deleted tweets,” April 23, 2020

Mississippi State’s new football coach, Mike Leach, created a firestorm by tweeting a cartoon of a woman trapped at home with her husband knitting a scarf for him—shaped like a noose. One Mississippi State football player announced he would be transfering and the university’s athletic director announced, in an award-winning understatement, that Leach would “expand his cultural awareness of Mississippi.” This is an example of being tone deaf.

ESPN, “Fabien Lovett, who criticized Mike Leach’s meme, transferring to Florida State,” April 13, 2020


Mayor Carolyn Goodman called for Las Vegas to reopen, and her subsequent interview with Anderson Cooper has become a must-see exchange. Entertainment Tonight compiled a montage of all the faces Cooper made throughout the interview. Celebrities supported Cooper, who continued to ask gotcha questions like, “It’s a question, are you going to go to the casinos every night and put your life on the line like all the workers you say were there holding their hands?” and called her “ignorant.” This interview is worth watching in its entirety because Goodman seemed to be enjoying herself so much.  

CNN, “Anderson Cooper presses Las Vegas major over wish to reopen,” April 22, 2020


Southwest Airlines has a proud history of never laying off or furloughing employees, but CEO Gary Kelly addressed that potential, providing a good example of how to talk about negative topics. He began explaining that many, if not most, employees would be asked to take pay cuts—Kelly himself had already taken a 20 percent pay cut and could see his pay dropping to zero. In these situations, reporters and audiences are looking for predictions, particularly as so many other companies have announced drastic measures. The classic response frequently driven by lawyers is, “We can’t predict,” which makes the listener think the worst is coming. Kelly tackled the topic head on saying, “Some companies have already conceded that they’ll have to downsize or worse, file for bankruptcy. But as I’ve told you many times, I can’t promise or guarantee those things won’t befall us. What I can promise is that we will do everything that is humanly possible to avoid those outcomes.” He distanced himself from the negative predictions and promises and replaced them with a positive and personal promise. Well done!

The Dallas Morning News, “Southwest Airlines CEO warns of pay cuts and a ‘drastically smaller airline’ if air travel doesn’t pick up soon,” April 23, 2020

The Hollywood Reporter Editor Matthew Belloni was shown the door after apparently clashing with executives who tried to get him to mute or dilute coverage of important stars or business partners. Belloni declined, and the inevitable ensued. Instead of slamming the interfering busybodies, Belloni resigned and said, "I’ll just say that well-meaning, diligent, ambitious people can disagree about fundamental priorities and strategies.”

The New York Times “Hollywood Reporter’s Top Editor Exits After Dispute With Publisher,” April 6, 2020


Written by Lis Smith, Pete Buttigieg’s media adviser, the article’s key piece of advice was for politicians and high-profile experts to leverage media outlets and communication platforms different from the more traditional cable-news hits and Sunday shows. This is actually not a novel strategy. Remember in 1992, then-Governor Bill Clinton appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show and played saxophone wearing sunglasses? Missing from this piece was the recognition that to execute this strategy successfully, you have to have lots of time and a clear message. Most people, particularly corporate executives, have neither.

Vanity Fair, “‘Go Everywhere’: How Dr. Anthony Fauci’s Media Strategy Is Revolutionizing Coronavirus Messaging,” April 7, 2020

An article offering an overview of how COVID-19 has impacted media consumption, not surprisingly, revealed people are reading, watching and listening to more now. While the analysis was interesting, the most relevant comment in the piece was, “a positive mindset and the ability to switch off will help people cope better day-to-day.”

Visual Capitalist, “How COVID-19 Has Impacted Media Consumption, by Generation,” April 7, 2020

Dr. Jesse Stuart shared some solid advice on how to respond when someone confides something horrible. He suggested that the phrase “at least” be removed from the beginning of any response. For example, don’t say, “At least you weren’t diagnosed with a horrible disease today,” or something similar. Instead, pause and think about the individual’s perspective before responding. A good way to do this is to identify with the person’s feelings. For example, you could say to a young leukemia patient, “I can only imagine how scared you’re feeling right now.” When possible, confirm that whatever the individual is going through may be unfair and note that you’ll be helpful or available going forward. This is good advice for a physician counseling a cancer patient, but what about when your best friend has a trivial complaint, that she broke a high heel, or a major one, that she didn’t get an expected promotion? Still worth thinking about. And as always, we recommend not repeating the negative word.

The Wall Street Journal, “The Least Empathetic Thing to Say,” April 9, 2020


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

BIMBO Nominees for April 2020

  • Bimbo
  • March 31, 2020
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image b

This month’s memo features a variety of BIMBO comments delivered by officials attempting to quell the fears of and instill confidence in the public, we also feature a classic BIMBO comment from a spokesperson for a Chicago-based rent-a-bank and a marvelous example of a misuse of statistics. In an attempt to lift your spirits, we’ve included a few positive examples of companies stepping up in the time of crisis.


“The sky did not fall when these dispensaries opened their doors to medical patients five years ago. It didn’t fall two months ago when they began serving adult-use customers and it won’t fall if a responsible dispensary opens at 12 W. Maple later this year,” said Jeremy Unruh, co-founder and director of regulatory and public affairs at marijuana dispensary company PharmaCann. The company is one of two trying to open dispensaries within 1,500 feet of each other in a Chicago neighborhood. (Unruh should have stressed that retail stores only open in areas where customers support them. Still, by saying, “the sky did not fall,” he was very dismissive of the locals. The second company proposing a dispensary a few blocks away, Cresco Labs, didn’t communicate any better. The company held a meeting at a local Hilton where its spokesman agreed citizens “are scared” of a dispensary, a comment which was “met with a chorus of ‘boos.’”)

Book Club Chicago, “Gold Coast Aldermen Want To Block 2 Weed Dispensaries From Opening In The Neighborhood,” March 6, 2020


“The purpose of this declaration is not to scare or terrify anybody,” said Charleston, West Virginia City Manager Jonathan Storage when explaining a proclamation he and Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin issued that would “allow the city to be immediate in its response to this global pandemic.” (Goodwin’s comments were much better. She said, “We’re not overreacting, we are over-preparing.” Storage’s claim was a classic BIMBO comment. He should have repeated Goodwin’s comment about being prepared. In typical BIMBO fashion, Storage’s other comments were much better. He said, “It’s to be put [sic] people on awareness and be cognizant of what is going on around the country and surrounding.”)

MetroNews, “City of Charleston declares state of emergency in response to COVID-19,” March 15, 2020

“[The company] is not intentionally evading or breaking state law,” said a spokesman for Chicago-based Opportunity Financial LLC, known as OppLoans, in response to charges that the company was still charging very high interest rates despite new regulations in California. OppLoan's bank-lending practices earned it the sobriquet rent-a-bank, a label describing companies that partner with financial institutions outside their home states, often in states without interest-rate caps, to continue offering high-interest-rate loans. In OppLoan’s case, the interest rate in question was 160 percent. (This is a classic BIMBO comment because OppLoan's spokesperson picked up and repeated the original charge of evading state law, first uttered by a California lawmaker. The reporter obviously relayed the charge to the spokesperson, who then repeated back and denied the negative accusation. Like much-maligned payday loans, these products serve a populace and a need. The OppLoan's spokesperson should have taken the opportunity to remind listeners of that. One of the banks involved, Capital Community Bank (CCBank), provided a mixed message by pointing out these are true “partnerships” in which the bank is actively involved. However, the bank’s CEO commented, “We don’t say, ‘Here you go, you can use our charter,’” therefore undercutting the “partnership” message instead of reinforcing it. A hat tip to Hugo Dooner, CEO of Wheels Financial Group LLC, who got the message right when he said the partnerships are “a common practice that helps provide credit to consumers who would otherwise be unable to access the credit markets in their state.”)

The Wall Street Journal, “‘Rent-a-Banks’ Defy States’ Growing Efforts to Curb High-Cost Lending,” March 11, 2020

“You know, we don’t want to alarm people, but given the spread we’ve seen, you know, anything’s possible,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. We love and respect Dr. Fauci, and he certainly has done yeoman service, but he does need a BIMBO lesson. (These types of BIMBO comments are particularly dangerous when speculating that draconian regulations could shut down large sections of the country, or even the entire country. We’re out of our core competency here, but Merrie remembers enough of her lessons on risk analysis from Columbia Business school to know that it’s important to look at the big picture. Shut down the country? Who delivers food? What about the businesses that can’t re-open? We need to consider not just the economic toll but also the hard-to-quantify cost of loss of hope, suicide and other very real costs. Please, Dr. Fauci, continue to stress the need to do the right thing. If you don’t want to “alarm people,” don’t speculate! Note the phrase made the headline.)

Fox News, “Fauci says ‘anything is possible’ when asked about widespread coronavirus quarantine,” March 8, 2020

“But we’re not closing our eyes to this,” said Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, regarding the committee’s investigation of the Ukrainian dealings of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. (This is another case of a good quote with the wrong message. In this intensely political environment, Johnson should have said that the committee needed to investigate as part of its mission to ensure that actions by Biden and his son Hunter on Burisma Holdings’ board, where he earned a salary of more than $50,000 a month, were at least legal. Notice that Johnson’s quote made the headline.)

The Daily Signal, “‘We’re Not Closing Our Eyes’: Senate Panel Seeks Documents in Biden-Ukraine Investigation,” March 8, 2020

“[It’s] not that I’m not popular; Biden is running with his ties to Obama, said Sen. Bernie Sanders explaining his lack of presidential support with black voters. (Sanders got it partly right. With his supporters, he’s very popular, but the reason he’s losing the Democratic nomination to former Vice President Joe Biden isn’t because of Biden’s role in the Obama administration, as Sanders claimed. Sanders’ positions are so far left that even a majority of Democrats fear their implications.)

The Hill, “Sanders says Biden winning African American support by ‘running with his ties to Obama,’” March 4, 2020

“It’s not martial law,” said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot defending the Illinois National Guard’s presence in Chicago. (Lightfoot delivered her classic BIMBO comment in response to rumors about National Guard troops supporting a nationwide quarantine. Similarly, Gen. Joseph Lengyel contributed to the confusion by tweeting, “I hear unfounded rumors about #NationalGuard troops supporting a nationwide quarantine. Let me be clear: There has been no such discussion.” If anyone knows him, pass along a link to the BIMBO Memo and a recommendation to stop repeating and denying negatives.)  

The New York Times, “Here’s What Calling in the National Guard Means,” March 21, 2020


We often comment on how statistics lend themselves to misspeak, and a marvelous example of that came from MSNBC. Brian Williams and The New York Times Editorial Board Member Mara Gay were discussing former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s expensive and failed presidential campaign. Williams read a tweet that claimed, Bloomberg spent $500 million on ads. The U.S. Population, 327 million. He could have given each American $1 million and have had lunch money left over.” In response, Williams said, “It’s an incredible way of putting it,” and Gay agreed. Even if neither Williams nor Gay could do the exact math—$500 million divided by 327,000,000 people is actually $1.53 per person—neither of them knew enough to realize the comparisons were apples to oranges. Worse, when the mistake was pointed out, instead of poking fun at themselves, they ignored it and then tried to blame it on the author of the tweet.

The Daily Wire, “WATCH: MSNBC’s Brian Williams, New York Times’ Mara Gay Make Embarrassing Math Error,” March 5, 2020


During this uncertain time caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is so much negative news. Below are a few positive examples of companies stepping up in the time of crisis, which hopefully, will lift your spirits.

“Frisch’s Big Boy is here for you in these challenging times,” said Frisch’s Big Boy President & CEO Jason Vaughn when discussing Big Boy’s new items available for purchase online, through the restaurants’ drive-thru, carryout and delivery. Items include much-needed household staples like milk, produce, single-serve cereals and rolls of bathroom tissue.

FOX19 NOW, “More than a restaurant: Frisch’s Big Boy now selling milk, toilet paper and more,” March 19, 2020

After closing its doors to visitors, Shedd Aquarium in Chicago let its penguins explore the aquarium and broadcast the penguins’ “field trip” on its social channels for all to see! Can you wait to join them?

Bored Panda, “After Closing Down, This Aquarium Lets Its Penguins Go On A ‘Field Trip,’” March 17, 2020 

Texas Monthly wrote about H-E-B’s coronavirus-pandemic preparation. The grocer’s quotes in the article were great, but the real lesson is their strategy of cooperating with the media. A model effort!  (We love how beer distributors are delivering eggs! This is also a great example worth circulating about corporations pitching in. All companies should do this!)

Texas Monthly, “Inside the Story of How H-E-B Planned for the Pandemic,” March 26, 2020

People are adapting all over! Neiman Marcus’s alterations specialists were producing masks—what a great idea. There were no standout quotes included in this article, but this a great example of positive visibility.

Bizwomen, “Neiman Marcus alterations group shifts to sewing protective gear,” March 25 2020

This is an example of a small local company, The Leather Sofa Co., repurposing itself as mask producers. The article served as great visibility for the company and husband-and-wife co-founders Mitch and DeAnn Lurie had great quotes.

Dallas Business Journal, “Small DFW furniture maker produces masks to help shortage,” March 25, 2020


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

Emily’s Top Ten Working-From-Home DOs

  • Trends
  • March 26, 2020
  • by Emily Turner

Emily turner

Because I love all things positive (No BIMBOs), here is a listicle featuring the top ten things you can DO to stay sane, productive and positive when working from home.

#1 DO CREATE A QUIET SPACE where you can concentrate without interruptions. If you don’t have a designated home office, it does not matter. Find a cheery room (preferably with some natural light) to work in peace. Between laptops and smart phones, it’s easier than ever to have a makeshift workspace. Need some inspiration? Glennon Doyle wrote “Love Warrior,” her first New York Times best-selling novel, in her closet.

#2 DO LEARN ABOUT YOUR PERSONALITY TYPE for productivity. Whether it’s the enneagram or Myers-Briggs approach, take a quiz and then tailor your space and schedule based on the results. My most creative ideas for writing, proposals and all-things content happen in the morning hours, so I try to schedule calls and meetings later in the afternoon.

#3 DO RECOGNIZE AND RESPECT YOUR COLLEAGUES’ PERSONALITY TYPES AND PREFERENCES. At Spaeth, we had a roundtable discussion focused on when and how we prefer to communicate with each other. Whether it’s sending a head’s-up email before calling or scheduling an exact time to brainstorm, this helps our team work more cohesively. We also took the quiz at, which I highly recommend and not just because I’m a “protagonist, a charismatic and inspiring leader who is able to mesmerize her listeners.”

#4 DO GO EASY ON YOURSELF during these unprecedented times. There is nothing typical about our current working-from-home situation (even as a working-from-home veteran, I’m not used to my boss and the rest of the team also working from home!). Sometimes the WebEx won’t load properly, other times that conference line may drop. Be as flexible, courteous and understanding about others’ technical trials as your own.

#5 DO GET DRESSED. Even if it is to change from your pajamas into yoga pants, wash your face, brush those teeth and pretend like someone will see you. It does wonders for productivity and your mental health.

#6 DO SEEK OUT VITAMIN D, but still wear sunscreen. During an extended trip to London for a client last year, my colleague and I found ourselves standing by the large conference room window when the sun finally decided to grace us with its presence one afternoon. Interestingly enough, the only other person who joined us was from Brazil. Everyone needs sunlight and fresh air. If there are too many days of rain, take a vitamin D supplement, as they are a natural immune booster, but otherwise, treat yourself to those rays (just keep six feet away from anyone else when outdoors).

#7 DO TAKE BREAKS to stretch, eat, put a load of laundry in, homeschool your children (oh wait, this task will require an entirely new list that I am not prepared to write). When you are feeling overloaded, take a break and do something restorative such as yoga, listening to your favorite tunes or taking a nap. Always REMEMBER #4 on the list.

#8 DO CHECK IN WITH EACH OTHER. I like to think of this as virtual water-cooler talk. I may or may not regularly talk to my colleagues about the latest happenings on The Bachelor. If you would discuss it in the office, make time to chat with a colleague remotely as well.

#9 DO SILENCE THOSE ALERTS. Whenever I need to work on a proposal, message book or blog post, I silence my phone and disable pop-ups. Some people even schedule email-free times. Any measure that cuts down on interruptions will help boost your productivity.

#10 DO PRIORITIZE YOUR ATTENTION. Even at a crisis communication firm, our work consists of more than crises. Know what needs your immediate attention versus what can wait, and plan accordingly. If you find yourself shying away from those mundane expense reports, schedule a time to pump them out, preferably while listening to some great tunes and daydreaming about the future business trips we will all take once we can.

P.S. I have managed to do this for the past 16 years, so I know it can be done. You can DO IT!

How To Tell People Not To Panic

  • Crisis
  • March 20, 2020
  • by Spaeth Communications


As readers of our BIMBO Memo know, convincing someone not to panic isn’t achieved by saying “Don’t panic.” This is fast becoming one of the top denial mistakes in recent history. It’s understandable. When there’s great uncertainty and potential deadly risk, the authorities recognize that panicked people rush to stores, hoard household goods and make bad decisions. Oops. Too late. The problem, as we have preached for years, is that when listeners hear a command such as “Don’t panic,” they overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, companies and news outlets have fallen into this trap. A few of the best examples we’ve seen of misguided headlines include:

In our break room is a sign, “Keep calm and walk the dog.” Despite the headlines above, we know that’s what authorities are trying to convey. But how? Spokespersons can handle the situation by saying, “We know what you’ve heard. We’re reading the same reports. And while we don’t have all the answers, and won’t for the foreseeable future, we do believe that we all need to pull together. There’s plenty of advice of what not to do—shake hands, touch your face, etc.—but let’s focus on what to do, and that’s, keep calm and use common sense. Pass these words on.”

BIMBO Nominees for March 2020

  • Bimbo
  • March 1, 2020
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image a

There are a few juicy BIMBO comments this month and one of our winners features a bad word and a shocking picture. Other BIMBO comments come from the Japanese Ministry of Justice, a Dallas businessman, Mitt Romney and Delta’s CEO. An example of the Wrong Thing to Say courtesy of Carol Moseley Braun and a learning example from Boeing. Of course, Democratic Presidential Candidates Biden and Sanders contributed comments as well. And finally, we solicit your opinion on an international submission. Good or bad?  


“The debate’s a chance for us to make it clear that this is a deeply compassionate and principled man who isn’t just a rich guy on a vanity run,” said Tim O’Brien, a senior advisor to Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign before Bloomberg’s first debate in Las Vegas. (Perhaps it’s time for a new senior advisor? We’re also not so sure Bloomberg is “deeply compassionate and principled” given his conveniently forgotten past.)

Associated Press, “Bloomberg to go face to face against rivals after ad blitz,” Feb. 18, 2020 


“Our opinion is this didn’t impact the game,” said Astros Owner Jim Crane in response to growing criticism of his team amid revelations that the team engaged in elaborate cheating in their successful 2017 World Series bid and potentially in 2019 when the Yankees lost a six-game AL Championship Series to Houston. (Besides being a BIMBO comment, this is an example of how not to handle a crisis. The issue of whether the team cheated is settled: they did. The components – stealing signals, banging on a trash canpotentially buzzers – are established. Who knew about it and who organized it is confused and will remain so. How to handle it is also a conundrum and shows the risks of poor planning – or no planning. The team held a press conference; various players said various contradictory things. Reporters described the players as providing, “terse, well-coached apologies.” Other player quotes were all over the map. First Baseman Yuli Gurriel said“No one put a gun to our head. It would be a lie to say one or two people are responsible. We’re all responsible.” MLB’s Commissioner provided a timid slap on the wrists. The Dallas Morning News had it right, writing, “Of course their cheating impacted the game.”)

The Dallas Morning News, “Astros’ hubris, feeble apologies have only fueled the downfall of a dynasty,” Feb. 13, 2020

In the “worst marketing campaign” and worst optics ever, Burger King wants you to know they are taking all the artificial preservatives out of all their foods – and their pictorial image is a Whopper covered in mold! (As the article puts it, Burger King is certainly “breaking the mold.” We know we’re not marketing experts – and it certainly did get people’s attention. Will it work? Where’s the nearest Golden Arches?)

Headline Wealth, “Worst Marketing Campaign ever? Burger King Unveils ‘Moldy Whopper,’” Feb. 19, 2020

The Japanese justice system “does not force confessions” claimed the Ministry of Justice in response to allegations by former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn. (This is the winner because it’s clear that the system does indeed force confessions. Global attention is focused on Japan because of Ghosn’s high-profile escape from the country and, in turn, Japan’s justice system. In addition to the quote from the ministry, this article shines a light on the case of a local Japanese businessman Masamichi Sakai. We’ll only summarize the case; Sakai took it upon himself as chairman of a local construction industry group to bid for – as the sole bidder – a local contract to build a difficult-to-build retaining wall. He was accused of bid-rigging and eventually plead guilty so he could see his family again. He then got a new lawyer and plead not guilty and prevailed, no thanks to the justice system. Japan has begun recording interrogations in recent years, and Tokyo’s deputy chief prosecutor, Takahiro Saito, although declining to comment on Sakai’s case, said “There are almost no cases any more where the issue of forced confessions becomes an issue at trial.” If any readers are wondering about the value of America’s commitment to the rule of law, this article is mandatory reading.)

The Wall Street Journal, “Jailed Like Ghosn, a CEO Took On Japan’s Justice System,” Jan. 30, 2020

“Please don’t tune us out,” said the subject line of an email from Joe Biden’s campaign to supporters after the disastrous Iowa and New Hampshire caucuses. (Not a good sign when you assume your base has given up.)

Milled, “please don’t tune us out,” Feb. 17, 2020

“I am not a communist,” Sen. Bernie Sanders told Chris Wallace. (Quick: what’s the difference between a socialist and a communist? However, we have to give Sanders credit for one of his comments, “In many respects, we are a socialist society today. We have a huge budget.” He certainly called that right, and we also have to applaud his honesty, and according to polls, that’s one of his big attractions. Note the BIMBO made the headline.)

RealClear Politics, “Sanders: ‘Obviously I Am Not a Communist,’ But Maybe Trump ‘Doesn’t Know The Difference,’” Feb. 9, 2020

“Nobody wiretapped anybody, nobody attempted to wiretap anybody, nobody discussed wiretapping anybody, and quite frankly, I don’t know what wiretapping is,” said Ed Butowsky, a wealthy businessman who was recently “outed as a driving force behind a retracted Fox News story” regarding the murder of DNC staffer, Seth Rich. (This unlikely, “me thinks she doth protest too much,” quote comes from a wild allegation that Butowsky sought to wiretap Rich’s grieving family. The story probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day except for the over-the-top denial. Note the story source was apparently one of the participants.) 

The Daily Beast, “Right-Wing Activists Discussed Wiretapping Seth Rich’s Family, Three People in the Room Say,” Feb. 18, 2020

“I don’t want to be the skunk at the garden party. I don’t want to have the disdain of Republicans across the country,” protested Sen. Mitt Romney, casting the sole Republican vote in favor of the first article of impeachment against President Trump. (We’ll let other pundits opine on whether there’s a stench; our prediction is that Romney meant to wound Trump. He probably ended up clobbering fellow Republican Sen. Susan Collins just the same way the House Democrats meant to hurt Trump on the Ukraine issue, but instead caused trouble for former Vice President Biden due to the dealings of his son, Hunter.)

The New York Times, “Romney, Defying the Party He Once Personified, Votes to Convict Trump,” Feb. 5, 2020  

“We haven’t reduced our pitch on our aircraft in years. We’re going the other way,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian in response to the debate of reclining seats. The debate recently began again after a man punched the back of a women’s reclined seat during an American Airlines flight. (Seat pitch is defined as the space between one seat back to the next. Bastian almost got it right. He should have said, “We listen to our customers so we have maintained the distance between seats and are actually increasing it.”)

Headline Wealth, “Delta CEO Affirms Right to Recline – But Says It’s Proper to Ask First,” Feb. 15, 2020  


“This is my Michael Corleone moment,” announced Former Democratic Senator Carol Moseley Braun. (Really? She wanted to compare campaigning for Joe Biden to the famous scene in “The Godfather” where Michael Corleone signed back on as a mafia crime boss. Probably not the comparison Biden’s campaign is trying to achieve.)

The Washington Post, “Former senator Carol Moseley Braun is back on the campaign trail, stumping for Joe Biden,” Feb. 21, 2020


We’ve all heard Mike Bloomberg is worth $60.5 billion and spent $11 million on a Super Bowl ad. But just how much money is that to Bloomberg? If the average family’s net worth is $97,300, $11 million is the percent equivalent of $17 or the cost of a 14-inch Domino’s pizza. The examination goes on at length and includes well-publicized expenditures from Jeff Bezos and presidential candidate Tom Steyer. Very interesting and very creative. Also, a little shocking. It’s a good read to understand why so many Americans think a “wealth tax” is a good idea. (We don’t, but these statistics and the comparisons explain the attraction.)

The Washington Post, “What Bloomberg’s $11 million Super Bowl ad would cost you on your budget,” Jan. 30, 2020


Boeing recently fired a midlevel executive after pilots he was in charge of authored several embarrassing internal emails. These emails caused red faces when they came to light, for example, describing the 737 MAX as “designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys.” This strikes us as just the wrong approach. Keith Cooper, the executive in question, was a vice president for training and professional services. We see this as Boeing looking for scapegoats so they can appear to be doing something. The new CEO, David Callahan, said the messages were “totally appalling” and he wants hold people accountable, but this isn’t doing that. Does anyone think Cooper had the ability or empowerment to find out about and let alone deal with these sentiments? Where’s the General Counsel’s office? The HR hotline? The leadership from the CEO?

The Wall Street Journal, “Boeing Fired Midlevel Executive Following Embarrassing Emails,” Feb. 12, 2020  

Here’s an example where we want your opinion. One of our international partners sent us this report about a candidate for mayor of Paris caught in a sex scandal, literally with his pants down on video. Our correspondent shared it as a bilingual example of what not to do, but our French speaking colleague reviewed the English and French stories and thought Benjamin Griveaux, President Macron’s candidate, did well and agreed with his contention, “My family did not deserve this.” My personal opinion is that no candidate who talks about family values should forget that every piece of digital media is likely to get shared.

The Guardian, “Paris mayoral candidate drops out over sex video scandal,” Feb. 14, 2020


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

BIMBO Nominees for January and February 2020

  • Bimbo
  • January 31, 2020
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image e

There are a variety of classic BIMBO comments this month, examples of statistics, the power of bad words from an article about Southwest Airlines– and we solicit your opinion of our analysis– and The New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman created his own sensational story. Read also how golfer Patrick Reed defended himself with a comment that could have been significantly improved by rehearsal, an article examining why negatives are so much more powerful than positives, a good article to show your general counsel and HR director about the trove of internal Boeing employee emails and two examples that qualify as “how to look stupid.”


“We did not lie,” insisted Iran’s government spokesman, Ali Rabiei, when it became clear that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard had indeed shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752. (The government stonewalled for three days, claiming that the plane had suffered a technical failure. This tragedy generated mass protests, but unusually, the protestors weren’t shouting “death to America.” Instead, they chanted that their leaders are the enemy. Use this as an example to remind leaders that everyone is a reporter today—it was an online video that proved the Iranian government had shot down the plane. If there is bad news, tell the truth and report it in a timely manner. Never lie.)

USA Today, “‘Our enemy is right here!’ Videos show Iran protesters fleeing tear gas, live bullets as protests grow,” Jan. 13, 2020


“This is not a concentration camp,” said Victor Gao, a Chinese international-relations analyst responding to growing awareness and criticism of China’s forced detention of an estimated one million Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang. (Gao was rebutting claims made in documents leaked last month that appear to serve as an “‘operations manual’ for ‘the largest mass internment of a minority since the Holocaust.’” One lesson here: pick your battles. Gao may have an argument about the agenda for the “camps,” but in his next breath, he defended China’s actions in Hong Kong. Note the phrase “concentration camp” made it into the headline.)

Deutsche Welle, “’This is not a concentration camp’: Analyst Victor Gao on China’s Uighur prisons,” Dec. 18, 2019

“I don’t hate anybody,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when asked if she “hated” President Trump. (This is a classic BIMBO comment. The reporter initially verbalized the word; Pelosi bit, repeated and denied it and then kept at it saying, “I was raised in a Catholic house, we don’t hate anybody – not anybody in the world. So don’t you accuse me of any (hate) … As a Catholic, I resent you using the word ‘hate’ in a sentence that addresses me.” Her emphasis of the word ensured it would become a story. As with many examples like this, all she had to do was acknowledge the question by saying, “That’s not accurate,” or “On the contrary.”)

The Hill, “Pelosi lashes out at reporter: ‘Don’t mess with me,’” Dec. 5, 2019

“I don't think it's a death threat. I don’t think he’s encouraging a death threat,” said Sen. James Lankford, defending President Trump’s tweet complaining that Rep. Adam Schiff “‘has not paid the price’ for ‘what he has done.’” (Wrong, wrong, wrong. Lankford should have said something like, “The media hasn’t done their job reporting what Schiff left out.” Instead, Lankford inadvertently sparked negative stories about Trump by using a sensational phrase, which looks to have been planted by a reporter.)

The Hill, “Republican senator: Trump’s Schiff tweet not a ‘death threat,’” Jan. 26, 2020


"But I’m not surprised by those numbers. And I’m not surprised because sexual violence is just much more pervasive in society than I think most people realize … We do four million rides a day. That's 45 trips per second. And when you're operating at that kind of scale, thankfully, 99.9 percent of those rides end with absolutely no safety incident whatsoever," said Uber’s chief legal officer, Tony West, announcing a statistics-filled report of the number of sexual abuse complaints made to the company in 2017 and 2018. (Interesting story. Uber should receive high marks for transparency and for being forthright about the problem. They are taking a leadership position, and West had an excellent quote saying, “Each of those incidents represents an individual who has undergone a horrific trauma.” However, he fell into the trap of what we refer to as the law of exceptions when he said, “99.9 percent of those rides end with absolutely no safety incident whatsoever.” By claiming that something happens rarely, one simultaneously minimizes the effect of the incident and confirms that it happens. The audience thinks, “that 0.1 percent could be me.”)

NBC News, “Uber reveals extent of sexual assault problem: thousands of abuse reports a year,” Dec. 5, 2019

“These types of events are extremely rare,” said Vincent Sapienza, New York City Department of Environmental Protection (D.E.P.) commissioner, about a pipe break in Queens that sent raw sewage coursing through over 120 homes and forced the eviction of nearly 160 residents. (This is another example of the law of exceptions and offers more good learning opportunities. D.E.P. initially claimed the homeowners likely had poured grease down their kitchen sinks and therefore caused the accident. An investigation proved the cause was the collapse of a major pipe under the city’s jurisdiction. Sapienza compounded the mistaken argument by listing a number of statistics, “We’ve got 7,500 miles of sewers, 95 pumping stations, 14 plants …” Like so many of these examples, he had a good quote, “D.E.P. accepts responsibility,” buried in the other text. It also illustrates the risk in trying to assess blame before knowing the facts, which infuriated the homeowners and guaranteed critical quotes and empathy-inducing anecdotes from affected families.)

The New York Times, “Raw Sewage Flooded Their Homes. They Finally Know Why.,” Dec. 19, 2019


The word “boring” became the focus of a lengthy article on Andrew Watterson, Southwest Airlines’ new chief commercial officer. The article is worth reading to see the power of a word, excellent audience targeting, good quotes overshadowed by the “boring” quote and – for our taste – too much personal information probably shared in an attempt to appear approachable. (Watterson introduced the “boring” topic when he said, “Our growth next year is going to be quite boring.” It turned out what he meant was that they weren’t planning to introduce any new, headline-prompting routes, but his choice of words was suspect: “Everyone’s going to glaze over, and that’s fine.” Interestingly, he did an excellent job deploying the technique we call targeted messaging, or naming your audience, when he said, “Our investors won’t glaze over. They’ll be pleased with the results. Our employees will be very pleased with the results because our schedule will look really nice.” When pressed about whether Southwest Airlines would start behaving like other carriers that are nickel and diming passengers, Watterson unnecessarily said, “Our CEO says, ‘We never say never.’” In the spirit of unnecessary information, we also learned in the article that he was a “wayward youth” and that he didn’t graduate from high school on time. We’re interested in your reaction. On one hand, it makes him seem very human; on the other, the key messages to investors, employees and customers were overshadowed by the “boring” quote – which also became the headline)

Dallas Business Journal, “Why Southwest Airlines’ new CCO hopes for a ‘boring’ 2020,” Jan. 21, 2020

The value of thinking through and verbally rehearsing your quote plus how technology has impacted reporting were on display in a report over a dispute about whether golfer Patrick Reed cheated during the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas by swiping the sand behind his ball before taking a shot. (Reed maintained that he didn’t intend to violate a rule and take two strokes, but his quote was muddy: “At the end of the day, whenever you’re out there, if you do something unintentionally that breaks the rules it’s not considered cheating.” Fans thought that was arrogant, and we agree. It would have been better to stick with, “I take the rules and etiquette of golf seriously as well as my responsibility to be a role model. My actions were unintentional, and I’ll do better in the future.” We understand his annoyance because commentators pointed out that in 1974 Gary Player appeared to do the same thing during the British Open at Royal Lytham but escaped penalty and criticism. The difference? Cameras and cell phones are always on and out today, with every fan able to capture personal footage as evidence.)

The New York Times, “Patrick Reed’s Club Hit the Sand. Now There’s a Dust-Up.” Dec. 12, 2019

The power of sensational bad words was on display in a suggestion by The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman that his computer had been hacked and used to “download child pornography.” Krugman brought the publicity on himself by musing – in a now-deleted tweet – that this might be a “Qanon” attack. (Fox News helpfully explained that “Qanon is a reference to the group of conspiracy theorists who in recent years spread incriminating myths against many high-profile Democrats on social media.” The other funny thing about this story is that the Times did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment. One would think that the newspaper of record would have something to say about security.)

Fox News, “NY Times columnist Paul Krugman says hacker ‘compromised’ his IP address to ‘download child pornography,’” Jan. 8, 2020

If you’ve been in one of our training or coaching sessions, you’ve heard us rail against “bad words” and talk about how negative words crowd out positive ones. This article is an academically rigorous examination of why negatives are so much more powerful than positives. It also explains the “Rule of Four: It takes four good things to overcome one bad thing.” We would say the potential damage is actually much more powerful. High-velocity words – like “layoffs” – race through an organization, are very hard to counter and impossible to recall. This advice is also useful for personal relationships as well as corporate communications. A nasty or critical comment is likely to be remembered for years.

The Wall Street Journal, “For the New Year, Say No to Negativity,” Dec. 27, 2019

For your general counsel or HR director, this report on Boeing exemplifies two important principles. A trove of internal, highly-inflammatory emails between company employees were made public after Boeing sent Congress more than 100 pages of documents regarding the 737 Max airplane. Boeing is in the throes of a full-blown business and culture crisis over whether its software and flight simulators for its 737 Max airplanes caused two significant crashes that killed hundreds of passengers. Naturally, the mocking and incriminating emails made headlines, and they will cause immense legal and HR problems as they call into question Boeing’s values and mission. Phrases like, “I still haven’t been forgiven by God for the covering up I did last year,” and “Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t,” were included in employees’ communications regarding interactions with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulators. Aggravating the situation, Boeing concealed the messages from the FAA after they discovered them and only shared them with lawmakers about two weeks before Former Boeing Chief Executive Dennis A. Muilenburg was scheduled to testify in front of Congress. The episode is relevant to both legal and HR because it illustrates the need to set up internal communication so that management hears what it needs to hear and not just what people think management wants to hear. We attribute that management philosophy to Judge William Webster, former director of the FBI. More companies should pay attention.

Austin Business Journal, “Boeing employees mocked FAA and flouted safety in internal messages,” Jan. 10, 2020

Our think before you speak lesson comes from Rep. Doug Collins, who wondered whether Democrats are “in love with terrorists” during a segment with Lou Dobbs on Fox Business Channel reacting to those critical of the Trump administration’s decision to kill Iranian General Quassem Soleimani. Collins later retracted his charge, “Let me be clear, I do not believe Democrats are in love with terrorists and I apologize for what I said earlier this week.” (The problem with this apology is that it crowded out the other four tweets part of his apology that highlighted his personal experience serving in Iraq in 2008 and totally buried his real message, “I remain committed to working with my colleagues in Congress and with my fellow citizens to keep all Americans safe.”)

RealClear Politics, “Rep. Doug Collins Apologizes For Saying Democrats Are ‘In Love’ With Terrorists,” Jan. 10, 2020

This example proves that the mic is always on and that “he said/she said” allegations are battles to avoid fighting in the press. We’re speaking, of course, of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s charge that her opponent in the presidential primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders, told her during a 2018 meeting that a woman couldn’t be elected president. We think they’re both telling the truth from their own point of view. Warren and Sanders disagreed publicly during a Democratic Party presidential debate, and afterwards, Warren dashed over to Sanders and said, “I think you called me a liar on national TV.” We know this because the mics were hot! Call us conspiratorial, but we’re pretty sure Warren would know that, so maybe this was designed to be overheard. Now, to the “he said/she said” nature of the exchange. We believe Sanders when he said that anyone who knew him would know Warren’s allegation was ridiculous. So, is Warren lying? Not necessarily. We’re betting that if audio of the 2018 meeting surfaced, we’d hear Sanders musing about various candidates’ strengths and challenges, and that one of those challenges would certainly be gender.

CNN, “Bernie Sanders told Elizabeth Warren in private 2018 meeting that a woman can’t win, sources say,” Jan. 13, 2020

This example qualifies as “how to look stupid.” An investigation notes that the NCAA handbook lists as “impermissible” casinos, beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages and works to ensure casinos and alcoholic beverages aren’t associated with college football bowl games. Why, then, is the Las Vegas Bowl sponsored by Bud Light and casino companies? Why does the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl list hard liquor manufacturers as “Chairman’s Club” partners? If you expected a coherent explanation, no luck. Why is this contradiction allowed? NCAA spokesman Chris Radford said it was a “fair question.” Shane Lyons, chairman of the NCAA’s Division I Football Oversight Committee, observed that the NCAA’s governing handbook language “probably could be cleaned up a lot more.” Lyons continued his inarticulate response, “A lot has changed. I’m not even sure when this [handbook] was written and last updated.” What to learn from this debacle? Make sure there is some independent third party to audit what your enterprise is saying publicly and what it’s actually doing. And, if you have vision or mission statements reduced to writing, and no one can remember when they were last reviewed and updated, it’s probably time to take a look at them.

USA Today, “NCAA asserts collegiate values for bowls, but leaves room for liquor, casino sponsors,” Dec. 20, 2019

This example also qualifies as “how to look stupid.” A videographer working for the New England Patriots was caught video recording up-close footage of the Patriots’ upcoming opponent Cincinnati Bengals’ sideline. He couldn’t credibly claim anonymity, as he was wearing Patriots clothing, but he tried to claim it was no big deal when he said to a Bengals security person, “I can delete this right here for you.” Surprisingly, the videographer continued arguing with the Bengals security person!

USA Today, “Opinion: Patriot Way is not just winning as latest rules scandal reminds,” Dec. 16, 2019      


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

2019 BIMBO of the Year

  • Bimbo
  • December 16, 2019
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image christmas


“The man was not operating a harem, or a sex cult, or holding people hostage or anything like that,” said Steven Greenberg, lawyer for singer R. Kelly who is the subject of a six-part Lifetime docuseries that makes sensational allegations about his sexual relations with underage women. (A classic case of trying to deflect anger or blame by claiming things aren’t as bad as they could be. Continuing with the off-tone comments, Greenberg tried to dismiss Lady Gaga’s recent apology for her song with Kelly by claiming she knew about the “rumors” surrounding Kelly when they started working together, and that she is only denouncing Kelly now to curry favor with Oscar voters. Don’t try to dismiss bad behavior by claiming it could have been worse. Do state the individual’s commitment—even if in the future—to be responsible.)

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “R. Kelly responds to docuseries through lawyer, denies allegations of sexual abuse,” Jan. 11, 2019

(As seen in the January and February 2019 BIMBO Memo)


“My lipsticks are not moldy, they are not contaminated, they are not unsafe for you in any way shape or form,” said Jaclyn Hill responding to complaints that the first shipment of lipsticks in her cosmetics line arrived with “holes, plastic particles or unknown fibers that resemble hairs.” (Hill, a blogger and beauty promoter with thousands of devoted followers, learned that if you live by social media, you can die by social media after her acolytes posted pictures of the tainted product. This is a good example of someone who needed media training badly but who thought she didn’t need it as a star and knows everything. She tried to explain and apologize in a very long video, which only served to reinforce the negative publicity. Those black dots? Not mold, they’re “oxygen bubbles.” The “white fuzzies”? Not mold, but remnants of “gloves used by the laboratory.” Like so many of these examples, she had something redeemable to say: “Every single ingredient in my lipsticks is new and FDA approved.” She also said that she would “make it right” and offered customers experiencing quality issues full refunds and new product, which sold out in hours after its launch. However, these positive responses were overshadowed by the “moldy” charge. Note that her denial became the headline. This situation also includes an example of the misuse of a statistic. A spokesperson from Jaclyn Cosmetics issued a statement that said, “… less than half of one percent of orders were impacted by compromised product.” While that may be a small number to Hill, the only order customers care about is theirs! Plus, the “compromised” products account for 100 percent of the complaints and posted pictures.)

MSN, “Jaclyn Hill Responds After Backlash Over Quality of Her Lipstick Line: ‘My Lipsticks Are Not Moldy,’” June 13, 2019

 (As seen in the July 2019 BIMBO Memo)

“There is no evidence of any reports of (Matt) Lauer’s misconduct before his firing, no settlements, no ‘hush money’ …,” wrote president of NBC News Noah Oppenheim in a memo to company staff. (The non-mea culpa was occasioned by the publication of Ronan Farrow’s book, “Catch and Kill,” which paints a damning picture of the news executives attempts to impede or kill Farrow’s investigation of Harvey Weinstein. There is no “could-have-said” advice here because Oppenheim went on to claim that without these legal events, there is “no way we have found that NBC’s current leadership could have been aware of his misdeeds in the past.” A good leader sets up systems that ensure the leader hears things people don’t want him or her to hear.)

BuzzFeed News, “Ronan Farrow Said Hillary Clinton’s Lack Of Support During His Weinstein Reporting Was A ‘Gut Punch,’” Oct. 15, 2019

 (As seen in the November 2019 BIMBO Memo)


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

BIMBO Nominees For December 2019

  • Bimbo
  • November 27, 2019
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image d

We have BIMBO comments this month from a super liberal Texas politician who gets points for honesty and former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford who does not, as well as an example from a CEO who needs a better understanding of his audiences. Basketball-great Charles Barkley appears in the “Wrong Thing To Say” section followed by the chief executive of G/O Media and two California mayors. This month includes a variety of interesting examples: a great prop from a Brazilian attorney trying to reform Brazil’s tax system, nice (if edgy) humor from former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein responding to Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s personal attack on him, our “You’ve Got Guts” award for FedEx CEO Fred Smith (with our enthusiastic applause) and articles with somewhat questionable communication advice.


“There’s a reason we let murderers and robbers and rapists go free when their due process rights have been violated,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, arguing that President Trump should be shown similar respect. (He managed to equate President Trump with murderers, robbers and rapists. Like so many other examples, Thornberry also had a good quote that got buried: “We believe the integrity of the system, the integrity of the constitution, the integrity of the processes under our legal system, is more important that the outcome of one particular case.” However, Thornberry’s remarks in general couldn’t have painted a worse picture. Note that Thornberry’s lead line became the headline.)

NBC News, “GOP congressman: If ‘murderers’ and ‘rapists’ get due process, Trump should too,” Nov. 10, 2019


“She is not canoodling me!” said disgraced former movie producer Harvey Weinstein in response to critiques of his interactions with actress Alexandra Vino at an exclusive nightclub event. At the nightclub, Vino was spotted dancing for and sitting in Weinstein’s lap. (“Canoodling”? Give us a break! Did we just return to the 1930s? Do today’s young people even know what the word means? According to Merriam-Webster, it’s “to engage in amorous embracing, caressing, and kissing.” And, of course, that’s exactly what was going on.)

Page Six, “Actress who sat on Harvey Weinstein’s lap denies romance,” Nov. 8, 2019

“We are not drag queens,” said Taylor Brown of Lambda Legal, an advocacy group for the LGBTQ community. (The Movement Advancement Project (MAP), a think tank that researches LGBTQ issues, published a report that illustrated “the diversity of the trans community, which numbers 1.4 million people in the U.S. or about .6% of all adults.” Brown should have instead emphasized why she thinks the visibility of trans people in communities indicates a diverse community beyond old stereotypes.)

USA Today, “‘We are not drag queens’: For transgender people in 2019, a conflicted reality of breakthroughs, barriers,” Nov. 19, 2019

“I’m not scared of my record at all,” said Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Texas, when considering whether to continue to run on liberal policies and issues of the national Democratic party in her attempt to help Democrats reclaim the Texas House for the first time since 2003. (You’ve got to give her credit for honesty. She added, “I’m not even pretending. You look at your voting record and everything has become partisan, so why do I need to pretend to be something I’m not?” This is what democracy is all about. Bring on the debate!)

The Dallas Morning News, “As Democrats seek to take over the Texas House, do they stay to the left or move to the middle?” Nov. 2, 2019   

“This isn’t about weakening the president or electing Democrats,” said Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford when announcing the end of his short-lived candidacy for president. (What it was about was being back in the limelight. Sanford conducted one of the more memorable deceptions, when in 2009 he claimed to be hiking the Appalachian Trail while actually he was “canoodling” – couldn’t resist using the word! – with a mistress.)

USA Today, “Republican Mark Sanford drops out of presidential race,” Nov. 12, 2019

“They’re not at immediate risk for deportation, but we can’t sit here and say they won’t be deported,” said Ken Cuccinelli, acting Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, commenting on DACA Dreamers, whose American status is the subject of intense political debate. (What a terrifying quote! Here’s what he should have said: “We know our elected officials are debating the options, and we are committed to following the law while we respect each individual affected.”)

The Wall Street Journal, “Mr. President, Don’t Abandon the Dreamers,” Nov. 12, 2019

“We’re not currently pursuing a sale of the company,” said CyrusOne Inc. CEO, Gary Wojtaszek. (This is a great example that demonstrated how audiences hear things differently. Analysts at Wells Fargo who heard the CEO say this were surprised. Apparently, “they thought there was a greater than 50 percent chance of a deal.” However, based on the CEO’s comments and management’s refusal to comment, analysts concluded, “It's our baseline assumption at this point that there won't be any near-term acquisition.”)

Dallas Business Journal, “CyrusOne CEO: ‘We’re not currently pursuing a sale of the company,’” Oct. 31, 2019


“I don’t hit women but if I did I would hit you,” said basketball-great Charles Barkley in an interview with Axios reporter Alexi McCammond, who was predictably taken back and insulted. Compounding the problem, Barkley later told McCammond she “couldn’t take a joke.” (It’s hard to believe that anyone, let alone someone as smart as Barkley, wouldn’t know that joking about violence toward women is absolutely off limits. In this case, we can’t figure out the point he was trying to get across. He did issue an apology, but it looked like one of those “I-have-to” apologies rather than a realization that what he said was deeply offensive.)

USA Today, “Opinion: Charles Barkley’s ‘joke’ wasn’t funny, and neither was his defense of it,” Nov. 20, 2019

“Meth. We’re on it,” was the puzzling campaign tagline South Dakota used to launch its meth-prevention campaign. (South Dakota’s Department of Social Services paid a Minneapolis marketing firm almost $450,000 for this disaster. The campaign is much needed, as the meth crisis in the state is skyrocketing, but the campaign tagline, which was widely ridiculed, distracted attention away from the notice about resources for people who need help and the pitch for volunteers.)

KNBN NewsCenter1, “South Dakota announces new meth prevention campaign,” Nov. 18, 2019

“It was not our intent to lose anybody,” said Jim Spanfeller, chief executive of G/O Media, a company that operates sports website Deadspin and other websites for private equity firm Great Hill Partners. (Spanfeller was reacting to the resignation of all 20-plus Deadspin staff members who were protesting recent alleged maltreatment of “the site and its history” as well as the firing of Deadspin’s interim editor in chief, Barry Petchesky. The last employee to post a Deadspin story, Diana Moskovitz, reported that no one contacted her on her final workday. What will Deadspin publish without writers? Spanfeller said they will “make do.” Media reports on the site’s final days seemed to indicate that the editorial staff wanted to be free of managerial interference. What planet are they living on?)

The New York Times, “Deadspin’s Last Staff Member Quits. But Deadspin Is Not Dead, the Boss Says,” Nov. 1, 2019

“We’re not fighting between shareholders and ratepayers,” said Mayor Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento calling for Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), California’s mammoth power company, to be taken over by – customers.  (PG&E’s intentional blackouts and California’s wildfires have garnered ongoing, national attention but so has analysis pointing to over-government regulation and the movement of populations into wildfire areas. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo tried to claim, “We’re not delusional about the challenges here.” Maybe not, but they are delusional if they think changing the organizational structure will solve their operational problems.)

The New York Times, “California Mayors Back Plan to Make PG&E a Cooperative,” Nov. 5, 2019


Great prop! On a quest to reform Brazil’s out-of-control tax code, Brazilian attorney Vinicios Leoncio spent more than one million reais ($250,100) to assemble a complete printing of the code. At 41,266 pages, it weighed 7.5 tons and reached more than seven feet in height, which is “heavier than an African elephant” and “taller than LeBron James.” In order to adhere to all 41,266 pages of rules, “local companies spend almost 2,000 hours a year preparing their returns.” Leoncio took a picture of himself sitting on the printed volume of Brazil’s tax code. Genius!

Bloomberg Businessweek, “Brazil’s Massive Tax Code May Face Moment of Reckoning,” Nov. 5, 2019

Sen. Elizabeth Warren attacked former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein by name in a television ad. Although he’s a Democrat who endorses many liberal issues, Blankfein responded with a tweet and humor: “Surprised to be featured in Sen. Warren’s campaign ad, given the many severe critics she has out there. Not my candidate, but we align on many issues. Vilification of people as a member of a group may be good for her campaign, not the country. Maybe tribalism is just in her DNA.” Obviously, Blankfein was poking fun at Warren’s discredited claim to be Native American. We thought this was deliciously pointed and appropriate.

The Wall Street Journal, “Elizabeth Warren Wants to Run Against Lloyd Blankfein,” Nov. 14, 2019

The New York Times published an article attacking FedEx for supporting the Trump administration’s tax-reform legislation. The New York Times displayed its economic ignorance by claiming that, post-tax cuts, FedEx’s effective tax rate decreased from “34 percent in fiscal year 2017 to less than zero in fiscal year 2018” and asserted that despite this dramatic decrease in its effective tax rate, FedEx “did not increase investment in new equipment and other assets in the fiscal year that followed.” FedEx CEO Fred Smith responded with a sharp rebuke and publicly challenged the publisher and business section editor to a public debate in Washington, DC, to discuss … federal tax policy and the relative societal benefits of business investments and the enormous intended benefits to the United States economy, especially lower and middle class wage earners.” Go Fred!

FedEx, “Statement from Frederick W. Smith, Chairman and CEO of FedEx Corporation,” Nov. 17, 2019

A Wall Street Journal article on “filler phrases” is really about phrases that speakers use to help them bridge to their message points. We’re generally supportive of the technique unless a speaker uses these phrases repetitively. This analysis is worth a glance for internal communications staff who coach executives and may need a third-party-expert opinion to convince their executives to commit to mastering the technique.

The Wall Street Journal, “Let’s Be Clear, Candidates Use a Lot of Filler Phrases,” Nov. 20, 2019

A New York Times article discussing a paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology about how to sound more confident and persuasive offered what we think is questionable advice. According to the paper, “you come off as more persuasive by speaking slightly louder than you normally do.” Not necessarily. We think they mean that if you speak in a normal range and don’t seem hesitant, that’s good. We’re concerned that readers will interpret this advice to mean over projection.

The New York Times, “How to – Literally – Sound More Confident and Persuasive,” Nov. 10, 2019


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

BIMBO Nominees For November 2019

  • Bimbo
  • November 1, 2019
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image b

BIMBO comments from an anguished woman that provide insight into a difficult issue, filmmaker Michael Moore, writer of iconic song “American Pie,” Don McLean, conservative Jonah Goldberg and Former Rep. Charlie Dent. Examples of the power of words from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign and critics, a triumph for common sense (finally), politically incorrect advice that got Ernst & Young in trouble and an example of high-velocity news from a Dallas trial.


“There is no evidence of any reports of (Matt) Lauer’s misconduct before his firing, no settlements, no ‘hush money’ …,” wrote president of NBC News Noah Oppenheim in a memo to company staff. (The non-mea culpa was occasioned by the publication of Ronan Farrow’s book, “Catch and Kill,” which paints a damning picture of the news executives attempts to impede or kill Farrow’s investigation of Harvey Weinstein. There is no “could-have-said” advice here because Oppenheim went on to claim that without these legal events, there is “no way we have found that NBC’s current leadership could have been aware of his misdeeds in the past.” A good leader sets up systems that ensure the leader hears things people don’t want him or her to hear.)

BuzzFeed News, “Ronan Farrow Said Hillary Clinton’s Lack Of Support During His Weinstein Reporting Was A ‘Gut Punch,’” Oct. 15, 2019


“She certainly did not cry,” wrote former NBC host Matt Lauer disputing a story in Ronan Farrow’s book, “Catch and Kill.” The book recounted former NBC staff member Brooke Nevils’ claim that Lauer raped her and forced her into multiple sex acts in a hotel room. In a public letter, Lauer disputed the details of the alleged encounter/attack and claimed it was consensual. (Again, we have no “could-have-said” advice. Nevils also asserted, “It was nonconsensual in the sense that I was too drunk to consent,” which further indicts Lauer.)

Daily Beast, “Matt Lauer Blames His Accuser: ‘She Certainly Did Not Cry,’” Oct. 10, 2019

“I’m not a dirty player,” said Oakland Raiders Linebacker Vontaze Burfict, rebutting a storm of criticism from his most recent helmet-to-helmet hit on Indianapolis Colts Tight End Jack Doyle, which garnered Burfict a suspension. (Burfict proclaimed that football is a tough physical game and, “I can’t go in there playing patty-cake.” He’s right, but USA Today Columnist Nancy Armour was also right when she wrote that the NFL’s new standards to minimize injuries, and particularly, concussions, only work if players observe them.)

USA Today, “Opinion: Suspending Raiders' Vontaze Burfict for rest of NFL season doesn't go far enough,” Sept. 30, 2019

“I am not a monster,” wrote a woman who aborted her in-utero baby after learning at a 20-week appointment that her child had developed with severe brain abnormalities. (We agree that she is not a “monster,” and we encourage readers to read her entire piece where it’s clear she agonized over whether to end her pregnancy. Our critique? Lyndsay Weking-Yip should have framed her position using a positive statement rather than anchoring her story with a negative, and therefore dominant, word like “monster.”)

The New York Times, “I Had a Late-Term Abortion. I Am Not a Monster,” Oct. 19, 2019

“He didn’t use that lectern as a crutch or anything,” said Filmmaker Michael Moore when defending Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders’ performance at his first rally since his Oct. 1 heart attack. (This was the wrong thing to say because, previously, no one thought of the podium as a crutch. Now, everyone will closely watch Sanders’ use of the lectern as an indicator of his physical health.)

Washington Examiner, “‘He didn’t use that lectern as a crutch’: Michael Moore asserts Bernie Sanders not too old,” Oct. 22, 2019

“I never assaulted anyone in my life, especially my wife,” said a very angry Don McLean, rebutting sensational charges by his ex-wife, Patrisha, that he was abusive and violent. (This is a classic he-said-she-said situation, but the writer of the iconic song “American Pie” didn’t do himself any favors by describing three misdemeanor charges as “about the same as a speeding ticket” and then bragging, “My career has been helped by this. I am more famous, and I have more work than I have ever had.” When a longstanding relationship falls apart and spurs recriminations, the smart behavior is regret and humility.)

The New York Times, “In Maine, a Celebrity Domestic Violence Case Continues to Send Out Ripples,” Oct. 20, 2019

“Tulsi Gabbard didn’t deny being a Russian asset,” was the conclusion of an MSNBC panel and the headline on reports about the Democratic debate. (The controversy originated with Hillary Clinton’s musing that the Russians are “grooming” Gabbard to be a third-party candidate. During a podcast interview Clinton said, I'm not making any predictions, but I think they've got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate. She's the favorite of the Russians." However, after her comment drew criticism from Democrats and Republicans, a Clinton spokesman claimed she was instead talking about “Republicans.” This phrase is memorable and has continued to make the rounds; see a similar BIMBO comment in the headline of this opinion piece: “Krystal Ball defends praise of Yang: I am not ‘a Russian plant.’”)

Twitter, “MCNBC panel: Tulsi Gabbard didn’t deny being a Russian asset,” Oct. 19, 2019

“I’ve never given a rat’s a** about being a Republican,” asserted Jonah Goldberg about founding a new website, The Dispatch, as a forum for Republicans who criticize President Trump. (Goldberg intends for The Dispatch to compete with The Bulwark, launched by Weekly Standard Co-Founder Bill Kristol and Conservative commentator Charlie Skyes. A self-described Trump-skeptic, Goldberg tried to paint himself as a principled conservative, saying, “being conservative means not changing your positions based on one politician.” However, there is also the concept of trying to get something done, and like it or not, Trump is president and has the power and inclination to do a number of things conservatives should value.”)

Politico, “Trump critics on the right join the media wars,” Oct. 8, 2019

“My nose is not a heat-seeking missile for the president’s backside,” said Former Rep. Charlie Dent explaining why he publicly criticized President Trump’s conversation with Ukrainian officials. (This statement is highly quotable and, not surprisingly, it made the headline.)

Fox News, “Former GOP congressman: ‘My nose is not a heat-seeking missile for the president’s backside,’” Oct. 23, 2019


“… taxes are sort of a toxic word,” said Sen. Ben Cardin while urging Democratic Presidential Candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren to follow Sen. Bernie Sanders’ lead and admit that taxes on the middle class will rise to pay for the “Medicare for All” plan. (“Taxes” is indeed a memorable and “toxic” word, and Warren intensified the “Medicare for All” debate by refusing multiple times to answer related “yes” or “no” questions such as, “Will taxes on the middle class go up?” We predict questions about this topic will remain consistent throughout the coming months.)

The Hill, “Senate Democrats want Warren to talk costs on ‘Medicare for All,’” Oct. 19, 2019

“Look, I don’t have a beef with billionaires …,” said Democratic Presidential Candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren during the debate in Ohio. Warren asserted it is “billionaires” who will incur the costs of her multi-trillion-dollar plans for free stuff. She drew criticism from other candidates who described her ideas as “punitive,” to which she responded, “I’m really shocked at the notion that anyone thinks I’m punitive.” (This deserves a new award in memory of Captain Louis Renault from “Casablanca” who is “shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”)

Fox Business, “Warren defends against ‘beef with billionaires’ as Dems debate soak the rich tax plans,” Oct. 16, 2019


An African-American high school security guard was fired for using the “N-word” during an interaction with a student. The trouble was, he used the word only to tell the student who first called him the “N-word” not to call him that and to explain to the student why the word is offensive. The school’s board has what it calls a “zero-tolerance policy on employees saying racial slurs,” which apparently means you can’t explain words or use common sense. (Fortunately, the Madison teachers union filed a grievance with the district on the security guard’s behalf. The incident proved a teaching moment on many levels.)

ABC News, “Wisconsin students walk out to protest racial slur firing,” Oct. 18, 2019


Accounting firm Ernst & Young received sharp criticism for providing a seminar from consultant Marsha Clark in attempt to teach its female executives “how to grow their networks, negotiate and ‘build stronger, high-performing teams.’” One former training attendee claimed “Power-Presence-Purpose or PPP” participants received a document that included advice such as “Don’t flaunt your body – sexuality scrambles the mind (for men and women).” The former training attendee also claimed women were advised not to “be too aggressive or outspoken” or “directly confront men in meetings, because men perceive this as threatening.” Additionally, Women’s brains absorb information like pancakes soak up syrup so it’s hard for them to focus, the attendees were told. Men’s brains are more like waffles. They’re better able to focus because the information collects in each little waffle square.” (The article conflated advice on how to look professional with complaints from the Me Too movement. Apparently, Clark also recommended against wearing short skirts and suggested women have a “good haircut” and “manicured nails.” Although we disagree with Clark’s alleged approach, we’re not sure what took a day and a half to advise women who want to advance that they need to dress appropriately – or why that was the focus of the training.)

HuffPost, “Women At Ernst & Young Instructed On How To Dress, Act Nicely Around Men,” Oct. 21, 2019


“High velocity” is how we refer to local stories that spread from national to international, seemingly, at the speed of light. An example from Dallas: a white, female police officer, Amber Guyger, coming home from a grueling double shift in the early morning hours, went to the wrong apartment and shot and killed that apartment’s tenant who was a black male. She was tried and convicted of murder in an emotionally and politically-charged trial. At the end of the trial, after the sentencing, the victim’s brother publicly forgave Guyger and gave her a hug. That motivated the judge, Tammy Kemp, to give Guyger a hug and, when she learned that Guyger didn’t have a Bible, the judge gave her one. (The exchange and the visual of the hug between the victim’s brother and Guyger went viral internationally within hours. There is an additional lesson: District Attorney John Creuzot sat for a lengthy media interview about the case that aired the night before the trial. Judge Kemp’s reaction to the defense telling her about the interview was caught on video, became a meme and shared widely on social media. After the trial, she commented, “I’m coming to realize my facial expressions are much more expressive than I ever imagined.” Right on, Judge Kemp!)

The Dallas Morning News, “From the bench, Judge Tammy Kemp saw Amber Guyger ‘shrinking’ after conviction for killing Botham Jean,” Oct. 8, 2019

The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

BIMBO Nominees For October 2019

  • Bimbo
  • October 1, 2019
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image c

We have BIMBO comments from a former New York Times editor, former South Carolina Governor (and, apparently, Republican candidate for president) Mark Sanford, Cory Booker’s campaign manager plus Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Examples of the Power of Words from a feud between a complaining employee and the owner of a restaurant, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and an example of how an industry’s use of words can reveal a change in business priorities. An analysis of Juul Labs Inc.’s troubles showed how words travel and how “good words” can cause major problems (hint: when they aren’t true). Sen. Elizabeth Warren provided an example of why it’s a mistake to ignore a framing question, and an international example of the Wrong Thing To Say – in French. (Mon Dieu!) Highly-quotable lines from an ally of Venezuelan Dictator Maduro and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as well as an example of body language from another UK leader.


“Since I’m neither crazy, irresponsible nor dangerous, I would appreciate the opportunity to counter the caricature,” tweeted Marianne Williamson, Democratic presidential candidate. (Of course, she’s creating the caricature herself. In another tweet she wrote, “Millions of us seeing Dorian turn away from land is not a wacky idea; it is a creative use of the power of the mind.” She retracted her previous antivaccine comments, but she’s being ridiculed by fellow liberals and progressives, and complained, “I know this sounds naïve, but I didn’t think the left was so mean. I didn’t think the left lied like this.” Welcome to 2019 and politics, Marianne.)

Twitter, Sept. 4, 2019


“… WE ARE NOT TERRORISTS,” tweeted NRA members on the organization’s Twitter feed after the city of San Francisco declared the NRA “a domestic terrorist organization.” (Leaving aside the propriety or wisdom of the city’s action, the BIMBO denial only served to reinforce the declaration. NRA members should have said, “We’re patriots.” Not surprisingly, the negative phrase made the headline.)

The Guardian, “NRA sues San Francisco for declaring group a ‘domestic terrorist organization,’” Sept. 10, 2019

“Neither the fictional character Joker, nor the film, is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind,” said Warner Brothers in a statement after controversy erupted about the film “Joker.” Families who lost loved ones in previous mass shootings (including the shooting inside an Aurora, Colorado movie theatre during another Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises”) complained the film could trigger trauma. (We sympathize with the victims, but we agree with Joaquin Phoenix, the film’s star, who responded, If you have somebody who has that level of emotional disturbance, I think that they can find fuel anywhere.”)

CBS, “Warner Bros. says ‘Joker’ is not an endorsement of violence,” Sept.25, 2019

“There is no evidence it was fiction,” said former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson defending the paper’s publication of a sensational story about college-aged Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh allegedly exposing himself to a female Yale classmate at a dorm party. The New York Times left out the critical fact that the story was hearsay from someone who didn’t actually witness the incident and that the supposed victim declined to be interviewed and said she didn’t recall the incident. Over a day after publishing the story, The New York Times updated the article with the following editor’s note: "The female student declined to be interviewed and friends say she does not recall the episode." (Abramson’s comment is particularly dangerous because the standard for journalism should be “There was evidence it actually happened.” “Evidence” is not the same thing as an allegation. Shame on The New York Times.)

Washington Examiner, “‘No evidence it was fiction’: Ex-New York Times editor defends botched Kavanaugh story,” Sept. 18, 2019

“This isn’t about weakening the president or electing Democrats,” said former South Carolina governor and congressman Mark Sanford announcing he would run for the Republican nomination for president against President Trump. (Classic BIMBO. Of course, this is what it’s about. Sanford should instead be focused on reestablishing his own credibility. He supposedly went for a hike along the Appalachian Trail but was really in Argentina cheating on his wife. He’s a smart guy, and wish him well, but this isn’t the path.)

USA Today, “Former SC congressman Mark Sanford announces GOP presidential bid against Trump,” Sept. 9, 2019

“I want to be clear: This isn’t an end-of-quarter stunt …,” wrote Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker’s campaign manager, Addisu Demissie, in a memo to staff emphasizing the desperate need for additional fundraising. Demissie emphasized the campaign would have no “legitimate long-term path forward” if it proved incapable of raising nearly $2 million in 10 days. (Again, a classic BIMBO. Of course, that’s exactly what the plea was – a “stunt.” We’ll check to see if it works.)

The Daily Wire, “Cory Booker’s Campaign is On Life Support,” Sept. 21, 2019

“Inever, ever intentionally misled the FBI inspection division, the office of the inspector general, or any director of the FBI, ever …,” said former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe in attempt to stave off indictment for lying to the Justice Department’s inspector general about a variety of topics including leaks to the media. The Justice Department’s inspector general said McCabe displayed a “lack of candor” when responding to questions that were part of the department’s investigation regarding McCabe’s leaks to the media. (“Lack of candor” is what the rest of us poor schlubs would call “lying.” This is a classic lawyer hedge. He misled the department, it just wasn’t “intentional.”)

Liberty Headlines, “Obama Flunkies Vow to Defend McCabe if He’s Indicted,” Sept. 19, 2019

“This is not just an office with no real substance,” said Deborah Lauter, the new executive director of the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes in New York City. (A focus on “hate crimes” is going to find – guess what? – more hate crimes. Hopefully they will find a way to prevent them as well. We believe the city’s resources would be better spent encouraging civility and developing friendships.)

The New York Times, “White Supremacists Targeted Her. Now She’s Fighting Hate Crime,” Sept. 6, 2019


 “I didn’t consider it racist at the time …,” said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after multiple pictures of him in costume and brownface came to light. (We’re making a plea to reserve the charge “racist” for acts, words and policies that are truly racist. These incidents tap into the history, frequently sad and discriminatory, of performers in blackface while genuine people of color were barred from roles, accommodations, etc. They show bad taste and insensitivity. Wearing brownface makeup to a party is bad, but it’s not the same thing as racism.)

TIME, “Justin Trudeau Wore Brownface at 2001 ‘Arabian Nights’ Party While He Taught at a Private School,” Sept. 19, 2019

The Wall Street Journal and financial research firm Sentieo Inc. analyzed the earnings-call transcripts of 40 public U.S. shale companies and found that the fracking industry’s shift in business priorities has resulted in a shift in the language its top executives use to communicate with investors. For example, in 2015 shale executives used the promise to “ramp up” production, but today this phrase has largely been replaced by a promise to deliver “free cash flow” to investors. (We’re particularly attracted to the newly-popular buzzwords “capital discipline” and “live within cash flow.” Now, can we pray this philosophy will be adopted by our federal government?)

The Wall Street Journal, “Fracking Buzzwords Evolve, From ‘Ramp Up’ to ‘Capital Discipline,’” Sept. 9, 2019

Think before you speak is the lesson for restauranteur Bob Sinnott after a disgruntled employee posted a negative review on one of Toasted Coffee + Kitchen’s social media sites, calling it “dirty” and “overpriced.” Sinnott went ballistic and responded, describing the employee as a “total nut job” and a “spaced-out loser.” He also suggested that she “go do some drugs and traipse through the woods.” The staff member shot back, calling him “sexist” and “delusional,” among other choice words. Eventually they both ran out of energy and insults, but not before they attracted the attention of the local paper’s restaurant critic, who decimated Sinnott in his review. (Moral? Remember when your mother said, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything.”)

Fort Worth Weekly, “Toasted Gets Roasted [Updated],” Sept. 18, 2019

Juul Labs Inc. representatives were heard describing e-cigarettes to kids in a school as “totally safe.” This is an example of how words matter. Words travel from person to person, and your message needs to be true. The first strategic decision when communicating is always, “who’s my audience?” Communication can have very real results. Not only are the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission investigating Juul’s marketing practices, but also CEO Kevin Burns stepped down due to the current controversies. Juul even voluntarily stopped selling in bricks-and-mortar stores the flavors that health officials say appeal most to young people. (Whew. Do you still think communication is a soft skill?)

The Wall Street Journal, “FDA Warns Juul About Marketing Products as Safer than Cigarettes,” Sept. 9, 2019


“Are you going to be raising the middle-class taxes?” asked Stephen Colbert of Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. This is a classic framing question that appears to demand a “yes” or “no” response. Warren ducked the question by responding, “costs are going to go up for the wealthiest Americans, for big corporations …” Colbert had none of it, and repeated, “But will their taxes go up?” Again, Warren ducked, “But here’s the thing.” Again, Colbert wasn’t buying it. He interrupted her and said, “But here’s the thing …” and suggested she admit she plans to raise taxes and defend her position. (We’re not going to advise Warren about how to handle this genre, only point out that when the listener perceives a speaker is ignoring and ducking a question, the listener jumps to the damaging conclusion.)

The Hill, “Warren comes under new pressure over Medicare for All and higher taxes,” Sept. 23, 2019


Our BIMBO Memo attracts submissions from around the globe. From our Paris correspondent, an example from Sibeth Ndiaye, French government spokeswoman appointed by President Emmanuel Macron. An example of the “Wrong Thing To Say” is her comment as Paris faced another huge protest aimed at shutting down the entire public transportation system, making it impossible for locals to get anywhere. In attempt to express sympathy for those who will have to deal with the repercussions of the strike, Ndiaye said, “Tomorrow morning, I will use my company car as every day.” She did add, “… I will be with all the Parisians who will have a hard time in the corridors of the subway.” Perhaps emotionally but not physically... What should she have said? The “… I will be with all the Parisians …” line was fine. She should have been with them, not lording it over them in her private car.

Ouest-France, “Vendredi noir à la RATP. Quand Sibeth Ndiaye dérape avec sa voiture de fonction,” Sept. 13, 2019


“This is anarchy in the bad sense of the word,” said Eduardo Samán, the former price-controls czar under Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro(who is still a supporter of the revolution). Is there a good sense of the word? The country is losing tens of thousands of citizens, commerce has collapsed, shelves are bare and remittances sent from relatives abroad are among the only sustenance keeping people from starving. According to the National Assembly, the regime’s effort to print less money combined with its lack of enforcement of price controls has caused inflation to fall from a peak 12-month rate of 2.6 million percent in January to 135,000% in August.” 135,000% percent? How is that possible?

The Wall Street Journal, “Venezuela Quietly Loosens Grip on Market, Tempering Economic Crisis,” Sept. 17, 2019

“I’d rather be dead in a ditch,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the midst of the controversy about whether to seek another Brexit delay. (After trying to suspend Parliament, introducing us to the word “prorogue,”a revolt of his own members and a decision by the United Kingdom’s supreme court that his attempted action was illegal, the Prime Minister may get his wish.)

Seeking Alpha, “Not a day goes by without Brexit drama,” Sept. 6, 2019


As Members of Parliament shouted and debated about Brexit, Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the House of Commons, listened while sprawled across several seats. It must have been an exhausting experience but the Labour MP, Anna Turley, criticized him as the “physical embodiment of arrogance, entitlement, disrespect and contempt for our parliament.” Ouch.

The Guardian, “‘Sit up!’ - Jason Rees-Mogg under fire for slouching in Commons,” Sept. 3, 2019


“We’re already seeing several brands abandoning the use of influencers with millions of followers. They’re betting instead on microinfluencers with several thousands of followers …,” said expert Elton Morimitsu commenting on cosmetics industry trends. (This is an important observation and one we enthusiastically recommend because microinfluencers lend a more authentic and credible voice to promoting a brand. However, a company’s own employees, customers and other partners should be enlisted first as ambassadors. They’re likely to speak with the most credibility and enthusiasm. We’re late getting this article onto your radar screen, but it’s a powerful example.)

Bloomberg Businessweek,“Brazil’s Natura Wants to Take Rainforest Chic Global With Avon,” July 31, 2019

English majors of the world exult! The New York Times’s David Deming wrote: According to a 2018 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the three attributes of college graduates that employers considered most important were written communication, problem-solving and the ability to work in a team. Quantitative and technical skills both made the top 10, alongside other ‘soft’ skills like initiative, verbal communication and leadership.” (Yes! I tell my graduate MBA students at the SMU Cox School of Business that whatever industry they are in, whatever function they hold, they’re in the communication business.)

The New York Times, “In the Salary Race, Engineers Sprint but English Majors Endure,” Sept. 20, 2019


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

Let’s Acknowledge Women Have More Challenges than Men in Communication

  • Trends
  • September 17, 2019
  • by Merrie Spaeth


Have you ever heard an expert talking about a topic and thought, “That’s right on target but … it’s missing one important component”? 

Doctoral Fellow Dana Kanze’s TED Talk, “The real reason female entrepreneurs get less funding,” shared her analysis of why the amount of venture capital (VC) funding women receive is so disproportionate (2 percent) to their market share as company founders (38 percent of US companies). Her research is fascinating. Let’s examine Kanze’s recommendations and see how they can be improved with some advanced communication techniques.  

Kanze began her research after her own experience raising money. Her first assumption was that women weren’t as good as men at presenting, but when she videoed women participating in a funding competition called TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield (TechCrunch), she found their presentations were just as good as those of men. Next, she looked at whether male VCs appeared more favorable to men and women VCs to women. She found both men and women VCs looked at men differently–and more favorably–than women.  

The differentiation came during the six-minute question-and-answer period following each prospective pitch that involves what’s called “prevention” versus “promotion” questions. “Prevention”-styled questions can be basically framed as “What do you see that could go wrong?” while “promotion” questions sound like “Where do you see huge opportunities for a payoff?” Women were assumed to be more cautious, more conservative, less likely to take risks–and taking risks with the potential for significant gain is what VCs are looking for.  

Even more damaging than the assumptions and how the questions were framed, women tended to adapt to the parameters of the question. Women got “prevention” questions and responded as preventers. Men got “promotion” questions and responded much more expansively. In other words, the questions gave the men another opportunity to promote their idea and their expectation of success.  

So far, so good, and Kanze’s TED Talk deserves your attention beyond my summary here. Her advice to women is to avoid the trap by reframing prevention questions into promotion ones. 

And that’s where I got concerned. Political consultants polluted communication decades ago by telling clients, “Ignore the question and say what you’re there to say.” Modern audiences are keenly tuned in to when someone ignores a question; and we don’t like it. Another popular strategy was to answer the question and “bridge” to your point. We never liked that approach because most of our clients could never get across the bridge. They knew too much about the topic of the question.  

Here’s my formula and strategy for handling the Q&A and for viewing the two parts of the presentation together. Every question deserves an Acknowledgment PhraseSM, a short phrase which says, “I heard you” but is quite different from an answer. People who assign themselves the role of answering a question tend to accept and limit themselves to the framing, words and topic of the question–just as Kanze found with the women in her research.  

We make our living teaching people to ask before any Q&A, “Who do I want to influence? And how do I influence what they hear, believe and remember?” The fascinating thing about acknowledging a question is that no matter how the question is framed, the listener accepts any substitute phrase.  

We use an extensive library of video examples to teach our methodology, and one of my favorite examples of an interviewee acknowledging a question is a clip of a TV anchor who interviewed the jury consultant for O.J. Simpson’s sensational murder trial. The anchor instructed the consultant to answer a string of questions as “true” or “false,” starting with an assumption that they were going to find a jury pool that hadn’t heard about the alleged murders and formed an opinion. Her first response was, “I think that’s an impossibility.” Three more true/false questions followed about whether the defense preferred women to men, younger people to older people and blacks to whites. Her response to each was, “Not necessarily.” We have tested this example before countless focus groups to ask if they felt the jury consultant ignored the question and whether or not they believed she was rude. The virtually unanimous response has been that she responded to the questions politely, and it was perfectly OK for her to choose a phrase other than “true” or “false” to respond to the reporter’s series of questions. 

Every presentation should have a small number of what we call headlines. I like the term “headline” better than key messages, which tend to get very wordy. Basically, these are the verbal soundbites the speaker wants the listener to remember. The Q&A period is an opportunity to reprise the headlines. This approach also forces the presenter to identify the two or three things she wants the listeners–the VCs in this case–to remember. The test I use is to ask, when your listener sees someone who wasn’t present and that person asks what you said, can the listener recall and pass on your main point? Frequently, the clients who come to us for coaching try to cover too much, and their delivery may be energetic, but it lacks clear headlines set off by emphatic pauses, which help drive memory.  

Responses are easiest to hear when they follow a clear and coherent structure. We define this as beginning with a headline followed by informational proof points (facts and statistics making sure that statistics are made verbally visual) and then examples, stories or third-party quotes. There’s a subtle but very important difference. 

As an example, Kanze said that if she were asked a question about how her company can defend her initial tiny market share, she would reply: “We’re playing in such a large and fast-growing market that’s bound to attract new entrants. We plan to take increasing share in this market by leveraging out start-up’s unique assets.” 

She’s right that this effectively reframes the topic. It can be improved with an Acknowledgment PhraseSM like, “Let me put that in perspective,” moving right to the headline, “Our strategy is to build our market share,” followed by a concise proof point, “Let me give you an example,” or even an enhanced proof point, “Let me give you an example I think you’ll find compelling.” 

Having seen countless presentations followed by a Q&A session, I think what’s happening is that as the apparently well-constructed and rehearsed pitch presentation concludes, women snap back into the mindset, “now I’m finished” and they wait for the questions. Even reframing a question still leaves the woman respondent on the topic of the question, though the Q&A session should be designed to reprise and reinforce one or two key headlines from her pitch. In the example here, the issue of market share may not be relevant at all. An even more aggressive response to the same question might be, “Let me put that in perspective. Right now, we’re in first-mover position and we’re confident with additional resources–which is why we’re here pitching you–this is a unique opportunity for those who partner with us.”    

Three cheers for Dana Kanze. May she continue her groundbreaking research and share it with us. And may this research serve as the foundation for women to increase their mastery of evermore advanced communication skills.

Book Review: The 10 Laws of Trust

  • Trends
  • September 9, 2019
  • by Merrie Spaeth


Trust is a major buzz word these days. Joel Peterson, chairman of JetBlue Airways and successful serial investor, wrote “The 10 Laws of Trust” just in time to contribute to the discussion. No one is against trust, but rarely does anyone provide a workable definition about what it means, how to define it or how to create an enterprise based on trust. Peterson’s book is short, highly-readable and includes an introduction from Stephen Covey’s son, who is now running the Covey empire. 

The chapters provide questions, which the truly brave could use to gauge how well they’re actually doing. While the book urges a focus on the positive, it also includes a frank discussion of betrayal – what happens when someone trusted shatters the relationship (a topic worthy of any soap opera) – and recommendations for how to survive betrayal and rebuild trust. 

I was particularly drawn to the book because in Chapter 6, Peterson points out, “To build and maintain trust, a leader must communicate.” Now that’s something we could have said! 

BIMBO Nominees For September 2019

  • Bimbo
  • September 3, 2019
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image b

What a month! BIMBOs from the IRS’s National Taxpayer Advocate, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the owner of a company that tracks its workers’ every move (scary), a world-famous canoe athlete and a lawyer for a plaintiff suing CNN’s Don Lemon. You’ll also read campaign-related BIMBO comments and gaffes from Former Vice President Joe Biden. This month, the category “Wrong Thing to Say” has been updated to “Really, Really Wrong Thing to Say.”


“I am not an extremist,” said Jim Watkins, owner and publisher of online forum 8chan, which has made international news as the site where mass shooters from El Paso, Texas, and Christchurch, New Zealand published hate-filled manifestos promoting white supremacy. (Watkins apparently missed how damaging the word “extremist” is, dating back to Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, in which he tanked on the quote, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.” No matter. By providing a forum for shooters, Watkins promotes extremism.)

The Wall Street Journal, “8chan Owner: ‘I Am Not an Extremist,’” Aug. 9, 2019


“These aren’t raids,” claimed Mark Morgan, acting customs and border protection commissioner, after the mass immigration actions in Mississippi. (We feel for Morgan; we know he’s enforcing the law. Missing from most coverage were the lengths his officers went to ensure children wouldn’t be without both parents, allowing people arrested time to make phone calls and arrange childcare. We agree with Morgan’s statement, “I think words matter.” They do, but no matter how you slice it, these were raids. From a communication strategy perspective, Morgan would have been better off not protesting the word “raid” and, instead, using his quotes to bring attention to the actions that show humane treatment and common sense. As so often happens, the denial became the headline.)

The Washington Post, “Acting Border Patrol chief on Mississippi ICE raids: ‘These aren’t raids,’” Aug. 11, 2019

“Donald Trump Is Not a Sinister Genius,” was the headline of Ross Douthat’s column in the New York Times. (Technically, it’s a headline not a comment or quote, but it’s too good to pass up. The title speaks for itself.)

The New York Times, “Donald Trump Is Not a Sinister Genius,” Aug. 3, 2019

“We are not the enemy of the people,” said Susan Goldberg, editor in chief of National Geographic, during an interview on “The Aaron Harber Show” about the future of journalism. (The amazing thing is this unfortunate quote was included in a press release the show distributed. Surely the venerable National Geographic can find competent PR help. The intent of the interview, announced in its title, was for Goldberg to share her concerns about the lack of public confidence in the media. We think she missed the point that the public has lost confidence because too much of the media seems motivated by political ideology. The rest of her language was spot on, and we wish her well: “If people can’t trust what they read, I don’t know how people are going to make informed decisions.”)

The Aaron Harber Show “NatGeo's Susan Goldberg: Steering a Legacy Journalism Brand to Serve a Mistrusting & Confused Public,” Aug. 9, 2019

“My role is not to be a shill for the IRS,” wrote National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson. (This is a must-read piece for anyone with an ingrained hatred for the IRS. We had never heard of the position of National Taxpayer Advocate, and we’d like to see many more!)

The Wall Street Journal, “'My Role is Not to Be a Shill for the IRS,'” Aug. 7, 2019

“I don’t think there ever was any hatchet (to bury),” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the feud with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Pelosi added, “I don’t think we have that many differences,” which is undoubtedly music to the ears of the Republicans. (We would not dare to give the speaker advice. She knows just what she’s doing, and her success speaks for itself. Note the “hatchet” line made the headline. Speaker Pelosi also had an interesting denial when asked about the growing number of Democrats now calling for impeachment, an action with which she has strongly disagreed. However, she said, “Their advocacy for impeachment only gives me leverage. I have no complaint with what they are doing.”)

Politico, “Pelosi: There was never ‘any hatchet’ to bury with Ocasio-Cortez,” July 26, 2019

“We’re not the Big Brother type,” claimed Brian Dauer when describing how his company, Ship Sticks, installed software totrack the websites its workers visit on a minute-by-minute basis and take remote screen shots of workers’ computers. (The goal is to measure workers’ productivity, but this is exactly what “Big Brother” refers to—the capacity to watch you without you knowing.)

The Wall Street Journal, “Three hours of work a day? You’re not fooling anyone,” July 20, 2019

“I have done absolutely nothing wrong and I have nothing to hide,” said an emotional Laurence Vincent-Lapointe, one of Canada’s and the world’s top canoe athletes. Vincent-Lapointe was provisionally suspended for a doping violation, just as women’s sprint canoe is set to make its debut in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (This is a classic denial, and she followed it with a lengthy and emotional statement professing her commitment to integrity. She should have stuck with, “I am an honest and clean athlete.”)

The Globe and Mail, “Top Canadian canoeist Laurence Vincent-Lapointe suspended for doping violation,” Aug. 19, 2019

“The assertion that Mr. Hice would put himself through the painful process of filing a sexual assault lawsuit against his attacker all because he doesn’t like a cable TV station is ludicrous,” said an attorney for Dustin Hice, a bartender in the Hamptons. Hice filed suit against CNN host Don Lemon, accusing him of assault and making lewd remarks to him at a bar. (Whereas CNN has made it a practice of automatically believing women when they allege sexual harassment or abuse, apparently the same standard does not apply equally to men. CNN attacked Hice as a critic of the network and suggested that Hice had demanded money from Lemon. Hice’s lawyer’s response was too long and too convoluted. The lawyer should have noted that CNN previously said it always believes the accuser. What’s happened to the commitment of gender equity?)

The Hill, “CNN’s Don Lemon sued by Hamptons bartender over alleged assault,” Aug. 13, 2019


“Williamson is not a dingbat interloper in the 2020 Democratic debates,” wrote Kirsten Powers, USA Today opinion columnist, defending Marianne Williamson, a presidential candidate she described as a friend. (Powers could use some advice about not repeating negatives. In her column, she also noted that the Daily Beast called Williamson a “dangerous wacko” and a well-known Democratic strategist said Williamson provides “woo-woo talk.” Plus, she listed a few more highly quotable and unflattering descriptions.)

USA Today, “Don’t mock Marianne Williamson, Democrats need her spiritual politics in dark Trump Era,” July 31, 2019

“Poor kids are just as bright and talented, as white kids,” said presidential candidate Joe Biden at an appearance in Idaho. (He caught himself immediately and corrected himself adding, “Wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids, no I really mean it, think about how we think about it.” We accept the campaign’s explanation that Biden “misspoke,” but it was guaranteed to make headlines because the former vice president has made so many slips. In another instance, Biden said, “… what’s not to like about Vermont in terms of the beauty of it?” The problem? He was speaking in Keene, New Hampshire. To make matters worse, during the same trip, Biden emphasized, “I want to be clear, I’m not going nuts,” while struggling to remember where he had given another speech just hours before at Dartmouth College.

Bloomberg, “Biden in Iowa Says ‘Poor Kids’ Are Just as Smart as ‘White Kids,’” Aug. 8, 2019

Meanwhile, brain surgeon Dr. Neal Kassell, who previously treated Former Vice President Joe Biden for brain aneurysms and has monitored him since said Biden had, “No brain damage…There was no damage whatsoever.” (This guy was no help whatsoever. He raised an issue that no one had mentioned. He should have stuck to “He is every bit as sharp as he was 31 years ago.”)

Fox News, “Joe Biden’s neurosurgeon defends former VP’s brain amid concerns about mental acuity,” Aug. 21, 2019

A major BIMBO comment from Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, brother of presidential candidate Julián Castro, who published the names and business interests of his own constituents who had contributed to President Trump’s campaign, accusing them of “fueling a campaign of hate” and of provoking the mass shooter in El Paso, Texas. Castro insisted he wasn’t intending to provoke harassment or protests of the individuals and their companies. (This was pathetically disingenuous. Castro and his defenders pointed out the information is public, but he clearly intended to make the donors targets. Some of the donors reported receiving threatening calls and messages; others reported receiving positive reinforcement and supportive messages from local community members. We think it’s a dangerous trend.)

The Hill, “Castro takes heat as outed Trump donors swing back,” Aug. 10, 2019


“(Jeffrey Epstein) had the misfortune to be a wealthy man in the #metoo era,” said one of Epstein’s lawyers, Marc Fernich, criticizing “overzealous prosecutors” and “pandering politicians” for Epstein’s legal troubles. (Wow! Talk about being off base.)

NBC, “Jeffrey Epstein Not on Suicide Watch When He Died: Sources,” Aug. 10, 2019

“What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled out anyone who was a product of rape or incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that?” said veteran Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, defending legislation prohibiting abortion with no exception for rape or incest. (He doesn’t just have a tin ear, he has no ears at all. This is a top-ten dumb thing to say. Defending rape and incest reveals no understanding at all of the trauma those acts cause for women.)

The Hill, “King incites furor with abortion, rape and incest remarks,” Aug. 14, 2019

“(Sen. Mike Johnston) does not plan to take away private insurance,” said Spokeswoman Rachel Petri. She added that Johnston supports “Medicare for all who want it.” (“Medicare for all” exemplifies the debate over what “Medicare for all” actually means and what it would do to the 170 million Americans who currently have health insurance through their employer or other plans. We think the headline on the article sums up the issue.)

The Hill, “‘Medicare for All’ complicates Democrats’ pitch to retake Senate,” Aug. 8, 2019

“I’m glad he’s dead,” said HBO host Bill Maher about the death of 79-year-old conservative billionaire David Koch. Maher added, “I hope the end was painful.” These have to be the most despicable comments of the month, if not the year. On an episode of his show, “Real Time with Bill Maher,” he blasted the deceased Koch brother with a series of off-color jokes. “Yesterday, David Koch, of the zillionaire Koch brothers, died of prostate cancer. I guess I'm going to have to reevaluate my low opinion of prostate cancer." (Maher’s venom was directed at David Koch’s long-time support of libertarian and conservative causes. While he’s entitled to his opinion, Maher missed entirely the principled reasons people might support limited government, respect for the constitution and free enterprise. In addition, David Koch gave hundreds of millions of dollars to charitable institutions, including major museums and health care organizations. What could be worse than Maher’s cruelty? That his audience laughed. Shame on them.)

Newsweek, “Bill Maher on David Koch’s Death: ‘I hope the end was painful,’” Aug. 24, 2019


“I know many of them are cheating, and that’s just kind of the way life is,” said David Roth who tutors students and operates Though his website contains a disclaimer that his work shouldn’t be used for a grade, he’s aware that students turn his work in as their own. (We have no recommendations for what he could have said except “No” to his customers. But at least he gets points for honesty.)

The Wall Street Journal, “Schools Fight Websites That Sell Homework Help,” Aug. 12, 2019


“She was calling Trump a racist long before it was popular,” wrote reporter Jason Johnson about Sen. Kamala Harris in his story ranking Democratic presidential candidates based on their campaigns’ “Black Power.” (This fits into the “faint praise” category. Johnson’s review also looked positively on Harris for keeping “… an avowed neo-Nazi in prison for a crime he didn’t commit because she’s not about second chances for bigots...” Apparently, she also isn’t in favor of due process.)

The Root, “Beto Goes Blue, Warren Wilts and Harris Goes O.G. AG: 2020 Presidential Black Power Rankings, Week 6,” Aug. 9, 2019


French politician Eric Woerth tweeted a picture of himself apparently climbing a wall of sheer ice, a notable feat. After, people noticed in the background of the photo two hikers walking peacefully along at a 90-degree angle, perpendicular to the face of the flat rock. That prompted real ice climbers to note that in the picture Woerth only has one ice pick and one of the straps of his backpack hangs horizontal, both of which are impossible had he truly been climbing. The conclusion? He posed on a floor of ice trying to make himself look heroic. (Another note: Worth was trying for a political comeback, but the French media immediately criticized his authenticity. Worth left office in 2010 because of an investigation over alleged conflict of interest.)

Twitter, Aug. 12, 2019


“The bedbugs are a metaphor. The bedbugs are Bret Stephens,” tweeted David Karpf, professor of Strategic Political Communication at George Washington University in reference to New York Times Columnist Bret Stephens. (After Karpf referred to Stephens as a “bedbug,” Stephens emailed Karpf a protest cloaked in civil language but likely designed to get Karpf in trouble. How? He copied the provost of George Washington University. This email was designed to raise the issue and darkly hint that the New York Times would be watching.)

Fast Forward, “Here’s Why The Professor Who Called Bret Stephens A Bed Bug Would Do It Again,” Aug. 27, 2019


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

BIMBO Nominees For August 2019

  • Bimbo
  • August 1, 2019
  • by Spaeth Communications


BIMBOs from a general nominated for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a Colorado state representative on the state’s experience with legal pot, the Association of National Advertisers and a past BIMBO that’s become all too relevant from accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Remarkable examples of the sports world illustrating the art of the apology, and Puerto Rico’s governor learned the hard way that what you think are private comments … won’t stay that way. Good stories about the world changing from a new Fort Worth medical school and Miss Virginia’s winning talent choice as well as from two police departments, which actually showed they can use humor to reach the public! Think the media misquotes people? Read about an alleged quote from tennis great Billie Jean King … and what she really said.


“I refuse to believe I give Christians a bad name,” said ABC’s The Bachelorette star Hannah Brown in an Instagram post responding to criticism from viewers. (Brown has frequently spoken about her Christian beliefs on the show and revealed she is now shocked by the amount of hate she’s received in response via social media. Specifically, the backlash began from her conversations with contestant Luke Parker. In one scene, Brown told Parker, “I have had sex and Jesus still loves me.”)

The Hollywood Reporter, “‘Bachelorette’ Star to Critics: ‘I Refuse to Believe I Give Christians a Bad Name,’” June 28, 2019


“I don’t think people have to be personally racist to enable a racist system,” tweeted Saikat Chakrabarti, chief of staff and chief strategist for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He then added, “I don’t believe Sharice is a racist person, but her votes are showing her to enable a racist system.” (We don’t need to add anything to this outburst because other Democrats in Congress tore into Chakrabarti for attacking Rep. Sharice Davids and for disrespectfully calling her by her first name. The controversy was part of the eruption that started when AOC, as she delights to be called, criticized House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi by charging that Pelosi was “singling out” the “newly elected women of color” in Congress. This is an example of how the BIMBO phenomenon works. (Of course, Chakrabarti was calling Davids a racist.)

Fox News, “House Democratic Caucus rips AOC's chief of staff for criticizing lawmaker: ‘Keep her name out of your mouth,’” July 13, 2019

“PopMob is not a militant anti-fascist group,” noted Effie Baum, spokeswoman for the Portland, Oregon, activist group, after a publicized and videoed confrontation surfaced of masked Antifa thugs attacking journalist Andy Ngo at a men’s-rights rally in downtown Portland. (Ngo was physically attacked and ended up in the hospital.) Baum was uncharacteristically honest when she added PopMob “supports a diversity of tactics,” which during this counter protest, included physical assault. She not only didn’t criticize or separate her group from the attack, she endorsed it and blamed Ngo for filming and editing footage of the protests, which she said, “antagonizes leftist activists.” Terrifying, but more terrifying is that the Portland police stood by yet failed to stop the attack.

The Wall Street Journal, “Antifa Attacks a Journalist,” July 1, 2019

“It was not a witch hunt,” insisted Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller during his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee. (This is a classic BIMBO comment. Mueller was actually responding to a set-up question from House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff who asked,  And when Donald Trump called your investigation a witch hunt, that was also false, was it not?  Well your investigation is not a witch hunt, is it? to which (sorry about the pun) Mueller responded, “It was not a witch hunt.” That became the sound bite and the headline. Mueller should have said, “On the contrary, it was a thorough investigation.” Worse, the questioners congratulated themselves on getting the phrase “witch hunt” into the discussion in a mouth other than President Trump’s. They were actually hurting their own cause because all listeners heard was “witch hunt.”)

The Hill, “Mueller says his probe was not a ‘witch hunt’ in first-ever public refute of Trump claim,” July 24, 2019

“I’m not a sexual predator. I’m an ‘offender’ … It’s the difference between a murderer and a person who steals a bagel,” said financier Jeffrey Epstein. (Epstein, who in 2008 pleaded guilty to the “solicitation of prostitution and the procurement of minors for prostitution” and served 13 months in jail, was arrested again, this time for sex trafficking of minors. This comment dates to 2011 in an interview with the New York Post and was widely quoted in connection with Epstein’s recent arrest. This is another example of how a comment will live forever.)

The Atlantic, “When Jeffrey Epstein Joked About Sex Abuse,” July 9, 2019

“We will not be intimidated into making stupid decisions,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. As President Trump’s nominee to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Milley was questioned by Congress about whether he could stand up to an opinionated president. (We prefer his other comments, “Arlington [cemetery] is full of our comrades, and we understand absolutely full well the hazards of our chosen profession.” And, “We will give our best military advice and not keep the consequences to ourselves.” Notice that the negative construction became the headline.)

The Washington Post, “Trump’s nominee for top military job says he won’t be ‘intimidated into making stupid decisions,’” July 11, 2019

“You don’t see drug-addled people roaming the streets, but we haven’t created a utopia,” said Colorado State Rep. Jonathan Singer. (Five years ago, Colorado was the first state to experiment with full legalization of marijuana. Since then, Colorado’s first-in-the-nation experiment has reshaped health, politics, rural culture and criminal justice in surprising ways that often defy both the worst warnings of critics and blue-sky rhetoric of the marijuana industry.” Dr. Andrew Monte, an emergency and medical toxicology physician and researcher, said it best: “There’s a disconnect between what was proposed as a completely safe drug. Nothing is completely safe.” We hope lots of people hear him.)

The New York Times, “Reefer Madness or Pot Paradise? The Surprising Legacy of the Place Where Legal Weed Began,” June 30, 2019

“Nobody is saying marketing is going away,” said Bob Liodice, CEO of the Association of National Advertisers explaining why marketing, or at least the term “marketing,” is going away. (We’re supportive of the concept of understanding that communication stretches across the entire enterprise and is internally and externally facing, whether a company is recruiting the best and brightest or meeting customers’ needs. It is noteworthy that marketing powerhouses like Coca-Cola Co. have eliminated the CMO title and consolidated marketing oversight into a Chief Growth Officer role.)

Ad Age, “Why more brands are ditching the CMO position,” July 15, 2019


“I wish a bomb would explode on this club. A bomb should explode here,” said Italian tennis player Fabio Fognini, who was frustrated about the condition of the grass court after he lost during the third round at Wimbledon. (Fognini was fined almost $3,000 and apologized in Italian. Yahoo translated his comment as, “If somebody feels offended, I say sorry. No problem,” which seemed to us extremely cavalier and insincere. However, Wimbledon Chief Executive Richard Lewis did a nice job rescuing him, saying, “It’s in the heat of the moment. It’s an unfortunate comment, but we readily accept the apology.”)

Newser, “Wimbledon Fines Draw Claims of ‘Privilege,’” July 9, 2019

Ezekiel Elliott, running back for the Dallas Cowboys, illustrated the importance of a sincere apology after he shoved a security guard in Las Vegas. The incident was caught on video. Security guard Kyle Johnson filed a criminal complaint against Elliott and requested an apology, which Elliott provided both in person and via Twitter. The problem? “(The in-person apology) wasn’t a sincere apology. He didn’t maintain eye contact. It didn’t seem sincere at all,” said Johnson. (The interaction wasn’t made public, but it’s another reminder that an apology is a performance that should be practiced so that it comes across as intended. Think of Tiger Woods’ disastrous apology following his car accident and the outing of his affairs and carousing.)

CBS Sports, “Ezekiel Elliott’s legal team responds to charges being pressed in Las Vegas, accuses security guard of extortion” July 14, 2019

Nike cancelled the release of a special edition of its sneakers with the 13-star, Betsy Ross flag on the heel “based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday.” Nike halted distribution of the sneakers after Colin Kaepernick, former NFL quarterback, privately criticized the design. (We are offended that Nike would behave in such a historically ignorant manner and we agree with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who said, “Words cannot express my disappointment at this terrible decision.” He added his dismay that Nike “has bowed to the current onslaught of political correctness and historical revisionism.”)

The New York Times, “Nike Drops ‘Betsy Ross Flag’ Sneaker After Kaepernick Criticizes It,” July 2, 2019

“I have not committed an illegal act and I have not committed an act of corruption,” said Puerto Rico’s now-Former Gov. Ricardo Rossello, who was caught communicating inappropriately via the messaging app Telegram with members of his administration. Rossello called female politicians words we can’t print even in the BIMBO Memo, mocked an overweight man and made other wildly inappropriate remarks. In addition to Rossello’s BIMBO comment, this incident offers another example of how communication via electronic platforms like messaging apps, email and social media are guaranteed to be more broadly distributed than originally intended. (Given Puerto Rico’s troubles, it was predictable that these conversations would leak. Also astonishing is that there were 900 pages of the private chats, and two of the participants held senior communications positions. Revoke their credentials!) 

AP News, “'Chatgate' scandal throws Puerto Rico’s governor into crisis,” July 16, 2019


A video was posted that showed a young woman taking a carton of Blue Bell ice cream out of a Walmart freezer, opening and licking the carton and then putting it back in the freezer. Predictably, the video went viral. (The offender, a teenager, was ultimately located. Blue Bell, which suffered terrible publicity with outbreaks of listeria several years ago, handled it well by thanking customers for bringing the video to their attention and saying, “The safety of our ice cream is our highest priority, and we work hard to maintain the highest level of confidence of our customers.” We hope this prediction is wrong, but we think we’ll see more of these tastings.)

The Dallas Morning News, “Police track down Texas teen who licked Blue Bell ice cream, put it back in Walmart freezer,” July 5, 2019

A new Fort Worth medical school is introducing communication as another hard skill alongside sciences. Administrators noted that they view effective communication with patients as a key to providing better health care. Part of the training involves learning “compassionate practice.” We must admit, we were surprised to see Assistant Dean Dr. Evonne Kaplan-Liss say, “Compassion is not a part of medicine today ...” The school, a joint venture between TCU and the University of North Texas Health Science Center, intends to change medical education.

The Dallas Morning News, “A doctor who actually listens? New Fort Worth medical school aims to train students in empathy,” July 13, 2019

Presentation skills have traditionally taken center stage at beauty pageants in the form of song, dance or other musical talent. Camille Schrier, a 24-year-old biochemist, was just crowned Miss Virginia for her scientific talent that demonstrated “the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide.” We can hardly wait to see what’s next!

Insider, “A 24-year-old biochemist won the Miss Virginia pageant by performing a science experiment onstage as her talent,” July 1, 2019

“Conducting criminal activity in this extreme heat is next-level henchman status, and also very dangerous,” said police officers in Boston on the Boston Police Department’s Facebook page. The officers added, “Due to the extreme heat, we are asking anyone thinking of doing criminal activity to hold off until Monday.” Not to be outdone, the New York Police Department tweeted, “Sunday has been cancelled. Stay indoors, nothing to see here. Really, we got this.” (This is terrific! We’ve been preaching the use of humor as a way to get people’s attention and enlist them. Way to go!)

Sky News, “Police tell criminals to take the weekend off as stifling heat grips US,” July 21, 2019

Concerned about being misquoted? Almost 100 percent of our clients are, and they frequently claim a reporter’s quotes were out of context or twisted. Here’s our latest example. After Serena Williams lost in the Wimbledon finals, a reporter asked her about a comment from tennis great Billie Jean King. The reporter quoted King as saying Williams “should stop being a celebrity for a year and stop fighting for equality and just focus on tennis.” Serena’s response made news, but we were most interested in what columnist Christine Brennan discovered. She identified King’s original comments about Williams made during an interview with British website Metro. After listing Serena’s commitments and noting that trying to help gender equity, particularly for women of color” makes an attempt to win another Grand Slam “much harder,” King said: I would like to see her put everything else aside from that. She’s got people working on these things. This is just a wish I have, it’s not fair to her, but I wish she would just make a commitment for the next year-and-a-half to two years and just say, ‘I’m going to absolutely devote what’s necessary for my tennis so when I look in the mirror when I’m older, that I can go back in my mind and know I gave everything I had and be happy. But if she’s happy doing it this way, it’s fine. It’s not about us.”  

USA Today, “Opinion: Serena Williams will never stop equality fight. Billie Jean King would have it no other way,” July 13, 2019


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

Remembering the Moon Landing

  • Wildcard
  • July 17, 2019
  • by Merrie Spaeth

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50 years ago, late at night, I was a junior reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer*, sitting on blankets at the Franklin Institute breathlessly watching a black and white TV set. The picture was grainy, the action somewhat jerky, but the message was clear as day. We – our astronauts – were about to step out on the moon, that bright orb in the sky. We, as Americans, said we were going to do it – and we did.

There will be lots written today and tomorrow about the science, the bravery, (the expense!), the hurdles, the obstacles, but what I remember is the emotion of all the high school students and their teachers. They all supported the effort. They were so proud of what their country accomplished. In recent days, papers all over the country have carried remembrances of those involved in getting man to the moon. One remembrance was an African-American man who spent years pouring the concrete for the facility that made the rocket. He was quoted saying that he felt he was part of something greater than himself. That’s always been the American promise, and it still is today. Let’s remember that.

The moonshot was great, but it was only a small step for mankind along our American journey.


*See below the original newspaper clipping of Merrie's 1969 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Photo Gallery:

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Looking for the Hero

  • Leadership
  • July 9, 2019
  • by Sally Ann Rivera

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When audiences can choose to watch Netflix while getting their news on Twitter, what’s to incentivize them to tune in to the evening news? Reporters have responded with longform, sensational investigative stories. In a crisis situation, this means they have only one goal: find a hero. The facts of your story will matter little in light of the easiest motive to portray. The solution? Effective crisis communication helps paint you and your company as the hero in every story. 

I recently spoke on a crisis communication panel to a group of attorneys and law students studying litigation management. The students faced a hypothetical scenario of a health care system with a DOJ complaint attracting reporters covering issues of health care fraud. We like to tell our clients that, in a crisis, “We don’t breathe without the attorneys.” 

Lessons for the students and your company include: 

· Know your audience. In the event of an employee accident, death or criminal investigation, your first audience is usually your employees. Draft your message and select your communication channels for distribution with your priority audience in mind. Reporters, whether singing your praises (rarely) or trying to paint you as the big, bad company are never your audience. We view reporters as a way to reach our audience. They are the channel which through you communicate. 

· Our first rule: no mistakes. One of the most common communication mistakes is repeating and denying negative words and charges, what we call “BIMBO comments.” These denials only further cement the negative word or charge in your audience’s mind. Have a list of good words, brand values and examples you can point to in a time of crisis – and make sure they’re true. Using our Acknowledgment PhraseTM technique will help you take control of any interaction, no matter how aggressive or negative it begins. 

· Understand the power of competitive material. The CEO of the hypothetical health care system was widely-respected for her ethics and integrity. This worked in the company’s favor. However, the issue at hand was ensuring this same level of integrity reverberated throughout the whole organization. Make sure you can point to examples of your company’s values in action – preferably in video form on your website and social media channels –before you face your own “bet the farm case.” 

· Plan for the future. Events never happen in silos – understand and evaluate the impact on other departments. Attorneys are very interested in thinking about this from a risk and insurance perspective; we care about communicating the message clearly and effectively with your audience. Evaluate what could be coming next and anticipate the questions. 

You can be the hero of your own story, as long as you have a plan. Advanced preparation is the only super power you need to combat the inevitable crisis looming on the horizon.

BIMBO Nominees For July 2019

  • Bimbo
  • July 1, 2019
  • by Spaeth Communications

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This month features BIMBO comments from Chinese company Huawei, Former Vice President (and current presidential candidate) Joe Biden, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and anti-vax doctor Andrew Wakefield. We also explore an interesting examination of how a number inadvertently became the standard for allowing young people access to mature digital content, a humorous social media example from Pakistan, a video apology, further proof everyone is a reporter and the need for companies to develop competitive video before a crisis. And of course, an interesting non-verbal example from the first 2020 Democratic debates, about which we could have dedicated a whole Memo.  


“My lipsticks are not moldy, they are not contaminated, they are not unsafe for you in any way shape or form,” said Jaclyn Hill responding to complaints that the first shipment of lipsticks in her cosmetics line arrived with “holes, plastic particles or unknown fibers that resemble hairs.” (Hill, a blogger and beauty promoter with thousands of devoted followers, learned that if you live by social media, you can die by social media after her acolytes posted pictures of the tainted product. This is a good example of someone who needed media training badly but who thought she didn’t need it as a star and knows everything. She tried to explain and apologize in a very long video, which only served to reinforce the negative publicity. Those black dots? Not mold, they’re “oxygen bubbles.” The “white fuzzies”? Not mold, but remnants of “gloves used by the laboratory.” Like so many of these examples, she had something redeemable to say: “Every single ingredient in my lipsticks is new and FDA approved.” She also said that she would “make it right” and offered customers experiencing quality issues full refunds and new product, which sold out in hours after its launch. However, these positive responses were overshadowed by the “moldy” charge. Note that her denial became the headline. This situation also includes an example of the misuse of a statistic. A spokesperson from Jaclyn Cosmetics issued a statement that said, “… less than half of one percent of orders were impacted by compromised product.” While that may be a small number to Hill, the only order customers care about is theirs! Plus, the “compromised” products account for 100 percent of the complaints and posted pictures.)

MSN, “Jaclyn Hill Responds After Backlash Over Quality of Her Lipstick Line: ‘My Lipsticks Are Not Moldy,’” June 13, 2019


“There were never any missing organs,” said York County Coroner Pam Gay trying to tamp down an outcry over a US Army veteran who died mysteriously in police custody when trying to resolve a DUI warrant. When his body was returned to his family, “his throat, heart and brain were missing.” (This is a case study in how not to handle a complaint. Gay came up with successive explanations, but they were late, dribbled out and never with any expression of concern or empathy. By the way, what was that explanation? That the forensic pathologist, a contracted service, didn’t mention they retained the specimens. Hmm…)

CNN, “A veteran died in police custody. His body was returned to his family with some organs missing,” June 8, 2019

“There is no nefarious aspect to it,” said Google’s public liaison for the search function, Danny Sullivan, trying to respond to a growing problem with the algorithm for what the company calls “knowledge panels.” These panels, which “gather information from Wikipedia and many other sources on the internet,” once appeared only in searches for “important historical figures and other famous people” but now appear for a wider range. The issue is of accuracy, with some falsely declaring more and more people deceased who are still very much alive. (The first aspect of the problem is the algorithm. The greater problem is that there is no way to appeal to a human to reverse the situation. High-profile people like Former U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch have been described in their respective panels as deceased and Former CEO of Aetna Ron Williams as well as Google’s Former CEO Eric Schmidt have been misrepresented in their panels. Williams’ panel credited him for the “‘Miami Heat Wave,’ a photo collection of muscular men in their underwear,” and Schmidt was listed as the author of “Pharmacy Technician Exam Certification and Review.”)

The Wall Street Journal, “What if Google’s ‘Knowledge Panels’ Insist You’re Dead? Or Married? Or French?” May 30, 2019

“We don’t want to launch a product to destroy our reputation,” said a spokesperson for Chinese company Huawei trying to explain why they were delaying the launch of their foldable phone. (This is a classic example of a negative or inverted statement. The spokesperson should have said, “We want to launch products that will sustain our reputation for innovation and dependability.” The company spokesperson also seems oblivious to the current state of Huawei’s reputation, banned in the U.S. and under scrutiny for cyber security and espionage concerns.)

Seeking Alpha, “Huawei delays foldable phone launch,” June 14, 2019

“There’s not a racist bone in my body… ,” said Former Vice President Joe Biden, trying to tamp down a controversy on the presidential campaign trail over comments about his past work with segregationist lawmakers in the 1970s to “(get) things done.” (We counsel the other Democratic candidates not to attack Biden on this point. He clearly wasn’t endorsing segregation; rather, he was describing his ability to build coalitions. Biden did go on to point out that he had worked on civil rights issues for decades but the “racist bone” line and the call for Sen. Cory Booker to apologize to him dominated the news.)

HuffPost, “Joe Biden Refuses to Apologize for Comments on Segregationists,” June 19, 2019

“At no point did Mark or any other Facebook employee knowingly violate the company’s obligations under the FTC consent order... ,” said a statement from Facebook in response to reports that emails produced during litigation revealed that CEO Mark Zuckerberg perhaps knew about practices violating a 2012 FTC accord regarding data-use rules. (This is a classic hedge statement probably written by lawyers. If Zuckerberg didn’t violate the law “knowingly,” he obviously recognized that he violated it.)

The Wall Street Journal, “Facebook Worries Emails Could Show Zuckerberg Knew of Questionable Privacy Practices,” June 12, 2019

“I have never been involved in scientific fraud,” said disgraced British doctor and key leader in the anti-vaccine movement Andrew Wakefield. (Wakefield wrote the 1998 study in the Lancet that ostensibly linked the MMR vaccine with autism. Years later, the publisher retracted the study after an investigation that “concluded that Wakefield had financial and ethical conflicts of interest, and had acted ‘dishonestly.’” Given the damage this man has caused, we can’t think of anything he could say except to honestly retract his false findings.)

The Washington Post, “Meet the New York couple donating millions to the anti-vax movement,” June 19, 2019

“My resignation should in no way be confused as confirmation of these mischaracterizations,” wrote Pennsylvania Republican Party Chairman Val DiGiorgio. DiGiorgio was accused by a former candidate for Philadelphia City Council of sending her a photo via Facebook Messenger of his erect, er, “male member,” as my great aunt used to say. What was he thinking? And what can he possibly say to dig himself out of this hole? The report in The Philadelphia Inquirer describes that the exchanges between DiGiorgio and the female candidate grew even more lewd and sexually charged. Nobody looks good in this dispute. Really, in this day and age, don’t people realize that what you put on the internet gets passed around and lives forever?

The New York Times, “Pennsylvania Republican Party Chairman Resigns Amid Sexting Scandal,” June 25, 2019


This article explores the impact of a casual designation of age 13 as the appropriate age for children to be able to download certain apps and create email and social media accounts. Interestingly, the article explains this isn’t an age restriction based on content. Tech companies are just abiding by a 1998 law called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which was intended to protect the privacy of children ages 12 or under.” Researchers claimed, “Across the board, parents and youth misinterpret the age requirements that emerged from the implementation of COPPA.” Now the age of 13 is recognized as a much-too-young standard because the 13-year-old brain is not nearly developed enough. Nevertheless, articulating the number 13 has ingrained it in people’s thinking. Adding to the problem is how easy it is for millions of young people to lie about their age online to create accounts.  

The Wall Street Journal, “How 13 Became the Internet’s Age of Adulthood,” June 19, 2019

“There is no mystery whatsoever regarding any of these deaths,” said Fernando Javier Garcia, tourism minister of the Dominican Republic. Dominican officials tried to argue that “the number of deaths in recent months is no greater than would be expected statistically in a country visited by more than 2 million Americans each year”; however, this is an example of the law of exceptions. Each death becomes a proxy for what could happen to anyone.

The New York Times, “Crisis Hits Dominican Republic Over Deaths of U.S. Tourists,” June 23, 2019


“It would be misleading to refer to this as ‘layoffs,’” said an AT&T spokesperson in a statement regarding AT&T’s announcement that it plans to cut 1,800 jobs from its wireline division, describing these jobs as a “surplus.” Though AT&T can declare a surplus of jobs each quarter, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union took issue with the quantity of AT&T’s latest surplus declaration, as the CWA claimed jobs declared “surplus” are taken off the payroll. (AT&T’s letters to the CWA exhibit the power of words. “Layoffs” is what we call a high-velocity word—that is, it travels through an organization at light speed. Even saying a company is thinking about layoffs—or in cases we’ve seen, says they are not considering layoffs—causes people to look for other jobs.)

ARS Technica, “AT&T cuts another 1,800 jobs as it finishes fiber-Internet buildout,” June 17, 2019

“Does this matter? It matters if you are a Chinese pig,” said Paul Donovan, UBS Group’s global chief economist, about China’s swine flu epidemic. (The crack was made during a discussion in which Donovan argued that the outbreak of the disease shouldn’t worry investors focused on international inflation. However, his comment went viral and China took offense. As a result, the China Railway Construction Corp. excluded UBS from an enormous bond deal. This is yet another example of the power of words as well as of different cultural sensibilities that can trip you up.)

Bloomberg, “UBS Loses China Bond Deal After Economist’s Pig Remark,” June 16, 2019

“Work safe,” “work in accordance with all rules, regulations and manuals” and “do your jobs” might seem like obvious comments but American Airlines argued that they were code phrases used by mechanic unions in communication with its members. From American Airline’s perspective, these phrases acted as a “call to arms” to encourage members to engage in “actions to harm the airline as a bargaining ploy in ongoing contract negotiations,” such as maintenance issues that led to flight cancellations. (We have experience in this area and are well acquainted with how words can be used to signal very different meanings.)

Dallas Business Journal, “American says unions used code words as a ‘call to arms,’” June 20, 2019


From Pakistan, a reminder that technology brings benefits—and risks. A press conference with Pakistan’s provincial information minister and a member of the ruling party PTI that was broadcast via social media was compromised in a novel way: the cat filter was on, so the officials appeared on the broadcast with cat ears and whiskers. It did wonders generating attention to the government’s meeting, and it showed that Provincial Information Minister Yousuf Shaukat Zai had a sense of humor. He said, “I wasn't the only one—two officials sitting along me were also hit by the cat filter.” Accident or not, at least it got audiences to finally pay attention.

SBS, “Government officials in Pakistan forgot to turn off cat filter during Facebook live press conference,” June 18, 2019


Another lesson comes from the outcry generated by an undercover video that showed Fair Oaks Farm employees brutalizing cows. The dairy, a supplier for the brand Fairlife that launched as a partnership between The Coca-Cola Company and Select Milk Producers, responded with a press release and a long, seven-minute video from founder of Fair Oaks Farm, Mike McCloskey. The video apology is worth watching. It’s heart felt but too long with too much detailed information. Our advice is to look at this as an example of why it’s important to have what we call “competitive video.” Three of the employees mentioned in the video had already been fired three months prior to the discovery of the video exhibiting their abuse. Fairlife should have known that animal cruelty was a potential, ongoing issue. They should have had a video illustrating they take animal welfare seriously. This can’t be marketing material, it has to be genuine—interviews with people responsible for the animals, b-roll of the facilities, documentation of the training and maintenance procedures.

Atlanta Business Chronicle, “Coca Cola and Fairlife address animal abuse at dairy supplier, vow to make changes,” June 10, 2019

Everybody is a reporter. A huge construction crane came crashing down during a violent storm in Dallas, crushing cars and slicing through the middle of an apartment building. Interestingly, it was an eyewitness video captured by a Twitter user that illustrated the crane wasn’t spinning in the wind, thereby potentially confirming the crane was improperly anchored. The lesson? There will always be someone with a cell phone who will capture video. Figure out your key messages and make sure you have competitive video before tragedy strikes.

WFAA, “Eyewitness video offers clue about deadly crane collapse,” June 10, 2019


Although we focus on how we pick up and repeat each other’s words, and the 2016 Republican debates provided plenty of fodder, the Democrats provided one teachable moment in non-verbal communication. When Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke broke into Spanish (ignoring the question that was asked) during the first 2020 Democratic Debate, Sen. Cory Booker glowered at him. His face caught and memorialized forever, Booker was either signaling, “I meant to do that and he beat me to it,” or “I wonder if I could kill him on stage.” The “look” went viral, generated a number of memorable memes and will undoubtedly reappear during the coming months.  

The Hill, “Cory Booker's face when Beto O'Rourke speaks Spanish at debate goes viral,” June 26, 2019


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

BIMBO Nominees For June 2019

  • Bimbo
  • June 1, 2019
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image a

In this BIMBO Memo, you’ll learn how not to handle a political crisis and read about a Muslim school counting on the fact that Americans don’t speak Arabic. There are also several examples of the power of what we call “bad words,” embarrassing typos, a great illustration of using props to drive memory and many more BIMBO comments.


“(The App Store) is not a monopoly by any metric,” wrote Apple in a statement reacting to the Supreme Court’s decision that consumers can sue Apple for excessive prices on its App Store. (Apple claimed that app developers should be the litigation target and argued that it would be basically impossible to calculate damages for millions of consumers. In his ruling, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh asserted that was not a “get-out-of-court-free card for monopolistic retailers.” The real news in this case was Kavanaugh joining the four liberal Justices.)

USA Today, “Supreme Court says iPhone users can sue Apple for excessive prices on its App Store,” May 13, 2019


“The FBI doesn’t spy,” said Former FBI Director James Comey when asked to explain why Attorney General William Barr used the word “spy” when describing the Bureau’s agents’ actions in the now-sensationally publicized investigation into President Trump’s 2016 campaign. (He continued, “The FBI investigates.” He should have stuck to just that phrase. This is an example of how an inflammatory word replicates itself. Note that the negative word made the headline.)

Politico, “Comey: ‘The FBI doesn’t spy. The FBI investigates,’” May 8, 2019

“I’m not looking at this as an opportunity to do mischief,” said Idaho’s governor Brad Little. (A quirk of the state’s laws allows all existing regulations to expire annually. Feuding among legislators resulted in the legislature’s failing to pass a rule-reauthorization bill as it usually does. The result? All regulations sunset July 1. Little is pro-limited government but hasn’t confirmed how specifically he will handle the bonanza of deregulation. All we can say is, cause mischief!)

The Wall Street Journal, “The Great Idaho Do-Over,” May 16, 2019


“The Office adamantly denies that the termination of Ms. Small’s employment was based on her gender or pregnancy,” said the press secretary for Rep. Henry Cuellar responding to the charges of a former chief of staff. (This is another example of the risk of having lawyers write statements. All the denial does is link Kristie Small’s dismissal to pregnancy. Cuellar’s press secretary Olya Voytovich continued, “It is against office policy to discuss specific details about internal personnel matters and the Office will use the forum that the plaintiff chose – federal court – to address the complaint, not the media.” Voytovich should have hung Cuellar’s hat on respect for privacy, not Office policy, and should have avoided taking a swipe at Small for filing a legal complaint in court.”

Roll Call, “Former staffer sues Rep. Henry Cuellar, saying she was fired because she was pregnant,” May 8, 2019

“… not proud of (some things he did in the past),” said Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, as revelations screamed in headlines that he and his now-former chief of staff Cade Cothren exchanged via text racist and sexually explicit comments about women. (Casada was recently under fire for his comments supporting Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, after Byrd was accused of sexually assaulting three women decades ago. Casada was caught on video saying "... if I was raped, I would move." These new charges played out over a number of days and offer an excellent example of how not to manage a crisis. Casada first claimed his chief of staff had been felled because “Politics has become a game of ‘gotcha’ with no thought of forgiveness and starting anew.” Meanwhile, Cothren said his drug use was a result of “maladaptive coping mechanisms.”After Cothren resigned, Casada described the inappropriate texts as “ … base locker room talk, if you will, among two adult men.”Casada did finally apologize and added, “It’s embarrassing and humbling to have it displayed in this manner.” By this point, the controversy had escalated to the point where Casada felt compelled to tell his Republican colleagues during a telephone conference, “… let me be very clear, there’s nothing else to come out.” The lesson to be learned from this episode is to get bad news out as quickly as possible, to prevent it from dribbling out over time. Also, don’t try to minimize the problem by dismissing the comments. The conclusion of this example was the announcement of Casada’s official resignation.)

Times Free Press, “After admitting drug use, Tennessee House speaker’s top aide resigns amid allegations of racist and sexually explicit texts,” May 6, 2019

“ … an unintended mistake and an oversight,” was how the national Muslim American Society (MAS) defended a video in which children sang, “We will defend the land of divine guidance with our bodies, and we will sacrifice our souls without hesitation. We will chop off their heads, and we will liberate the sorrowful and exalted Al-Aqsa Mosque. We will lead the army of Allah fulfilling His promise, and we will subject them to eternal torture.” (The video surfaced and, although ignored by national media, was confirmed by The Inquirer. The MAS said in a Facebook post that the person in charge of the program was dismissed and assured that the chapter will take further steps in assuring strict adherence to publishing and posting policies.” We don’t see any way this could have been an “unintended mistake.”)

The Philadelphia Inquirer, “North Philadelphia mosque explains how children wound up reciting violent poem in video,” May 15, 2019

“Some kids are unwanted, so you kill them now or you kill them later,” said Alabama Rep. John Rogers when commenting about the controversial bill that makes it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion where there is no health risk for the woman. (While we understand that Rogers was trying to express his opposition to the bill, there are certainly better ways to express his disapproval.)

Newsweek, “‘Some Kids Are Unwanted, So You Kill Them Now Or You Kill Them Later’ Alabama Rep. Criticized Over Abortion Ban Remarks,” May 2, 2019


“Fake” has become a popular attack word in the last few years, notably with President Trump criticizing what he calls “fake news.” To be “fake” isn’t good, so we are watching the effort of the “plant-based meat substitute” providers to grow the artificial meat industry. A company called Beyond Meat Inc. had an IPO that achieved “the best first-day percentage gain for a U.S.-listed initial public offering this year,” so investors clearly think the company has a future. However, when a major paper describes the product as “fake meat” in the headline, we think the road to success is going to be a long haul.

The Wall Street Journal, “Investors Love Fake Meat. Will Consumers?” May 3, 2019 

“Sorcery” was how an extremely uninformed Texas legislator characterized vaccines. (The exchange came when one of the nation’s most distinguished pediatricians, Dr. Peter Hotez, tweeted a link to an article about the dangerous rise in Texas parents seeking exemptions from vaccinations for non-medical reasons even as the nation experiences record outbreaks of measles. We’re embarrassed that Rep. Jonathan Stickland is a Bedford Republican.)

The Dallas Morning News,“Vaccines are ‘sorcery’? How one Texas legislator is hurting public health,” May 8, 2019

When the first spacewalk for two women was announced, it was a historic moment. It was also cancelled, not because of illness or some other failure, but because NASA only had one spacesuit that could fit a woman. Just one. The resulting flap drew attention to the number of products designed for male bodies and simply made smaller or colored pink for women. A university analyzed the most commonly used terms advertisers employ when selling to the sexes,” and the most common words used to describe women’s products were “happy,” “exciting,” “love,” “perfect,” “soft,” “sensitive,” “best,” “beautiful,” “warm”and “romantic.” By contrast, the most common words used to describe men’s products were “classic,” “ultimate,” “extreme,” “fastest,” “rugged,” “uncompromising,” “professional,” “legendary,” “intense” and “confident.” It’s no surprise to women that designers ignore the difference between male and female bodies. Besides space suits, additional research identified a wide range of products that need to be designed specifically for women including bike saddles, running shoes, backpacks, pianos and countless more.

The Wall Street Journal, “Sports Gear Designed for Women’s Bodies—Not Stereotypes,” May 10, 2019


Who hasn’t suffered an embarrassing typo? Australia issued new $50 notes without noticing that the word “responsibility” was misspelled as “responsibilty.” It was particularly problematic because the error was contained in a paragraph from a speech by Edith Cowan, the country’s first female member of parliament, who said, “It is a great responsibilty to be the only woman here … ” (No spell check Down Under?)

The Guardian, “Australian $50 note typo: spelling mistake printed 46 million times,” May 8, 2019

Sometimes a typo causes very real problems. The Trump tax reform law contained a typo that changed how businesses expense costs related to renovations and refurbishment work. The typo causes businesses “to wait 39 years for full tax relief on store renovations,” rather than deducting the cost of such work from their tax bills the year the work is carried out. Small businesses will pay the biggest price. Congress has yet to correct the “inadvertent drafting error.” We again recommend that no one serve in Congress until they have started a small business.

Financial Times, “Trump tax reform typo creates costly headache for US retailers,” May 20, 2019


It is no secret that Congress is feuding with Attorney General William Barr. We have to tip our hat to member of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., who brought a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a ceramic chicken to the committee hearing when Barr didn’t show up to testify. Naturally, it made all the print and TV media and was the picture of the day. As we always say, props are effective memory drivers.

NBC News, “Democrat mocks Barr with bucket of fried chicken at hearing,” May 2, 2019


Executive director of the MIT Leadership CenterHal Gregersen offered great advice for everyone who answers—and asks!—questions. He said: “If you want a dramatically better answer, the key is to ask a better question.” While his advice is aimed at C-suite inhabitants, it’s a blueprint for those of us interviewing potential job applicants, building relationships within our company and, yes, for aspiring reporters to rise above Googling to see what previous questions were asked of an interviewee. It is a good idea to equip your CEO and remind him or her that you can help develop these skills.

The Wall Street Journal, “The Secret to Asking Better Questions,” May 9, 2019


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

Should A CEO Be Spontaneous?

  • Leadership
  • May 8, 2019
  • by Merrie Spaeth


The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer: Expectations for CEOs revealed that people (63 percent of respondents) want a CEO who “speaks spontaneously over one who delivers well-rehearsed speeches.” We submit this is a totally false choice. What people are really asking for is credibility.

A leader should be able to speak conversationally but should certainly think through and rehearse. Today, everyone is a reporter and eager to share everything a CEO says—and that’s what leadership is all about, but too often “spontaneous” equates with “I wish I hadn’t said that.” One of our favorite training examples is when an employed asked a bank CEO, “Are there going to be more layoffs?” and he responded, “We have to be competitive.” Whoosh! Rumors of layoffs spread throughout the bank. However, it wasn’t true. Lack of preparation led to company-damaging missteps. The bank lost employees it wanted to keep.

Now, let’s turn to the phrase “well-rehearsed speeches.” Any speech that looks well-rehearsed isn’t. That’s a synonym for “canned." A “presentation” as opposed to a “speech” should have interaction, props, stories and, if appropriate, visuals.

Today, we want our senior leaders, led by the CEO, to model the behavior we want to see throughout the enterprise. One of the most important skills is to be able to use what we call “person-to-person, video-enabled” speech. That is, straight to a camera, smartphone or tablet.

Every CEO should strategically plan how social channels like Instagram and Facebook are used and be available and adept at connecting via them. Walmart CEO Doug McMillon successfully deployed this tactic at a conference for young entrepreneurs at the University of Pennsylvania. He filmed a Facebook Live at the venue to connect with Walmart employees and remind them of their entrepreneurial roots. This was clearly not “spontaneous” because someone arranged it, and we’ll bet McMillon thought about what he was going to say. But it did achieve the goal of credible, energetic conversation. It’s the kind of “spontaneity” to which a CEO should aspire.

BIMBO Nominees For May 2019

  • Bimbo
  • May 1, 2019
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image c

BIMBOs from DC luminary lawyer Greg Craig, former aide to Hillary Clinton Neera Tanden, Twitter and Facebook spokespersons and an anti-gun activist group. A New York restauranteur hopeful learned the power of a word. A basketball player got good advice from Steve Kerr, a Boston Globe contributor advocated for food tampering. The Boy Scouts of America provided an example of a misuse of statistics, and we offer advice for presidential candidate Joe Biden.


“I’m not afraid at all of these people,” said Energy Transfer CEO Kelcy Warren. (The billionaire co-founded Energy Transfer, one of the country’s most successful midstream energy companies. He has feuded for years with environmental activists and investors. The comment was aimed at the groups seeking to stop his efforts to build the major Dakota Access Pipeline. He added, “They are going to pay for this.” We’ve awarded Warren the winner this month because the lengthy article emphasized these combative comments, made in a CNBC interview with anchor Brian Sullivan. Warren should have spent his interview emphasizing the efficiency and safety of pipelines and the importance of crude oil to the economy.)

Bloomberg Businessweek, “The Billionaire Behind the Dakota Access Pipeline Is a Little Lonely,” March 27, 2019


“This is not political,” said Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-New Mexico) about the effort to obtain President Trump’s tax returns. (OK. This wins the “you can’t say this with a straight face” category. Note the quote also made it into the headline.)

The Hill, “Top Dem on push for Trump’s tax returns: ‘This is not political,’” April 7, 2019

“I am not biased toward Boeing,” said Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, recently cleared by the Pentagon’s inspector general of inappropriately pushing contracts toward Boeing, his former employer. (This is a lesson in remembering who’s the audience and the importance of leadership. The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington accused Shanahan of “repeatedly champion(ing) Boeing’s aircraft over Lockheed Martin’s in official conversations.” This was relayed from person-to-person and interpreted as pushing the contract towards Boeing. Shanahan should have kept his comment confined to his next phrase, “I’m biased toward performance.”)

Vox, “Trump’s acting defense secretary has been cleared of an ethics violation,” April 25, 2019

“I did not participate in a scheme to mislead the government or conceal material facts,” said Former White House Counsel Greg Craig, who served President Obama and led President Bill Clinton’s legal team during his impeachment proceedings. Craig was indicted for not disclosing work he performed for the Ukrainian government. (We admit, Craig is a favorite bad example of ours—and those of you familiar with our trainings will remember the “Perjury” structure video example—but this raises a very common challenge, particularly for lawyers. Framing a response for a court of law and legal pleadings risks a different audience, the public, hearing something very different. Our preference is to say, “I was careful to follow the rules as I understood them.” Of course, this has to be true.)

Chicago Tribune, “Ex-Obama White House counsel Greg Craig indicted in investigation that grew out of Mueller probe,” April 11, 2019

“I didn’t slug him, I pushed him,” said Neera Tanden, a former aide on Hillary Clinton’s first presidential campaign, about an altercation with Faiz Shakir, campaign manager for Bernie Sanders. (The background: Tanden and Shakir, then chief editor of the ThinkProgress website, got into a dispute during the 2008 primary. Tanden was reported to be so angry after Shakir asked Clinton a question about the Iraq war that she physically hit Shakir, or—as she explains now—just pushed him. This is an example of how negative comments push out anything else and get repeated. She should have said, “We were angry, but that was then, this is now, and we have more important things to focus on.”)

The New York Times, “The Rematch: Bernie Sanders vs. a Clinton Loyalist,” April 15, 2019

“We do not shadow ban,” said Twitter spokespersons Vijaya Gadde and Kayvon Beykpour responding to criticism when Twitter suspended the account for the movie “Unplanned.” The movie tells the story of former Planned Parenthood employee who became a pro-life activist after witnessing an abortion procedure at 13 weeks. Despite being shunned by traditional entertainment media, the movie received a very enthusiastic reception. Twitter’s suspicious move on the film’s opening weekend and its denial that the brief suspension was intentional was not well received but is part of a larger debate about social media platforms and their role as editors or aggregators. Another Twitter executive, Carlos Monje Jr., director of public policy, was hauled up on Capitol Hill to answer to multiple charges of discriminating against conservatives. Monje said that Twitter “does not use political viewpoints, perspectives, or party affiliation” when making decisions. A Facebook executive sounded the same note when he said, “Facebook does not favor one political viewpoint over another, nor does Facebook suppress conservative speech.” Now, we’ll see what happens going forward.)  

The Wall Street Journal, “An ‘Unplanned’ Twitter Outage,” April 1, 2019

“We’re not interested in shaming banks or running a campaign focused on how evil they are,” said Igor Volsky, founder and executive director of Guns Down America, which is devoted to—you guessed it—shaming banks with ties to various manufacturers, retailers and trade groups connected to firearms. (Shame on Guns Down America for trying to extort what they consider desirable behavior. For once, kudos to Wells Fargo. The bank pointed out that it supported efforts to improve school safety but added, “We do not believe that the American public wants banks to decide which legal products consumers can and cannot buy.” We agree.)

The New York Times, “Gun Control Group’s Report Card on U.S. Banks’ Firearms Ties Has Several Fs,” April 4, 2019


A health coach who opened a Chinese restaurant in New York found out the hard way about the power of a word—as well as the ferocity of those charging “cultural appropriation.” (Arielle Haspel opened Lucky Lee’s and advertised “clean” Chinese food, a descriptor she explained is “all about finding a healthier alternative to your favorite indulgent food.” Yet, wow, did she pay a price. While we think the current fad to attack people for adapting or including other cultures has gotten out of hand, we think she did ask for trouble by describing her Chinese food as “clean,” as it played into the perception that traditional Chinese cuisine is unhealthy. Worth noting that Haspel claimed to have named the restaurant after her husband, whose first name is Lee, but we can’t imagine she didn’t also want to play up other stereotypical associations. Note the offending word made it into the headline.)

The New York Times, “A White Restauranteur Advertised ‘Clean’ Chinese Food. Chinese-Americans Had Something to Say About It,” April 12, 2019


“Next question,” is what basketball player Russell Westbrook has been replying to a local reporter for several years. His beef with The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel goes back several years. (Warriors coach Steve Kerr weighed in and advised Westbrook to cut it out saying, “You don’t have to give a great answer, but it’s dangerous when you go down that path of no communication.” He’s 100 percent right and echoes our lessons in the use of Acknowledgement PhrasesSM and having rehearsed, well-prepared responses at the ready for whatever question a reporter throws your way. Listen to Steve.)

Basketball Forever, “Steve Kerr Calls Out Russell Westbrook For Being An Asshat In The Media,” April 22, 2019

“ … not pissing in Bill Kristol’s salmon” was what freelance journalist and regular contributor to the Boston Globe Luke O’Neil described as one of his “biggest regrets” in life. O’Neil’s comment triggered an avalanche of criticism, some directed at his comment and some at the Globe, which—finally—after first revising the piece, pulled it entirely. (We’re in the camp criticizing the sentiment. O’Neil is part of the contingent urging others to confront and harass elected officials like Sen. Ted Cruz and his wife or White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders in public places to drive them out. There’s no place for that in a civilized society.)

The Washington Post, “A column suggested waiters could ‘tamper’ with Trump officials’ food. Amid backlash, the Boston Globe pulled it,” April 12, 2019

“No one is mainstreaming anti-Zionism or anti-Semitic argument. It's hardly as if our pages resemble those of Der Sturmer ... ” tweeted New York Times columnist Michael Powell in defense of The New York Times, which ran a cartoon depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuas as a guide dog leading a blind President Trump. In case you still don’t get it, in the cartoon the Star of David hangs around Netanyahu’s neck. Mercifully the cartoon kicked up a storm of protest (despite the weak tone of Powell’s quote), and there is nothing The New York Times could have said to redeem this.


Illustrating what we call the “law of exceptions” for numbers, the Boy Scouts of America defended itself against charges of child sex abuse over decades by saying that there were “five known victims in 2018 out of roughly 2.2 million youth members.” The problem with this description is that it prompts every parent to wonder, “Could it be my child?” and the hedge word “known” describing victims. Remember Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld? The catch is what he called the “unknown unknowns.”

The Associated Press, “Boy Scouts: Handful of sex-abuse cases emerged in 2018,” April 24, 2019  


Apologies are a unique category and Former Senator, Vice President and now-presidential candidate Joe Biden is featured in the Apologies category this month for two reasons. First, for a video where he—sort of—apologized for his penchant to hug and kiss over the years. By the way, he hugs men, too. A number of women, mostly associated with his competitors, have come forward to criticize him. In his video response in which he didn’t really apologize, he said he would “be more mindful.” We’re with him here. There is not a shred of indication that any of his gestures were sexually intended or classified as harassment. Women—and men—if you don’t want to be hugged, extend your hand and shake vigorously. Next, Biden called Anita Hill, the lawyer who famously in 1991 testified in the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas, during which Hill charged Thomas with sexual harassment. Biden chaired those hearings, and it’s become an article of faith on the Left that he didn’t give her enough respect. Apparently, Biden reached out to Hill via phone prior to his presidential announcement to express “his regret for what she endured” 28 years ago. Yet, in an interview following the phone call, Hill said she wasn’t satisfied with his apology and noted she doesn’t believe he has taken full responsibility for his behavior during the hearings. Problem here: it was decades ago, and he waited until now to change his mind? Biden isn’t looking for advice from us, but here it is anyway: if you want to be president, stake out your position as defending what you did in the past. Let the avalanche of criticism roll over you. It will be brutal, but you may attract enough independents to participate in the primary to get the nomination, and then you will be truly competitive for President Trump.

BuzzFeed News, “Joe Biden Says He’ll Be ‘More Mindful’ About Personal Space After Allegations Of Inappropriate Contact,” April 3, 2019


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

BIMBO Nominees For April 2019

  • Bimbo
  • April 1, 2019
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image b

Is it just me, or does it seem as if the 2020 campaign season has already started? See contributions from Maryland's governor (and yes, potential 2020 presidential candidate) plus most of the other presidential candidates (with a special shake of the head for poor Joe Biden). This month’s international winner is courtesy of former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, and you’ll also read about TV host Jeanine Pirro and her colleague Tucker Carlson (with an interesting twist on our part), Cowboys defensive tackle David Irving, perennial contributor James Comey, a Lithuanian central banker (make sure you read the whole story), the new director of the New York City Ballet and mayoral candidate for the City of Dallas.


“There was no deal,” claimed Jussie Smollett’s lawyer, Patricia Brown Holmes, at a shocking press conference where she announced that Chicago prosecutors dropped all charges. (Smollett was originally indicted on 16 counts of filing a false police report after constructing a well-publicized and elaborate hoax in which he claimed he was attacked by two men at 2:00 a.m. on a sub-zero degree night in January. We were shocked along with a range of commentators who were at a loss to explain why such specific charges would be totally dismissed while both the police and the mayor were kept in the dark. This is a “stay tuned” story because there definitely was a “deal.”)

The Wrap, “Jussie Smollett’s Attorney Says ‘There Was No Deal’ to Get Charges Dropped,” March 26, 2019


“But I am not a liar,” said the president’s former attorney Michael Cohen at a Capitol Hill hearing on whether he—wait for it—had lied. He clarified by admitting, “I have lied.” (Cohen also added, “I have never asked for, nor would I accept, a pardon from Mr. Trump.” This has all the earmarks of “Please pardon me.” We’re afraid the headline is a harbinger indicating his testimony will live forever.)

The New York Times, “Cohen Hearings Are Over, but Not the Arguing About His Testimony,” March 7, 2019

“I’m not going to say this is an emergency,” said veteran U.S. Border Patrol agent Joe Romero about the situation at the southern border. (He then went on to describe it as a “much bigger challenge.” The facts of the situation seem to support what Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen said, “We face a crisis – a real, serious and sustained crisis at our borders.” This is an example of a war over words. It’s clearly a horrible situation—no matter what you call it—and it’s an example of how word-of-mouth and social media have gotten through to the poorest residents of Central America. The Dallas Morning News got it right in the headline even if all the participants in the debate squabbled about their words.)

The Dallas Morning News, “Trump’s border emergency becomes more real by the day as migrants stack up along the Rio Grande,” March 7, 2019

“… I did not call Rep. Omar un-American,” said Fox News host Judge Jeanine Pirro. (Of course you did, Judge! You called her "Sharia-compliant" and said she practiced "Sharia-adherence behavior" by wearing a hijab. We’re admirers of you, but Fox News correctly called you out on this. Our question is—why criticize Omar’s hijab when there’s so much to comment on about what she actually says?)

The Hollywood Reporter, “Fox News ‘Strongly’ Condemns Host Jeanine Pirro’s Comments About Muslim Congresswoman,” March 10, 2019

“… I haven’t abandoned my principles,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) when discussing the possibility of running a primary campaign against President Trump. (This was an interesting interview that demonstrated why never to repeat and deny a negative word. The quote crowded out all of Hogan’s other, much more important comments about his own strengths or his differences with the president’s positions. He should have reinforced that the American people would support his positions and his courage in articulating them.)

The Washington Post, “‘I haven’t abandoned my principles’: Hogan, pondering challenge to Trump, casts himself as a traditional Republican,” March 18, 2019

… the FBI is not corrupt, not a nest of vipers, of spies, …” said former FBI Director James Comey. (It pains me to say this but given what’s come out about at least the two agents who promoted the investigation of the Trump campaign, some agents are truly damaging to the FBI’s mission. Comey did go on to say the FBI is “an honest group of people trying to find out what is true,” which certainly describes the FBI I knew.)

NBC News, “Comey: Mueller findings show Trump lied about FBI, his attempt to destroy the agency failed,” March 28, 2019

“You have to persuade enough of the opposition party voters or the Trump voters that you are not just trying to … that you’re not just trying to steal the last ele(ction)— to reverse the results of the last election,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. (You have to hand it to Nadler for putting his finger squarely on the issue. Nadler made these comments before the Mueller report was delivered, and he was way out in front charging that Trump had obstructed justice. He said, “Eleven hundred times (Trump) referred to the Mueller investigation as a witch hunt. He tried to—he fired—he tried to protect Flynn from being investigated by the FBI. He fired Comey in order to stop the Russian thing as he told NBC news. He—he has dangled part— he's intimidated witnesses in public.” Wow! The Mueller report, of course, cleared the president on collusion charges, and while it appeared to dodge obstruction of justice findings, it actually did what a special counsel—as opposed to an independent counsel—was supposed to do, which is refer the findings to Congress. Note the quote became the headline.), “Nadler: Dems Have to ‘Persuade’ Trump Voters They’re ‘Not Just Trying to Steal’ the Last Election,” March 4, 2019

The committee’s goal is not “to bring people before the committee for a pony show,” said Mike McQuerry, a senior aide for Oversight Committee Rep. Stacey Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands. McQuerry commented on Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings’s suggestion that the committee call President Trump’s family members and children to testify. (Of course, the goal is to create a sensation. Cummings isn’t the only one salivating for more high-profile hearings. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff is exploring bringing Trump’s eldest son back for an interview. In response, fellow Democratic Rep. Gerald Connolly of Virginia said it best, “I think the optics of that are very dangerous.” We agree.)

Liberty Headlines, “House Dems Fear Backlash of Allowing Public Testimony from Trump’s Kids,” March 1, 2019

“I didn’t say that they were putting themselves on a list for primaries,” tweeted freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez after threatening to run moderate Democrats out of office in the 2020 primaries. (The dispute dealt with a bill broadening federal background checks for guns. Ocasio-Cortez was infuriated that 26 Democrats supported a last-minute amendment to the bill that requires that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement be notified when an illegal immigrant tries to buy a gun. That seems perfectly reasonable to us.)

New York Post, “Ocasio-Cortez led closed-door crackdown on moderate House Democrats,” March 1, 2019     

“It’s not about smoking weed,” said Cowboys defensive tackle David Irving during a live stream on his Instagram account when he announced he doesn’t want to play football. (Another example of why it’s a good idea to think before you post on social media. Insisting he’s quitting of his own accord, Irving fulminated against the NFL with a string of expletives. What should he have said? He should have expressed gratitude for the opportunity to excel in a game he loves. The reporter put it best when he said Irving’s career was “going up in smoke.”)

The Dallas Morning News, “Cowboys DT David Irving says he’s quitting football while smoking what appears to be marijuana in Instagram video,” March 7, 2019

“I’m not rooting for Mr. Mueller to demonstrate that he is a criminal,” wrote former FBI Director James Comey in a New York Times op-ed, referring to President Trump. (Another, “Of course you are!” reaction. In our view, given that Comey started taking notes about his private conversations with then-President-elect Trump and then enlisted a friend to leak the notes to the media, we’d say that Comey is interested in his next book. However, despite the other, more temperate comments made in his op-ed, Comey’s negative comment became the headline.)

The Hill, “Comey: I’m not rooting for Mueller to demonstrate Trump is a criminal,” March 21, 2019

“I don’t think she’s anti-Semitic,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) about freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar in reaction to her comments indicating U.S.-Israel ties are problematic and forwarded because of money contributed by the Jews. (Hoyer tried to say that Republican Rep. Steve King’s comments were equally offensive, which may be true but is beside the point. A Muslim member of Congress repeating long-festering comments about Jews being pledged to Israel rather than the U.S. and money grubbing only keeps these evil comments alive over the centuries.)

The Hill, “Hoyer: Omar’s Israel comments not comparable to King’s white supremacy remarks,” March 6, 2019

“The president is not a white supremacist,” said acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. (It was predictable that White House staff would continue to get hammered with questions about the topic following the tragic shooting in New Zealand by a deranged terrorist who wrote an equally deranged manifesto. We found the president’s comments appropriate, calling the shooting “senseless” and “horrific,”and when asked if white nationalism is a growing threat, he replied it was a “small group of people that have very, very serious problems.” The issue is whether the media, particularly social media, is helping deranged people translate fantasies into facts.)

The Hill, “Mulvaney after New Zealand attacks: Trump ‘is not a white supremacist,’” March 17, 2019

“We are not naïve,” said Lithuanian Central Bank Governor Vitas Vasiliauskas in a story about how European banks ignore money laundering and criminal activity by elites throughout Europe and Russia. (This story probably isn’t on most people’s radar screen, but it’s worth a read to illustrate several things: first, the importance of U.S. leadership on many fronts, as the only reason some countries take the issue seriously is because the U.S. is forcing them to; second, the article clearly defines why illicit money flows cause so much damage; and finally, because these criminal activities are so openly practiced. The players aren’t the least ashamed that they are gaming and subverting the system, so it’s an issue of integrity and character. When regulatory bodies and large players behave like this, all businesses are hurt and, particularly, what we define as capitalism.)

Bloomberg Businessweek, “Huge Pools of Dirty Money Are Europe’s Worst-Kept Banking Secret,” March 13, 2019

“I can speak emphatically that there’s not an unhealthy climate here,” said Jonathan Stafford, the new artistic director of the famed New York City Ballet. His comments followed the ouster of the legendary Peter Martins amid allegations of abuse and scandal. (It looks as if Stafford was asked about allegations of abuse, and he replied with the quote here. He should have said, “We are building a collaborative, supportive environment.” The article was generally positive but contained that one damaging quote.)

The Washington Post, “After a year of upheaval, New York City Ballet names new leadership team,” Feb. 28, 2019


“In Texas, Ted Cruz called me a socialist. I’m too liberal for Texas. Outside of Texas, people say, ‘Is he really a Democrat? I think he’s a closet Republican.’ I don’t know where I am on a spectrum and I almost could care less,” said former Rep. and current Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. This statement is breathtaking in its arrogance. Reporters noted that voters will care. O’Rourke also began receiving the kind of scrutiny he avoided as a Senate candidate, even a very high-profile one. News was released that O’Rourke was part of a teenage computer-hacking cult named “Cult of the Dead Cow,” and that he penned a fictional story for Cult of the Dead Cow boards under the name “Psychedelic Warlord”about someone running over two children crossing the street. He was also dinged for comments that used to get a chuckle, saying that his wife was at home raising their three children “sometimes with my help.” More to come.

The Dallas Morning News, “Where does Beto O’Rourke, the latest Democratic contender for president, stand on the issues?” March 14, 2019

“Decent” has become a bad word according to the left. Former Vice President Joe Biden found that out when he referred to Vice President Mike Pence as “a decent guy” and was criticized by actress, progressive activist and former New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon. To his shame, Biden waffled, backtracked and retracted his comment. What a mistake.

The Hill, “The Memo: Biden’s nice words for Republicans may doom White House hopes,” March 15, 2019

“… The Observer called me one of the ‘wealthy volunteer’ candidates for mayor,” wrote Lynn McBee, mayoral candidate for the City of Dallas. (This was one of the most problematic candidate emails we’ve ever seen. McBee repeated a damaging charge from one of Dallas’ main publications and then devoted four of the remaining six paragraphs of her campaign message to discuss why being a woman gives her an advantage. We’ll report how successful this tactic proves.)

Lynn McBee For Dallas Mayor, “Can I handle ‘the boys’?" March 12, 2019

“A little scary” was how the House Democrats’ campaign chief, Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), described progressives’ Medicare for All plan, specifically the estimated $33 trillion price tag (yes, with a ‘t’) over a decade, not to mention the abolition of all privately provided health care, which covers about 150 million people. Waleed Shahid, a spokesperson and attack dog for grass-roots group Justice Democrats, went after her, accusing her of mouthing the position of Republicans and insurance companies. (Bustos was right. It is scary. Expect to see this word come back in the debate along with the statistic of its cost.)

The Hill, “Dem campaign chief: Medicare for All price tag ‘a little scary,’” March 6, 2019

“Three years ago, they thought we were kind of crazy and extreme,” said presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders. He was pointing out, correctly, that his positions have gone mainstream. At least you have to give him credit for honesty. He also said, “… we are going to transform the United States of America.”

The Wall Street Journal, “Will Democratic Primary Voters Tolerate a Liberal?” March 4, 2019

An example of how comments live forever is the resurrection of Fox News talk show host Tucker Carlson’s decade-old comments made on a talk radio show called “Bubba the Love Sponge.” His comments were admittedly incendiary and insulting. What’s interesting was Carlson’s response. He said, “Rather than express the usual ritual contrition, how about this: I’m on television every weeknight live for an hour. If you want to know what I think, you can watch. Anyone who disagrees with my views is welcome to come on and explain why.” It’s clear Carlson was purposely being outrageous for the performance art of Bubba the Love Sponge’s show. Nevertheless, this is a good example of how comments live forever and forewarned is forearmed.

The Washington Post, “Tucker Carlson unapologetic over ‘misogynistic’ comments on statutory rape, insults against women,” March 11, 2019

It’s not anti-Semitic to hate the Jews of Israel,” said former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone. (This is the month’s international winner. Livingstone’s comment was so vile that we considered skipping it so that we didn’t contribute to its dissemination. However, we decided to include it as an example of the power of words to sow hatred and decisiveness while being cloaked in intellectual dishonesty.)

Daily Mail, “Ken Livingstone stokes new Labour anti-Semitism row after dismissing problem as ‘lies and smears peddled by ghastly Blairites,’” March 30, 2019


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

Must Love Dogs

  • Wildcard
  • March 22, 2019
  • by Emily Turner


In honor of National Puppy Day (March 23—who knew?), we wanted to share some practical leadership and communication lessons from dogs. While it’s not a prerequisite that you must be a dog lover to work at Spaeth Communications, we are a dog-friendly office. In fact, the saddest time in our 32-year history was when we moved from our beloved Oak Grove location to our new high-rise offices. The new office is gorgeous, it was only sad because of the landlord’s no-dog policy. We may or may not have smuggled a pup or two into the building, we’ll never tell.

Speaking of sad—after having lost our sweet, Weimaraner Brando this past fall, my family decided to get a new puppy one month later. While that wasn’t the plan, it was kismet and a healthy dose of encouragement from Merrie that made me realize that our house just wasn’t a home without a four-legged friend. Enter Sir Charles “Barkley” Turner, a sweet Goldendoodle pup who we brought home at six weeks old. Puppies are hard. They bring endless joy, but lots of added work and responsibility. Thankfully, my children are old enough now to help out and they certainly learned how patience, clear instructions and positive reinforcement play a large part in training a puppy.

What are the leadership and communication lessons you might ask? Those can be found in this insightful and inspiring article from the Detroit Free Press. Warning: this heartwarming story about service dogs may induce tears. However, it will also induce an appreciation about how much dogs can teach us. Human resource managers have touted this unique hands-on training program, designed by Leader Dogs for the Blind, that puts business leaders through their paces. 

The experience was best summed up by Phil Bertolini, CIO for Oakland County who said, "When you're in leadership, you want to control things. That took me out of my comfort zone. I had to purely trust the dog.” And there you have the biggest lesson of all. Trust in your employees. This speaks directly to employee engagement and retention. Other lessons learned include the importance of clear communication, meaningful guidance and recognition, strategic planning skills, plan implementation skills, team empower skills and change management.

Although my favorite quote from the article came once again from Bertolini when describing the experience. “There's nothing worse than someone droning on and reading from a PowerPoint. This is totally different from that. You're learning from people who learned to work through their life and maneuver through their world without sight. That's powerful." As are the loyal and hardworking dogs who literally change people’s lives for the better. 

Celebrating 55 Years of “The World of Henry Orient”

  • Trends
  • March 19, 2019
  • by Merrie Spaeth


Today is a special day for me. It’s the anniversary of the release of “The World of Henry Orient,” the movie I did with Peter Sellers and Angela Lansbury. Just five years ago, I was back on the red carpet in Los Angeles at the Turner Classic Film Festival to honor the movie’s 50th anniversary.

If you’re in the mood for a delightful romp of two teenagers (me and Tippy Walker) tormenting a womanizer and shmaltzy concert pianist (Peter Sellers’ character), “The World of Henry Orient” has been described as the quintessential New York City movie. George Roy Hill was the director and always said it was his favorite movie. Elmer Bernstein (brother of Leonard and a top composer in his own right) did the score.

Who said, “gratitude is the right attitude”? I’ve had many blessings in my life but being chosen to star in this movie changed my life. It was the U.S. nominee to the Cannes International Film Festival, and I attended as the U.S. representative, which was another wonderful honor and experience. I also hosted an American hot dog fest in Cannes, France in 1965. You can imagine how well that was received…not!

For more Henry Orient, watch the full playlist of stories I shared in honor of the TCM festival and check out the movie for yourself.

BIMBO Nominees for March 2019

  • Bimbo
  • March 1, 2019
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image a

Great examples to learn from this month. BIMBOs from the founder of Chinese company Huawei Technologies Co., Sen. Thom Tillis and an internet hoaxster. Examples of the “Wrong Thing to Say” from former executive editor of The New York Times Jill Abramson (deliciously defensive) and freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar. Bill Cosby demonstrated how to make your image worse and an expletive directed at Trump caused a Pennsylvania newspaper to drop cartoonist Wiley Miller’s syndicated cartoon. Other examples include a book review by The New York Times opinion columnist Frank Bruni (a review unlike any other), an instance of what we call the law of exceptions and a note about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s body language during President Trump’s State of the Union address—did she disrespect the president with a hand gesture?


“We’re not racist. We are not homophobic and we are not anti-Trump,” claimed two brothers, Ola and Abel Osundairo. (Empire actor Jussie Smollett made sensational claims that he was attacked by two white men wearing MAGA hats who put a rope around his neck and yelled racial and homophobic epithets at him. The Chicago Police investigation revealed that Smollett orchestrated the incident himself, paying the brothers $3,500—by check! Besides the two brothers’ BIMBO comment made in a desperate attempt to reposition themselves from enablers to victims themselves, the incident is worth reviewing. The simplest online search provides everything you need for a lesson on how the media jumped on board and amplified Smollett’s narrative. For us, an interesting observation is that the local media, starting with the CBS Chicago affiliate, did a thorough job covering the story while the national media acted disgracefully. A must-see is Jussie’s interview with Robin Roberts of ABC News’ Good Morning America. For 17 minutes, the actor well, acted. He cried and spun an incredibly sophisticated story. There’s so much to critique in the interview—particularly Robin Roberts, who didn’t press him on any of his salacious claims. For us, the crucial moment was when Smollett said, “You do such a disservice when you lie about things like this.”)

CBS Chicago, “Jussie Smollett Case: Clues Into Potential Motive Behind The Attack,” Feb. 18, 2019


“I have never forced myself on anyone ever,” said Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, combatting allegations by two women that he sexually assaulted one and raped another. (This BIMBO comment managed to outshine Fairfax’s contemporary Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, in his own hot water over his inexplicable back-and-forth about whether he appeared in a 1984 medical-school yearbook photo in blackface and next to someone wearing Ku Klux Klan robes. Fairfax continued, “I will not resign,” which ensured he remained the focus of the attention. And to round out the mess, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring came forward to admit that he also once wore blackface to a party when he was a college student. Herring will survive because he didn’t wait to be discovered and expressed his willingness to resign. Although Fairfax is our marquee BIMBO here, we have lessons for all mentioned. Lesson to Fairfax—build bridges before you need them; to Northam—prepare a better strategy and rehearse; to everyone else—find the damaging material of yourself before anyone else does. For more, read Merrie’s in-depth analysis of the Virginia political scandals in The Hill.) 

The Wall Street Journal, “Second Woman Accuses Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of Sexual Assault,” Feb. 8, 2019

“America is not covering up for a murder,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo while on a diplomatic trip around central Europe. (This could have been the winning BIMBO comment because it exhibits how easy it is to deny, and in the process, repeat a negative word introduced by someone else. In reference to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Sen. Tim Kaine accused the administration of “aiding in the coverup of a murder.” Reporters asked Pompeo about Kaine’s criticism—which we categorize as a quote question—and Pompeo spit back, “Senator Kaine is just dead wrong. America is not covering up for a murder.” He went on to say that the administration will “… hold all of those responsible accountable.” Had Pompeo acknowledged Kaine’s charge by saying instead, “I’ve heard that,” or “I haven’t heard that,” he would have avoided repeating the salacious word “coverup,” and his comment wouldn’t have made the story.)

The Washington Post, “Pompeo meets with activists who have been targeted by Hungary’s government,” Feb. 11, 2019

“I personally would never harm the interest of my customers,” claimed Ren Zhengfei, founder of Huawei Technologies Co., a Chinese company that is the world’s biggest supplier of 5G equipment for mobile-computing networks. Huawei was accused of operating as an arm of the Chinese military, as many believe Beijing could use the gear to spy on the world. Zhengfei insisted, “… my company would not answer to such requests.” (Not a lot of credibility here given the proliferation of Chinese-funded suspicious software and devices around the globe.)

The Wall Street Journal, “The Internet, Divided Between the U.S. and China, Has Become a Battleground,” Feb. 9, 2019

“I don’t believe in situational principles,” said Sen. Thom Tillis while explaining his opposition to President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency in order to fund the border wall. (On one hand, we agree with Tillis, and don’t want to see future presidents emboldened to declare national emergencies; however, as congressional and political watches, we don’t see what principles aren’t situational. Tillis would have been more believable if he admitted that polling revealed that his constituents don’t like the president’s actions.)

The Washington Post, “Trump declares national emergency on southern border in bid to build wall,” Feb. 15, 2019

“I’m not racist,” said actor Liam Neeson. (This is puzzling, and first we read it as a publicity stunt in an attempt to promote his new movie “Cold Pursuit.” Neeson described an alleged incident that occurred 40 years ago when his female friend was raped by a black male. Neeson said he was so angry that he grabbed a crowbar and ran around pubs for a week looking for an African-American to hassle him so he could “kill him.” This may not rise to the Jussie Smollett situation, but it doesn’t ring true. Neeson should have just explained that as a very talented actor, he can draw up enormous emotional reserves. The claim drove the story and became the headline.)

CNN, “Liam Neeson: ‘I’m not racist,’” Feb. 5, 2019

“I've not created fake accounts or bot armies or anything like that,” said internet hoaxster Jacob Wohl. Recently, Wohl disclosed his plans “to steer the left-wing votes in the primaries to what we feel are weaker candidates compared with Trump” before the 2020 presidential election. He bragged that this plan includes the creation of “‘enormous left-wing properties,’ including Facebook and Twitter accounts.” In response, Twitter confirmed Wohl had already created multiple fake accounts and suspended Wohl from the platform. Lesson? Be careful what you brag about.

USA Today, “Twitter bans Trump-supporting hoaxster after USA TODAY exposé,” Feb. 26, 2019


“I made mistakes,” said Jill Abramson, former executive editor of The New York Times, while plugging her new book, “Merchants of Truth.” The book was found to have a number of missing citations and errors in the footnotes, thus generating allegations of plagiarism. (With apologies for the snarky delight of seeing the self-righteous Abramson squirm while interrogated by left-leaning writers, the defensiveness jumps out of the transcript. When asked by the interviewer, Sean Illing, whether she was “unfair in some of (her) descriptions of various new media reporters,” she protested, “… you’re obviously entitled to your opinion.” She also characterized her multiple infractions as only “mistakes” and claimed, “I don’t think these issues should overshadow what I think is a really interesting book.” Think about this claim—it doesn’t matter if you got the story wrong as long as it’s “interesting.” Isn’t that what the overarching debate about journalism is today? She also said that she didn’t plagiarize because “… it’s not an intentional theft or taking someone’s original ideas—it’s just the facts.” A must read.)

Vox, “‘I made mistakes’: Jill Abramson responds to plagiarism charges around her new book,” Feb. 8, 2019

“It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” read a now-deleted tweet by newly-elected Rep. Ilhan Omar charging that the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) pays politicians to support Israel. (A wide range of officials and leaders quickly criticized Omar, who has a history of sensational, anti-Semitic comments. In 2012, she wrote, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” Although she apologized—sort of—she retains the plum committee assignment on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The other relevant fact: the mainstream media paid scant attention to Omar’s comments. If anyone believes Omar has truly changed her beliefs, we have some ocean front property in Arizona…)

The Hill, “Pelosi, Dem leaders urge Omar to apologize for ‘anti-Semitic’ tweet,” Feb. 11, 2019

“Political prisoner” is how Bill Cosby described himself in a statement released by his press spokesman, in which he also compared himself to Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and other heroes. (So sad. Cosby was a national figure, “America’s Dad.” This can only make things worse. Cosby made himself look ridiculous when he compared himself to the giants of the civil rights movements, those who really suffered. No matter how stark Cosby’s cell is, we’ll bet it’s more spacious and luxurious than the cell where Mandela spent 27 years.)

CNN,“Bill Cosby says he won’t feel remorse because he’s a ‘political prisoner,’” Feb. 14, 2019

“Some of my sharp-eyed readers have spotted a little Easter egg from Leonardo Bear-Vinci. Can you find it?” read a now-deleted tweet from Wiley Miller, author of the popular “Non Sequitur” cartoon. (Semi-hidden in the lower-right panel of Miller’s daily cartoon appeared a message directed at President Trump, “We fondly say go …” followed by “the F word.” In response, the Pennsylvania paper dropped Miller’s nationally-syndicated strip from its Sunday comics. We love “Non Sequitur,” and we’re puzzled why Miller jeopardized a successful career. In the past, the quirky, occasionally snarky topics of his cartoons weren’t overtly politically insulting.)

USA Today, “Pennsylvania newspaper drops syndicated cartoon over hidden Trump insult,” Feb. 11, 2019


“And more people will read the racy headlines about the book than read the book itself,” wrote opinion columnist Frank Bruni. This is one of the truest predictions you will ever read! Bruni reviewed a new book by French journalist Frédéric Martel, titled “‘Sodoma,’ as in Sodom, in Western Europe and ‘In the Closet of the Vatican’ in the United States, Britain and Canada.” Bruni fanned the inflammatory story by including in his column excerpts from Martel’s comments about the book such as, “‘even in San Francisco’s Castro’ there aren’t ‘quite as many gays,’” compared to the number found in the Vatican. Martel also wrote, “The world I am discovering, with its 50 shades of gay, is beyond comprehension.” Bruni predicted the book would generate lots of discussion and be hotly debated, which is certainly true. However, best-selling author Rev. James Martin shared a different perspective in a tweet“Its publication the day before the Vatican’s summit on abuse is also bound to shift attention away from child abuse and onto gay priests in general, once again falsely conflating in people’s minds homosexuality and pedophilia.” In response to a question about his aim, author Martel claimed, “I’m not a Catholic. I don’t have any motive of revenge.” Wow. This is an instance where the book speaks for itself. 

The New York Times, “The Vatican’s Gay Overlords,” Feb. 15, 2019


Millions of people including former President Barack Obama watched as Duke University basketball star Zion Williamson fell when his left Nike sneaker split in full view of the cameras. The accident generated attention regarding the influence of shoe companies over college basketball, namely the fat contracts these companies have with colleges so the schools’ unpaid athletes will wear only their brands. Nike described what happened to the shoe as “an isolated occurrence.” This only caused commentators to recall that in 2015 a marathon runner had a similar experience when his shoe insoles came loose. The problem with referring to the incident as an “isolated occurrence” is that Nike confirmed that the occurrence does happen, thus prompting every athlete to wonder if he or she will be the next victim. Nike should have said, “Our goal is perfection and every year we get a little closer because we are committed to innovation.” 

The New York Times, “A Star’s Shoe Breaks, Putting College Basketball Under a Microscope,” Feb. 21, 2019


When is a clap not a clap? Much has been made of a hand gesture made by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi during President Trump’s State of the Union address. Was it a gesture of disrespect? An attempt to jeer at the president? You can decide for yourself. Our opinion is that this is an instance where a still picture was grabbed and labeled based on what the interpreter wanted to see. We watched the entire SOTU (read Merrie’s analysis published in The Hill) and, while Pelosi didn’t look rapturous, she never seemed disrespectful. No eye rolling, no head shaking, no audible or visible signs. Time for that admonition: assume positive intent. 

The New York Times, “Internet Sees a Clapback in Nancy Pelosi’s Applause of Trump,” Feb. 6, 2019 


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

BIMBO Nominees for January and February 2019

  • Bimbo
  • February 1, 2019
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image e

Examples galore! This edition of the BIMBO Memo features one of the largest compilations of examples to date. In the Memo, you’ll find BIMBOs from former Governor of South Carolina and outgoing Congressman Mark Sanford, Johnson & Johnson, former FBI Director James Comey, a catholic bishop, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, a convicted fraudster (who needed a lawyer) and the (lucky) new sheriff of Florida’s Broward County. STUPID, STUPID, STUPID winner U.S. Rep. Steve King and a “Wrong Thing to Say” from a French DJ, a Wisconsin farmer, Wells Fargo (probably its lawyers) and more. You’ll also find a host of other interesting communication-related examples to learn from like one The New York Times reporter’s take on the hidden agenda of the Davos elite.


“The man was not operating a harem, or a sex cult, or holding people hostage or anything like that,” said Steven Greenberg, lawyer for singer R. Kelly who is the subject of a six-part Lifetime docuseries that makes sensational allegations about his sexual relations with underage women. (A classic case of trying to deflect anger or blame by claiming things aren’t as bad as they could be. Continuing with the off-tone comments, Greenberg tried to dismiss Lady Gaga’s recent apology for her song with Kelly by claiming she knew about the “rumors” surrounding Kelly when they started working together, and that she is only denouncing Kelly now to curry favor with Oscar voters. Don’t try to dismiss bad behavior by claiming it could have been worse. Do state the individual’s commitment—even if in the future—to be responsible.)

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “R. Kelly responds to docuseries through lawyer, denies allegations of sexual abuse,” Jan. 11, 2019


“Nobody got killed, nobody got robbed … This was not a big crime,” said Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City and current lawyer for President Donald Trump. Giuliani was referencing former Trump company lawyer Michael Cohen’s admission of paying off two women alleged to have had affairs with the president. (Ouch. Giuliani served with my late husband, Tex Lezar, at the Reagan Justice Department. He’s so smart. Please ... someone tell him—stop repeating negatives! Last fall, he described the Mueller investigation as “…white-collar crime. Nobody’s dying, nobody’s being abused, nobody’s being sexually assaulted.” One of the hardest things to do in an extended crisis is to stay silent or noncommittal. All of the president’s spokespersons, even someone as high profile as Guiliani, should stick to comments about the president working on his priorities like tax reform, criminal justice reform, trade and so on. Notice that like so many of these stories, the negative works its way into the headline. The “no collusion” theme continues with “I never said there was no collusion,” and “If the collusion happened, it happened a long time ago.” And Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) tried to help out, in reaction to the story about whether campaign chairman Paul Manafort gave polling data to a Russian suspected of ties to Kremlin intelligence. Burr said, “I don’t perceive it as collusion.” Help! Stop with the “no collusion” denial.)

HuffPost, “Rudy Giuliani Defends Michael Cohen’s Hush Money Payments: ‘Nobody Got Killed,’” Dec. 14, 2018

“I never received any compensation from Nissan that was not disclosed, nor did I ever enter into any binding contract with Nissan to be paid a fixed amount that was not disclosed,” said former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn. (Ghosn is imprisoned without counsel in a Tokyo jail, but this is included as an example of how even an experienced titan of industry needs communication help. All he had to do was replace the negative expression—“never received”—with a positive comment such as, “All compensation from Nissan was disclosed, and all contracts for a fixed amount were disclosed.” As we’ve pointed out in many examples, you would think large companies would understand this—but they don’t.)

Seeking Alpha, “Nissan’s Ghosn claims innocence in first court hearing,” Jan. 8, 2019

“I want to be clear and explicit that I am not likening Trump to Hitler,” said former governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford in a stem-winding Facebook post after losing the Republican primary in which he also warned about the rise of a “future Hitler-like character.” (Of course, this is the guy who, as former South Carolina Governor, went off on days-long love trysts and lied to his wife and staff about walking the mountain trail, so he doesn’t have the best track record. Of course he’s comparing Trump to Hitler, and he’s getting media attention for doing it.)

The State, “‘Hitler-like’ strongman could rise ‘if we don’t watch out,’ outgoing SC congressman warns,” Dec. 26, 2018

“It is never our intention to mislead,” claimed Tim Johnson, of Houston-based Land Tejas about a development, Balmoral, featuring a lagoon as a main amenity. Residents were lured to buy with the promise of exclusive usage of the water feature, only to find the company selling passes to non-residents, renting to neighboring communities and charging residents extra for lounge chairs. (Johnson claimed that if he did tell residents the lagoon would be exclusive, he “misspoke.” That’s a pretty big selling point to get wrong. Further complicating his credibility, he said, “From our perspective, we’ve never said one way or another. We’ve always hedged on keeping options open.” And to make this a perfect case study, he totally destroyed his PR people who initially responded to residents’ concerns as rumors by posting on Facebook that it was a “resident only amenity.” Johnson said that the PR folks wrote the post and that it was never approved by the company. We assume everyone in that department is frantically looking on LinkedIn.)

Houston Chronicle, “Lagoon blues: Homeowners say promise of paradise broken,” Dec. 14, 2018

“We did not hide anything. Ever.” said Johnson & Johnson in a full-page ad in response to attacks—and multiple lawsuits—about the fact that the talcum in Johnson’s Baby Powder contains asbestos. (J&J is under existential attack on this issue, and its full-page ads aren’t aligned with the safety message contained in a company statement responding to a Reuters article that reported “that from 1971 to the early 2000s, company officials knew raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos.” This is also a classic example of how traditional public relations campaigns—relying primarily on expensive, full-page newspaper ads—are losing to word-of-mouth anecdotes, and what is really junk science, but has gained a foothold in the public’s mind. Like the anti-vaxxers’ unshakeable—but wrong—conviction, people think talcum powder causes cancer. The marketing, advertising and legal departments might not be working together. J&J, if you’re listening, you need to mobilize your employees and your customers and fight back in the court of public opinion using real people.)

Bizwomen, “Johnson & Johnson defends talc products,” Dec. 17, 2018

“That damage has nothing to do with me,” whined former FBI Director James Comey after testifying on Capitol Hill and being criticized for the FBI’s damaged reputation. (We beg to differ. From the get-go, transcribing his confidential conversations with a president and surreptitiously enlisting a university professor to provide them to the media, Comey has come to represent sanctimonious self-dealing. Even though I was just a lowly special assistant at the FBI, I revere the agency and hope to see it restored to its previous reputation for integrity.)

Townhall, “Comey: FBI’s Damaged Reputation Has Nothing to Do With Me,” Dec. 18, 2018

“I’m not a dictator,” said Fort Worth Catholic Bishop Michael Olson in a long, rambling and destructive interview with the local paper. (The article addresses numerous criticisms of the bishop, from closing several churches to the firing of certain popular priests and frayed relationships with parishioners. The article is chock full of BIMBOs—“I’m not a potentate,” “ … I’m not violent,” “ … no crime had been committed, no act against a minor … ”—but the real reason to call this to your attention as a learning and teaching tool for your own top executives is because it demonstrates two things. First, it’s a mistake to treat the media as a neutral, third-party sounding board. There’s a lot of dissention in this parish and the paper covered it. That’s their job. Unfortunately, the repetition of all the complaints just magnifies them and makes them more real. Second, the bishop sounds whiney, dismissive and yes, dictatorial. He continually criticizes and dismisses his own parishioners, calling them the problem, which is never a good way to build relationships.)

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “Catholic Leader fires back amid criticism that he’s overbearing: ‘I’m not a dictator,’” Dec. 15, 2018

“I’m not a liar,” said the very angry Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during a tense hearing on Capitol Hill about whether the administration was consciously separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D- Ill.) accused her of “com(ing) here and l(ying),” and she took the bait and repeated it back. The conversations read almost like an Edward Albee script. (Nielsen should have said, “That charge is untrue, unfair and unworthy of a member of this body. I have truthfully explained our policy about dealing with families.” Note the sensational denial made the headline.)  

NBC News, “'I am not a liar': DHS chief Nielsen defends immigration policies in heated hearing,” Dec. 20, 2018

“We are not the party of bigots,” said State Republican Executive Committeeman J.T. Edwards who led the argument before the county party to vote down a motion to get rid of the local Republican party vice chair because he is a Muslim. (We are pleased to report that Edwards carried the day, and the local GOP resoundingly voted to keep Dr. Shahid Shafi as vice chair. Not, however, before the motion to remove him had made national news. Alas, the results of the vote to support him got no attention.)

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “Texas Republican on Tarrant push to remove Muslim: ’We are not the party of bigots,’” Dec. 1, 2018

“ … no intention of committing fraud,” was Jody Sheffield’s explanation in response to being convicted and sentenced for defrauding a program designed to provide benefits to veterans. (Oh good Lord, where are the lawyers who understand crisis communication when you need them? This was a very complex and sophisticated case that illustrates the incredible savvy of people who undoubtedly could have made an honest living—but didn’t and were caught. Apparently Sheffield cooperated with the prosecution, and later in the article, he said, “It hurts my heart that no one got helped.” He should have used his second quote to apologize and thank the judge and the prosecutors for allowing him to make partial recompense for his behavior.)

The Dallas Morning News, “Prison time for another man who ripped off health insurance program for troops,” Dec. 14, 2018

“I am not here for any type of political grandiose agenda,” said newly-appointed Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony, taking the reins of a troubled and grieving county following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. (Tony was appointed by new Governor Ron DeSantis following the uproar over how the county and school district mishandled the shooter, as well as law enforcement’s immediate response. Tony also said, “I’m here to serve,” which the media did him the favor of including in the story’s headline. We wish him continued luck.)

South Florida Sun Sentinel, “‘I’m here to serve’: New Sheriff Gregory Tony says he’s a cop, not a politician,” Jan. 11, 2019  


“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) in a broad-ranging interview with The New York Times. The interview included the topic of immigration, about which King said he was against illegal immigration but did see a need to “defend American civilization.” (Predictably, this triggered a controversy and was made worse when King stood up in Congress to protest that he was not an advocate for white supremacy or white nationalism. Besides leading the “Wrong Thing to Say” category—maybe for all time—this falls into the “STUPID, STUPID, STUPID” category. The House leadership issued statements disapproving of King’s comments and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) wrote an eloquent op-ed for The Washington Post explaining why King’s views have no place in the Republican Party. The real tragedy here is that by lumping “white supremacist” with “Western civilization,” King ended up undercutting a very real discussion going on about what the now-derided “Western civilization” means to our future.)     

The Hill, “Steve King faces new storm over remarks about white supremacy,” Jan. 12, 2019

“Do you know how to twerk?” asked the moronic co-host of the prestigious Ballon d’Or soccer awards ceremony in Paris of Ada Hegerberg, the first female winner of the award signifying that she’s the best female soccer player in the world. (The event host, French DJ Martin Solveig, was criticized and ridiculed for using precious stage time to ask such a demeaning question—but not enough! Too many people laughed. The next step to real equality isn’t just recognizing that such a question is disrespectful and stupid, it’s not laughing at it when it’s asked.)

The Dallas Morning News, “With a twerking question, sexism took the spotlight from exceptional women like Ada Hegerberg again,” Dec. 6, 2018

“I’m not going to say that what we do on the surface can’t have an impact,” said fifth-generation Wisconsin dairy farmer Lee Kinnard about the growing controversy over dairy farms’ expansion and the contamination of ground and drinking water from manure and fertilizer. (In a remarkably balanced and thoughtful piece, Kinnard shares his views about why his farm needs to expand and what he is already doing to improve his environmental impact. However, we would have counselled him against the quote here. Instead, he should have said, “We are aware of our impact and are committed to being leaders in improvements and solutions.” This is actually what he was trying to say because he even noted, “My family lives next to these fields also.”)

The Wall Street Journal, “Farms, More Productive Than Ever, Are Poisoning Drinking Water in Rural America,” Jan. 18, 2019

This has become the regular "pick on Wells Fargo" story, but here we go again: during the government shutdown, many financial service companies proactively reached out to customers affected by the government shutdown with offers to defer payments, waive fees and provide other life lines. (Full disclosure: one of our clients, United Consumer Financial Services (UCFS), was one of the first to instruct the representatives of its forty-or-so industries to let customers know UCFS was ready to help, which included making sure no customer’s credit rating was affected.) Wells Fargo, late to the act, made news—because it didn’t reach out. Instead, it’s offering up a few sentences on its website that say that the bank will “work with” affected federal employees and that some borrowers “may” qualify for forbearance. Now, most people hear “forbearance” and they wonder why Smokey is involved. In this case, the bank’s overly-lawyerly responses only triggered a stinging article that listed all the misdeeds of the bank in the past. Doesn’t anyone at Wells Fargo speak English?)

The New York Times, “Wells Fargo Should Be More Generous With Federal Workers.” Jan. 4, 2019

“ … we’re gonna impeach the motherf---er,” shouted newly elected Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) on her second day in Congress. (Goodbye message discipline. At least it’s nice to see Democrats furious over the intemperate remarks by one of its newest members. Interesting though, her remarks received far less attention than the hapless Steve King’s remarks. Tlaib compounded the problem when she refused to apologize and claimed she was only “passionate.” That’s a mistake because it gives cover to people with other outrageous things to say.)

Politico, “Dems livid after Tlaib vows to ‘impeach the motherf—er,” Jan. 4, 2019

“ … the reason (for) forming this village is to keep people like you out of this neighborhood,” said president of Airmont Civic Association, Inc., James Filenbaum, about Jews in a 1987 legal testimony. This is a reminder that your words live on for a long time. (This article, by the General Counsel to First Liberty Institute, was sent to us by a reader who noticed the quote contained here and sent it as a reminder of why it’s important for lawyers to be communication-savvy. The article titled “How zoning can be a subtle kind of bigotry" is enlightening, as it both explains why limited government is a cherished ideal of conservatives as well as why one of the things that does make America exceptional is that there is a national law firm like First Liberty Institute devoted to defending religious freedom. Disclosure: First Liberty Institute is an organization Spaeth works with—and we can confirm that they are at the top of the communication game as well as the legal advocacy practice.) 

New York Post, “How zoning can be a subtle kind of bigotry,” Dec. 14, 2018


And our example of "no comment" comes from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin talking about President Trump’s comment that he would press for an additional middle-class tax cut. Will he or won’t he? “I’m not going to comment on whether it is a real thing or not a real thing,” said Mnuchin. (We understand the difficulty of being a cabinet secretary for someone like President Trump who likes to throw out ideas, thoughts or possible policy changes, sometimes of enormous, global significance. In this case, Mnuchin could have said, “It’s too early to predict.”)

Bloomberg, “Mnuchin Backs Off Trump’s Promise of 10% Middle-Class Tax Cut,” Dec. 18, 2018


We’re always asking, "Who’s the audience?" as did The New York Times reporter covering the annual meeting of the elites in Davos. His report began, “They’ll never admit it in public, but many of your bosses want machines to replace you as soon as possible.” He said he knows this because he’s “noticed that their answers to questions about automation depend very much on who is listening.” He outlined the words used around reporters and lay audiences versus what the CEOs say in front of tech audiences. “Replace” becomes “released.” “Laying off workers” becomes “undergoing digital transformation.” He also carefully noted the CEOs’ predictions of how many of their workers they aimed to release: Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou estimated 80 percent in the next five to 10 years, founder of the Chinese e-commerce company, Richard Liu, estimated a stunning 100 percent in the future. This is a must-read-must-save article for your senior executives, legal and HR folks. My only quibble is the reporter said a backlash is coming. Actually, it’s already here.)

The New York Times, “The Hidden Automation Agenda of the Davos Elite,” Jan. 25, 2019

In the great movie Invictus, Matt Damon’s character warns the other members of South Africa’s rugby team that cameras are on them at all times. British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn forgot that advice during a recent heated exchange with Prime Minister Theresa May. He returned to his seat but a camera went in close on him and caught what appeared to be him enunciating the words “stupid woman,” which predictably went viral and generated lots of debate. Worth noting is the measured responses of Speaker of the House of Parliament John Bercow who was urged to reprimand Corbyn and replied, “I cannot be expected to pronounce upon that which I did not see,” and the equally placating response by May, “I think that everybody in this house, particularly in this 100th anniversary of women getting the vote, should be aiming to encourage women to come into this chamber and should therefore use appropriate language in this chamber when they are referring to female members.” Gee, do you think they could give lessons to some of our members of Congress?)

The New York Times, “Did Jeremy Corbyn Call Theresa May ‘a Stupid Woman’?” Dec. 19, 2018    

And words don’t always translate … German Chancellor Angela Merkel found that out while delivering a speech in English when she used a word—in English—that’s a direct translation from a German word with a much, much milder meaning. She was describing an incident where she was mocked for making a comment about the internet years ago and said, “It generated quite a s--tstorm.” In German, the word means “storm of outrage” as opposed to a vulgarity. And again, it generated a lot of attention!

The New York Times, “Some Words Defy Translation. Angela Merkel Showed Why.” Dec. 5, 2018

Speaking of communication savvy lawyers, where was one when actor Kevin Spacey did a bizarre, three-minute video called “Let Me Be Frank”? The video was an apparent reference to his character on “House of Cards,” as he delivered his remarks using the same southern accent he famously contained on the popular television show. We cannot fathom the purpose of the video. To confirm Spacey is not in full possession of his faculties? The actor, for anyone who has been hiding out is one of the latest entertainment celebrities to be caught up in sensational charges of sexual harassment or assault, in this case with young men and teenage boys. What do you think?

The New York Times, “Kevin Spacey Faces Felony Charge in Misconduct Case,” Dec. 24, 2018

Worth reading if you missed it, is the story about star German reporter Claas Relotius found guilty of making up facts and sources in over one dozen articles. The revelation is shocking to journalists but exemplifies why so many ordinary people distrust the media. One of his stories ostensibly reported on a several-week visit to a small town, Fergus Falls, Minnesota, where the reporter encountered the real Trump voters who were, predictably, racist. The townspeople have been seething about the story since its publication because there were so many clearly identifiable errors of fact. Also amusing is CNN’s pathetic effort to distance itself from Relotius despite naming him the 2014 “Journalist of the Year.”

CNN, “Germany’s Der Spiegel says star reporter Claas Relotius wrote fake stories ‘on a grand scale,’” Dec. 21, 2018

A happy ending on the trend of re-interpreting everything—statuses, history and now popular songs—that is, according to today’s standards. After one radio station decided to pull the classic “Baby It’s Cold Outside” from its playlist, and others followed, a public outcry defending the song written by Frank Loesser to sing with his wife at parties, resulted in reclaiming it and a healthy debate about what the lyrics and teasing delivery mean. Are we headed back to sensible debate?

Quartzy, “‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ Isn’t About Rape—But The Song Hasn’t Aged Well,” Dec. 6, 2018

Is email obsolete? Here’s an interesting article about how several companies are finding email is a much better way to communicate with key audiences. The trick seems to be to send emails to those friends, customers or individuals truly interested in what you have to say. Targeting your audience makes a lot of sense to us. Our BIMBO Memo goes to people who sign up.

The Wall Street Journal, “The Hot New Channel for Reaching Real People: Email,” Jan. 19, 2019

To invalidate the perception that Luxembourg is a “microstate,” one reddit user created a visual to demonstrate that “it’s still bigger than Singapore, Andorra, Malta, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco, and the Vatican combined.” Though the image was posted one year ago to reddit, it resurfaced when Brilliant Maps tweeted a link to the article and proclaimed: “Luxembourg Is Not A Microstate!” A good example of the power of a visual plus a good example of how online platforms permit individuals to join national conversations.

The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

2018 BIMBO of the Year

  • Bimbo
  • December 10, 2018
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image christmas


“Alien abduction doesn’t define me,” read headlines from Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, Republican primary candidate for a Florida U.S. House of Representatives seat. “It has nothing to do with what I have done. It happened when I was 7 years old,” Rodriguez Aguilera said. (It certainly did define her in voters’ eyes--Rodriguez Aguilera lost the Republican Primary by a wide margin. The former City Council member claimed she was taken by extraterrestrials to a spaceship at age seven and has since been in touch with them telepathically. Rodriguez Aguilera said the aliens told her “God is a universal energy, not a person.” She emphasized that "the aliens also talked about Isis, an Egyptian goddess." In spite of her outlandish comments, a major newspaper endorsed her bid for Congress. In an attempt to justify the newspaper's decision, Miami Herald editorial page editor, Nancy Ancrum, defended Rodriguez Aguilera with a BIMBO comment of her own, “Here’s why we chose her: She’s not crazy.” Apparently, voters in Miami disagreed.)  

Orlando Sentinel, “Florida candidate for Congress: Alien abduction doesn’t define me,” Aug. 24, 2018

(As seen in the September 2018 BIMBO Memo)


“I’m not that stupid,” said Charles, Prince of Wales. (The prince was speaking to BBC about his 70th birthday. During the interview, he explained that he plans to stop speaking out on issues when he becomes king. He may be smart enough to recognize that as king he must play by different rules, but you would have thought he was smart enough to get some media training and rehearse before a major interview. Not surprisingly, the quote made the headline of almost every British paper.)

Irish Examiner, “I’m not that stupid — Prince Charles won’t ‘meddle’ when he is king,” Nov. 8, 2018

(As seen in the December 2018 BIMBO Memo)

“Rodent complaints are not an accurate indicator of the rat population in an area,” said the Chicago Streets and Sanitation spokeswoman after the city was named the rat capital of America. (The study was conducted by apartment search service Like so many examples, the rest of the quote was better. The spokeswoman highlighted that the complaints show that “Chicagoans care about the health and safety of their communities.” But there’s no denying that being the “rat capital” of America isn’t good, especially since the study went on to identify one cause as “an abundance of garbage.”)

USA Today, “Chicago beats out New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C., as America’s ‘rat capital,’” July 23, 2018

(As seen in the August 2018 BIMBO Memo)


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

Amazon’s HQ2: The Real Winners and Losers

  • Trends
  • December 5, 2018
  • by Spaeth Communications

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Amazon’s recent announcement of its HQ2 sites created quite the buzz and left other cities feeling like big losers.

However, some city officials still won with their post-announcement communication – others, not so much.

Winner – Dallas

How could we not pay homage to our home city? In all fairness, Mayor Mike Rawlings’ post-announcement interview with CNBC is a positive example. We commend the mayor for using video. It allowed him to better connect with his audience and humanized his message. When asked to comment on backlash from New York City residents, Rawlings acknowledged the question by saying, “I see that happening,” and then continued to emphasize how Dallas has grown throughout the process. We also can’t forget that Rawlings used a statistic relevant to his audience: 120 corporate headquarters have moved here in the last eight years.
Nobody’s perfect, though. Rawlings said, “We don’t like to lose. We don’t like hearing that word loser with us.” Naturally, the headline became “Dallas mayor comments on city losing out on Amazon HQ2,” thus associating Dallas with losing. Rawlings closed the interview by saying, “Our story is pretty good.”
Winner – Austin

Our neighbors to the south and fellow Texans also made it out with a communication win. Austin-based ad agency McGarrah Jessee created the hilarious Amazon Alexa apologies to cities that were not selected for HQ2. This is a great example of how humor can resonate with the masses.

Winner – Miami

Unlike other cities who kept most of their messages tied to the straightforward business outcomes, Miami emphasized future opportunity. Its bold claim, “Call Us When You Want To Set Up A Latin American Hub,” positioned the city as a global leader.

Loser – Chicago

In a press conference following the Amazon announcement, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel allowed his positive message to get buried by a few negative comments. Despite highlighting the positive features Chicago has for a booming business like Amazon, the mayor’s negative messages crowded out the positive. CBS summed up the mayor’s comments saying, “Chicago may have won by losing,” thereby tying Chicago to losing. The mayor also later said, “I’m not sorry,” referring to the incentives Chicago offered to Amazon.

Loser – Jersey City

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop took to Twitter for a short rant saying, “I still feel this entire Amazon process was a big joke” along with other less-than-positive comments. When given the opportunity to promote his city, this mayor chose instead to whine.

Moral of the story: Amazon may have chosen the winners of HQ2, but they didn’t force these messages. Allow current events to be an opportunity for positive messaging, and don’t let your communication make you a loser.

BIMBO Nominees for December 2018

  • Bimbo
  • December 1, 2018
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image c

BIMBOs are an international issue and our top three winners this month are all Brits. Joining them are BIMBO nominees ranging from infamous lawyer Michael Avanetti, a Dallas real estate developer, the owner of a small toy store and the chief marketing officer for Condé Nast. Great (bad) examples from the French finance minister, Mark Zuckerberg and Sen. Kamala Harris. Dueling examples of the Wrong Thing To Say from a completely out-of-control Huffington Post columnist and the newly-elected senator from Mississippi. You’ll also find two examples within a new category we’re calling “Sound Bit” and a great communications example courtesy of Toyota.


“I’m not that stupid,” said Charles, Prince of Wales. (The prince was speaking to BBC about his 70th birthday. During the interview, he explained that he plans to stop speaking out on issues when he becomes king. He may be smart enough to recognize that as king he must play by different rules, but you would have thought he was smart enough to get some media training and rehearse before a major interview. Not surprisingly, the quote made the headline of almost every British paper.)

Irish Examiner, “I’m not that stupid — Prince Charles won’t ‘meddle’ when he is king,” Nov. 8, 2018


“It’s not a farewell tour,” said acting great Sir Ian McKellen about committing to an 80-stop, one-man show across Britain. (McKellen also had a marvelous comment, “It’s more like ‘Oh, hello again!’” that made the headline but predictably the denial “not a farewell tour” was the lead.)

MSN, “Ian McKellen interview: 'This isn't a farewell tour — I'm saying hello again,'” Sept. 11, 2018

“I’m definitely not trying to play to the edge of the rules,” said UK Rugby star and Saracens co-captain Owen Farrell. (The quote was made in reaction to criticism of Farrell’s very aggressive tackle of a South African player, a “now infamous ‘no-arms’ hit” that cost South Africa the match. The quote made headlines in a number of UK papers, varying slightly across publications.)

Mirror, “England v New Zealand: Owen Farrell assures nation he can be relied upon to play hard but fair against All Blacks,” Nov. 10, 2018

“I have never struck a woman, I never will strike a woman,” said adult film actress Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti after being arrested on allegations of domestic violence. (Aggravating the story, Avenatti accused conservative commentator Jacob Wohl of being behind the charges, although the Los Angeles PD said the unidentified victim had “visible injuries.” Avenatti then announced he was “coming for” Wohl. Given Avenatti’s chosen manner of expression, we are at a loss to suggest alternative language.)

NBC, “Stormy Daniels Says She’s Reserving Judgment on Avenatti Arrest,” Nov. 15, 2018

“As I have now had to make clear to multiple news outlets, I do not work while drunk and have never had a hostile workplace environment,” wrote Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Arizona, in December 2017 responding to chatter and charges about both topics. In 2015, a former female aide to the congressman received an almost $50,000 settlement after charging a hostile work environment. The topics roared to life this month when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tweeted out an insult calling Rep. Grijalva “a drunkard.” Adam Sarvana, communications director for the House Natural Resources Committee's Democrats, issued a statement that said, “Rep. Grijalva is not drunk at work and does not create a hostile workplace environment.” Since Rep. Grijalva looks like the next chairman of the Committee, we’re puzzled about the wisdom of picking this argument. The headline made the story even stranger.)

E&E News, “Grijalva left bar after Zinke tweet,” Nov. 30, 2018

“I’m not heartbroken,” said  Dallas developer Ruel Hamilton about Amazon’s decision not to choose Dallas as one of the sites for its HQ2. (We’re with Hamilton who made the point that Dallas doesn’t need to give the kind of economic concessions that Crystal City, Virginia did. And the snappy quote became the headline. For more on communication lessons from Amazon’s HQ2 decision, read this blog.)

Dallas Business Journal, “Dallas developer on missing Amazon: ‘I’m not heartbroken,’” Nov. 21, 2018

“This is not bringing back a great toy store,” said Kate Clark, founder and president of Yottoy, a small, specialty toy store that makes “stuffed animals based on classic children’s books like Paddington.” (She was speaking about the decision of the new F.A.O. Schwarz owners to create mini “stores within stores,” or stores located in places like airline terminals. She expressed skepticism about the new business model and said, “It feels like they have created a shell.” This is the wrong tone and message.  As someone in the same industry, she should be delighted that a commercial entity is trying to bring the iconic toy store, at least in name, back into our collective consciousness.)

The New York Times, “The F.A.O. Schwarz Piano Is Back — but With a Different Tune,” Nov. 22, 2018

“…I did not let my opinions interfere with telling the truth,” said Brenda Battel, a reporter for a newspaper in rural Michigan, The Huron Daily Tribune. (Battel left a voice mail message for John James, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate to request an interview to discuss his campaign against Sen. Debbie Stabenow. After delivering her intended message, Battel believed she hung up the phone and then expostulated, “Man, if he beats her…Jesus! F---ing John James. That would suck!” The James campaign voice mail captured it all. Despite her insistence that this was her personal opinion and didn’t have anything to do with her reporting, the paper appropriately fired her. We applaud editor Kate Hessling who explained, “It is imperative that our reporters act professional and neutral when dealing with the public…”)

The Washington Post, “A reporter unwittingly left a voice mail for a GOP candidate. She was fired for what she said.,” Nov. 7, 2018

“Not a racist conspiracy,” was how plaintiffs’ lawyer John Hughes described Harvard’s admissions practices. What else would you call a system designed to sabotage high achieving Asian applicants by assigning them low ratings in categories like friendliness? The real problem is one of dishonest communication. The school wants to be able to balance its incoming class based on a wide variety of elements, but the politically correct language plus a huge burden of regulations and court rulings mean that the university has had to develop a complicated web of hypocrisy.

The New York Times, “The Harvard Trial: A Double-Edged Sword for College Admissions,” Nov. 2, 2018

“This isn’t like another magazine that is not going to make it,” said Pamela Drucker Mann, chief marketing officer for Condé Nast putting on a brave face while commenting on the decision of Glamour magazine to disappear from newsstands and exist only as a digital presence. This classic BIMBO comment serves only to drive home the possibility that the magazine is “not going to make it.”

The New York Times, “Glamour Magazine to Cease Regular Print Publication,” Nov. 20, 2018


The word “liar” packs a lot of punch. France’s finance minister accused the British government of lying to the voting public to achieve the “leave” Brexit vote. Speaking to CNBC, Bruno Le Maire argued, “I think many British politicians have been liars and lied to the British people…” The word traveled around Europe and made headlines. In the London Evening Standard, the headline read, “French finance minister says ‘liars’ duped Brits into voting for Brexit” and in the iNews the headline was, “MPs ‘lied’ to public before EU vote, says minister.”

London Evening Standard, “French finance minister says ‘liars’ duped Brits into voting for Brexit,” Nov. 16, 2018

After allegedly using the word “hysteria” to describe the fallout that resulted from the Cambridge Analytica scandal last spring, Facebook’s Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg unintentionally elevated the dialogue. Words like “war” and “hysteria” crept into stories about Facebook’s attempts to battle the bad publicity that resulted from the scandal. CNBC reported that “Zuckerberg thought Sandberg should have more effectively quelled public ‘hysteria.’” The Wall Street Journal wrote, “Mr. Zuckerberg had privately told executives that some of the reaction to the Cambridge Analytica controversy amounted to ‘hysteria.’” One of the lessons of leadership is that your employees will mimic you. They’ll pick up your behaviors and, as illustrated here, they’ll repeat your words. Had Zuckerberg thought more carefully about his word choice, perhaps the narrative would have been reported in a more positive light.

The Wall Street Journal, “With Facebook at ‘War,’ Zuckerberg Adopts More Aggressive Style,” Nov. 19, 2018

“KKK” may be an acronym but it’s definitely a top 10 “bad word.” Sen. Kamala Harris drew criticism when she compared ICE to the KKK during a hearing on Capitol Hill for Ronald Vitiello. Former ICE boss Tom Homan said her comments were “disgusting” and called on Harris to apologize. (Our word choices have meaning and real-world implications. Leaders have a responsibility to choose their words wisely and Sen. Harris should have known better. Regardless of politics, it was an outrageous comparison.)

Liberty Headlines, “Former ICE Head Calls Out Kamala Harris for KKK Comparison,” Nov. 21, 2018


Huffington Post columnist Jessie Daniels decided that “white women have always been ardent proponents of violent white supremacy…” This over-the-top comment was made in response to a series of equally stupid comments made by the newly-elected senator from Mississippi, Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was caught on tape saying that in the event she were invited to a “public hanging” by her supporters, she would be in “the front row.” She also suggested making it “just a little more difficult” for liberals to vote. Then, it took her days to come up with a generally inadequate apology. Not only is this remark tone deaf, but Hyde-Smith proved she’s neither smart enough to know that someone from the opposition is always video or audio taping your comments nor adept enough to get out of a tar pit.

Liberty Headlines, “Unhinged HuffPo Columnists Blames Dem. Losses on Racist White Women,” Nov. 20, 2018


“Sound Bit” is new category that compares an interview, conversation or speech with the “sound bites” that get extracted by reporters. This happened to General Electric’s new CEO, Larry Culp who gave a long, thoughtful interview to CNBC only to have two short soundbites get pulled out and magnified—soundbites indicating the company’s problems with the power division aren’t finished and that the company is going to sell assets. For our take on the interview and lessons for your top executives, read this blog.

Chief marketing officer of L Brands, Ed Razek, and executive vice president of public relations at Victoria’s Secret, Monica Mitroc, gave a long interview to Vogue focusing on the lingerie icon’s December runway show. Throughout the interview, the topics of transgender models, plus-size models and the chain’s image of appealing to male ogling were discussed candidly. CEO of spunky competitor ThirdLove, Heidi Zak passionately objected to the discussion. She “sound bit” a portion of one of Razek’s responses and took out a full-page ad in the national edition of The New York Times to criticize him. It’s worth comparing the two case studies. The lesson? We recommend recording any interview of yourself and getting ahead of the “biters” by tweeting or excerpting your own sound bites. The risk of letting the “biters” characterize your comments is too great. An additional lesson: insult the scrappy competitor at your own risk. By framing the market when he said, “…we’re nobody’s third love,” Razek created attention for Zak, which she gleefully embraced.

Vogue, “‘We’re Nobody’s Third Love, We’re Their First Love’—The Architects of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show Are Still Banking on Bombshells,” Nov. 8, 2018 


Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, whom we very much admire, has been plugging the importance of corporate culture for decades. His famous 2009 PowerPoint outlines the company’s mission, vision and values but we’re going to be philistines. It’s 125 slides long and we have our doubts that any slide presentation this long can be absorbed. It’s highly aspirational, and their results certainly speak for themselves, but where are the stories that illustrate the behaviors described?

The owner of a Toyota Tundra helped a number of people escape from the fires that swept over Paradise, California. In an Instagram post, he proclaimed his appreciation for the vehicle, which basically melted under him but kept going. Toyota commented on the post and promised the Good Samaritan a new truck.

When we read the headline “The Flu Shot Needs Fewer Stats and More Stories,” we were so excited and couldn’t agree more. Then, we were crushed when the article was chock-a-block full of statistics but no stories. It did reference “dramatic anecdotes” by noting that “stories last season pointed out that flu can cause amputations and sepsis and multi-organ failure,” but those stories were sanitized into summary facts. What’s needed is a message book and public service campaign with real people, real stories and real drama.

Wired, “The Flu Shot Needs Fewer Stats and More Stories,” Nov. 12, 2018


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

A CEO’s Survival Guide

  • Leadership
  • November 20, 2018
  • by Merrie Spaeth


The Wall Street Journal just savaged GE’s new CEO, Larry Culp. Many of their criticisms are unfair but reporter John Stoll’s column provides an excellent coaching tool for communication staff. Culp went on CNBC, and the company stock fell 10 percent.

What did Culp say to cause this drop? Stoll wrote, “Mr. Culp said a lot but only a few things sunk in: GE’s struggling power business hasn’t hit bottom and assets would be sold to raise cash.”

Here’s our take on the interview with lessons for your top executives:

1. Television is not a chat. A 20-minute interview is like a full-length film and Culp got sound bit.

If – a big if – anyone watches the entire 20-minute interview, the viewer gets a very different and generally positive picture. Culp looked engaged and optimistic throughout the interview, and I rate his use of hand gestures as excellent.

He does have a crackly voice but that may be how he sounds. One of the other quoted experts slammed Culp’s voice as so bad that a viewer would “correctly interpret that this is a nervous man who’s bit off more than he can chew.” Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. This is probably more of a case of an expert who wanted to say something sensational enough that the WSJ would include his quote.

The same expert would have put him in a dark suit and tie. Maybe. But here’s where we get to the kind of strategic advice and preparation that clearly was missing.

2. It’s virtually impossible for the internal team, including the day-to-day external advisors, to provide objective assessment to the CEO.

This is why we frequently provide a third eye for members of the C-suite and others.

3. The first question is always, “Who’s the audience?”

Maybe it should have only been Wall Street, in which case the suit/tie combo might have worked. But Culp was also trying to reach employees and small investors or pensioners.

  • His message to employees: I have a plan; if we all work together, we have options, and we can make a difference. We’re a resilient bunch who thrives on challenge….
  • His message to small investors and pensioners: I met you at the annual meeting. I was impressed and touched by your concern. I heard your anger and concern and I took this challenge to make a difference in your lives.
  • His message to Wall Street was supposed to be: I have a plan and I see a way forward.

I think he was trying to convey that he would always be straightforward and transparent. That approach got diffused by several factors.

Taking Control

Culp let the interviewer drive the exchange and introduce the topics. He didn’t know how to gain control, particularly at the top of the interview. He thought he was there to answer questions. One of the most important skills is learning how to get started, properly pace your topics and do so without appearing to duck questions. (Don’t learn from politicians, please.)

Memory-Driving Words

As outsiders, we also look for habits that interfere with driving memory. One of the most common is inverted speech. Culp said, “We have no higher priority than bringing leverage down,” instead of, “Our highest priority is bringing leverage down,” and, “Customers I talk to could not be more supportive,” instead of, “Customers I talk to were very supportive.”

Culp had a tendency to pick up the interviewer’s words. Most of the time this was OK, but the goal is always to have your own list of anchor “good words” prepared ahead of time. The most obvious instance was his response to the question, “Are you shivering?” Culp replied that it was cold in Boston but “I’m not shivering.” A classic mistake and the number one lesson of our BIMBO Banter blog: do not repeat negative words, even to deny them because the listener drops the denial and only hears the negative. This instance wasn’t deadly, but it didn’t help.

Hedged Speech

We also saw some hedged speech, the use of words like “sorta” or “pretty,” as in “I feel pretty good… that we’ve addressed these problems.” You either feel confident or you don’t. Direct, concise language is the goal.

Handling Tough Questions

Understanding how to acknowledge a question is another learned skill and, when used properly, eliminates the appearance of ignoring the question or confirming a negative assumption. When asked “Are you going to need new people?” he replied, “The team will continue to evolve.” He then went onto an excellent comment about the dedication and resilience of his team, but the initial impression was – go update your resume. He could have said “not necessarily,” or “it depends,” or my favorite, “let me put that in perspective.”

Culp has an instinctive understanding of how to fend off quote questions. The interview repeated criticism after criticism, frequently from unnamed sources, and Culp replied by quoting the people – the employees, customers and pensioners – that he had talked to personally. (We would go a step further and teach him the technique of acknowledging quote questions with “I’ve heard that” or “I haven’t heard that.”)

Speaking in Soundbites

Reporter Stoll delivered the final blow by comparing Culp to BP’s Tony Hayward and Bear Stearns’ Alan Schwartz. This is so unfair, but the clue to how reporters see things is that Stoll pointed to Starbucks’ Howard Schultz as a role model. The description showed that reporters value performance and soundbites. They loved that Schultz said, “I care about a good solution” and delivered it with gusto. 

It reminded me of an article by a New York Times reporter during IBM CEO Lou Gerstner’s reign. Gerstner would walk into a room and command presence, whereas the CEOs of other tech companies would come in and start spouting statistics – something Culp did. (So, they have $40 billion in cash and bank lines of credit, but only had to tap two. Two what? Two billion or two lines of credit.)

What's Next?

Culp should have started out with short, local interviews. He would benefit from a methodology that asks, “Who’s the audience?,” and from practicing how to move from answering the question to understanding how to influence what the listener hears, believes and remembers.   

Good luck, Mr. Culp. You didn’t do a good job, but you seem like a great guy.

BIMBO Nominees for November 2018

  • Bimbo
  • November 1, 2018
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image h

This month, BIMBOs from Sen. Claire McCaskill, former Google executive Andy Rubin, a Georgia Democrat, a mother mad at President Emmanuel Macron, a mob-justifying comment from a director at the University of Minnesota and, even, a historical BIMBO from 1937. Also included is maybe the worst example of the “Wrong Thing To Say” from the Catholic League and Nebraska’s new attempt to lure tourists. A great example of making statistics verbally visual and further proof that fun is more than just a good time courtesy of the Nebraska women’s volleyball team. You’ll also find a good quote from Lowe’s new CEO and a shout out to the Allstate Foundation. 


“I don’t think it’s even close to a crisis,” said Ford Motor Chairman William Ford Jr. (He was speaking at an event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the company’s Rouge Complex. The remarks coincided with the company losing money overseas, announcing a major reorganization designed to cut staff and costs, while dealing with criticism that its CEO, Jim Hackett, is failing to swiftly address the company’s issues and prepare for the future. The story contained additional missteps. Asked if the company might expand partnerships, Ford said, “We don’t ever rely on a partner to fix things for us,” which unfortunately buried the preferred comment: “Partnerships can help with capital intensity and things like that.” Here we got two bimbos for the price of one when an analyst turned to and asked Hackett if he would still be around in future years to assess the results of the planned changes. Hackett replied, “I think there should be zero question about that.” This is a yes/no “framing” question to which he should have replied, “I certainly plan to be.” C-suite executives need to learn to respond to these kinds of semi-gotcha questions with a confident, self-deprecating tone.)

The New York Times, “Ford, an Automaker at a Crossroads, Seeks Cuts and Partners,” Oct. 5, 2018


“There is no corruption in the city of Tallahassee,” stated Mayor Pro Tempore Curtis Richardson defending Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is now running for governor. (The controversy stemmed from numerous contracts Gillum had pushed through for cronies of his who promoted his career and now lobby the city. Richardson amplified the issue by continuing, “It’s not like it’s systemic corruption, and multiple individuals are involved, and it’s from the top down. It’s not that at all.” Apparently this is just occasional, here-and-there corruption. Also trying to defend payments to lobbyists and others who, in some cases, were compensating the mayor for consulting, a former city commissioner protested, “But all of us who’ve been involved in politics sometimes wind up in the wrong room with the wrong guy.” The issue is not likely to go away, as the F.B.I. is investigating one of the city’s agencies for—you guessed it—corruption. Gillum also made a racially-charged BIMBO comment about his opponent during a gubernatorial debate: “I’m not saying Mr. DeSantis is a racist, I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist…” Wow, that’s three repetitions of the word “racist” in one sentence. Of course he’s labeling DeSantis a “racist.”)

The New York Times, “Andrew Gillum, a Florida Insider Running as a Progressive Outsider,” Oct. 18, 2018

“This is not about creating a pink ghetto,” protested Chrystia Freeland, a top Canadian diplomat who convened a meeting of female foreign ministers from around the world. (Of course it’s about creating a women’s organization. At the summit, Freeland also announced an ambassador’s position for “women, peace and security.” The phrase “pink ghetto” came straight from Freeland. They can’t blame the reporters for this one. As happens so frequently, the right thought was present: “This is about highlighting the importance and the role and the rights of women and girls in the world.” What would have been wrong with calling it that?)

SBS News, “The historic meeting of women foreign ministers that went unnoticed,” Sept. 29, 2018

"I'm not trying to humiliate 'em or anything like that,” said Butts County, Georgia Sheriff Gary Long in response to his decision to post "no-trick-or-treat" signs in the yards of registered sex offenders. (Long continued, “Let's face reality: We have a greater chance of children getting run over by a car [on Halloween] than being a victim of sexual assault by a repeat offender," which should be a good example of misuse of statistics because despite the very low risk, the concept of a child being sexually assaulted is so horrifying that we don’t process it rationally. His best line, as so often happens, was buried: "But at the end of the day if, in fact, we had a child that fell victim to a sexual assault, especially by a convicted sex offender, I don't think I could sleep at night." Want to hear something really scary? “Long told CBS News there are 54 registered sex offenders in Butts County.” We think he should have started by saying, “The safety of the children in this county is my top priority.” Instead, he rattled off some truly frightening quotes!)

CBS News, “Sheriff’s office posts ‘no-trick-or-treat’ signs in yards of registered sex offenders,” Oct. 31, 2018

“Yep and Claire’s not one of those crazy Democrats,” was how one of Sen. Claire McCaskill’s own radio ads described her in the closing days of the election. (Rarely do candidates describe their own party colleagues as “crazy,” and State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal didn’t appreciate it. She blasted McCaskill, noting that she “is calling her base in the urban areas crazy Democrats and she’s relying on those so-called crazy Democrats to make sure she wins.” The ad received national attention and McCaskill escalated the negative fallout during an interview with Fox’s Bret Baier. When Baier asked McCaskill to name specific Democrats, McCaskill replied, “I would not call my colleagues crazy” and then proceeded to name Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. During the Baier interview, McCaskill did enough twisting and shapeshifting to make Cirque de Soleil proud. We really don’t have any advice here. Note the salacious phrase made the headline. See you after November 6.)

CNN, “McCaskill campaign’s closing pitch: She’s ‘not one of those crazy Democrats,’” Oct. 24, 2018

“Specifically, I never coerced a woman to have sex in a hotel room” said Andy Rubin, former high-level Google executive and the creator of Android mobile software. (Rubin was featured in a long must-read article offering background for the #MeToo movement. Rubin protested that the allegations are being spread by his ex-wife, which may be true, but the behavior reported in the story about him and other Google executives is nevertheless  concerning.)

The New York Times, “How Google Protected Andy Rubin, the ‘Father of Android,’” Oct. 25, 2018

“Yeah, I’m a Democrat, but I won’t bite ya!” said Georgia Secretary of State candidate John Barrow in a television ad. (This is a puzzling ad featuring another candidate to watch on November 6. As a Democrat running on a traditionally more Republican platform—lower taxes, limited government—we understand Barrow’s goal but disagree with the communication approach. Predictably, the quote with the BIMBO comment “I won’t bite ya!” emphasized the wrong sentiment. Compounding the language problem, the ad’s title is “Bite Ya.”)

Allon Georgia, “GA SOS Candidate John Barrow Releases Television Ad ‘Bite Ya,’” Oct. 21, 2018

“…my family is not the product of ignorance,” snapped Catherine Ruth Pakaluk responding to French President Emmanuel Macron’s comment, “I always say: ‘Present me the woman who decided, being perfectly educated, to have seven, eight, or nine children.’” (Made in attempt to support international efforts to provide family planning services, Macron’s comment instead offended a number of women with large families. Pakaluk, with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate from Harvard University, tweeted a picture of herself with her family along with the hashtag “#postcardsforMacron” and enlisted others to do the same. Of course, “I chose my family” would have more effectively changed the message than her “product of ignorance” line, which, unsurprisingly, made the headline.)

The Daily Signal, “‘My Family Is Not the Product of Ignorance’: Harvard Grad and Mom of 8 Takes on French President,” Oct. 17, 2018

“That’s hardly something I would describe as a mob,” said Lawrence Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, rationalizing the behavior of “mobs” of people recorded doing such things as chasing after senators and pounding on the doors of the Supreme Court following the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. (Despite Jacobs’ attempt to call this “noisy democracy,” of course it’s mob behavior. The report also included comments from former Attorney General Eric Holder, “When they go low, we kick them,” which he tried to amend: “When I say we, you know, ‘we kick ‘em,’ I don’t mean we do anything inappropriate. We don’t do anything illegal.” We are tired of the language on both sides that encourages hyperventilating. For more, read Merrie’s piece on the subject published in The Hill.)

NPR, “Republicans Seize on ‘Angry Mob’ Mantra To Keep Their Midterm Base Fired Up,” Oct. 10, 2018

“50,000 jobs does not scare us,” said senior vice president of Economic Development for the Dallas Regional Chamber Mike Rosa. (It’s certainly Rosa’s sentiment as he promoted North Texas as the ideal home for Amazon’s HQ2. From the rest of his comments, it’s clear he was trying to say that North Texas can easily supply Bezos with 50,000 highly-educated workers. He added, “This region adds 100,000 jobs a year over the last several years.”)

Dallas Business Journal, “Dallas official to Amazon: ‘50,000 jobs does not scare us,’” Sept. 25, 2018

“Don’t hang up, this is not a sales call,” was the first line of a robo call shared with us by a reader who wrote, “Not sure if robo calls are eligible.” They sure are!

“The idea that anyone is attempting to form a Nazi army in America is ridiculous,” wrote a German consul in 1937. This historical BIMBO was shared with us by a regular contributor who encountered the comment when reading Bradley W. Hart’s book titled “Hitler's American Friends: The Third Reich's Supporters in the United States.” Apparently, Americans were indeed trying to organize Nazi sympathizers here in the U.S. The Chicago Daily Times broke the story and caused such a furor (as opposed to furer) that it triggered the denial above.


“Conventional wisdom is it’s weird, wacky, sick, perverted, grotesque, immoral,” wrote history professor at San Jose State University Glen Gendzel describing how people perceive California. (With friends like this, who needs enemies? He also wrote, “California is America’s crystal ball, where a nation looks to see its future and doesn’t always like what it is.” We call this terminal honesty, and it would be petty for us in Texas to point out that one of every four jobs leaving California–and there are a lot–is coming to Texas. Welcome!)

USA Today, “Why California is home to straw bans and mandated meatless Mondays — and Iowa isn't,” Oct. 18, 2018

“The October 3rd episode of ‘South Park’ titled ‘A Boy and a Priest,’ portrayed molesting priests as pedophiles. This is factually inaccurate: almost all the molesters—8 in 10—have been homosexuals. Therefore, the cartoon-victim characters should have been depicted as adolescents, not kids,” wrote Catholic League President Bill Donohue in a statement. (This is so bad; it’s hard to know where to start. First, by issuing the critical statement, the Catholic League simply called attention to the issue. Second, in attempt to differentiate between pedophiles and gay people, the League managed to offend—and confuse—a large portion of the population. Finally, aren’t “adolescents,” at least in these situations, really “kids”? Misstep all the way. Advice on what should have been said? Nothing.)

IndieWire, “‘South Park’ Airs Child Abuse Episode, Catholic League President Reacts by Slamming Trey Parker and Matt Stone,” Oct. 4, 2018

“Honestly, it’s not for everyone,” is Nebraska’s new tourism slogan, replacing “Nebraska Nice.” (OK. Maybe “nice” wasn’t exactly stimulating, and the new campaign certainly has a sense of humor, showing pictures of activities like rafting in a livestock tank with the headline, “Lucky for you, there’s nothing to do here.” However, it’s telling that a Colorado-based advertising agency was hired for the job. Apparently the state really isn’t for everyone. But does it make you want to spend an extra day in Nebraska next time you’re there on business?)

Omaha World-Herald, “Nebraska’s new tourism pitch: ‘Honestly, it’s not for everyone,’” Oct. 18, 2018


A fire investigator for the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada made a statistic verbally visual and impactful. The issue is that recreational shooters start fires by firing away into dry fall grasses, yet they think the chance of igniting a fire is minimal. Placing statistics in context, BLM Nevada Fire Investigator Ryan Elliott “likes to say that if shooters think there’s a one in a million chance they’ll start a fire, then it would take less than a month to do just that on the 12 million-acre district he patrols.” Excellent job, Mr. Elliott! His description really clarified the problem—and painted a picture.

USA Today, “Gun rights under siege? Recreational shooting on public lands in West has officials struggling to balance sport vs. safety,” Oct. 24, 2018

One of the most important battles of the decade will be fought with statistics. The outcome of the battle will depend on which statistic captures the public’s attention and resonates. As regulators debate whether large companies like Amazon should be regulated by antimonopoly laws, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is mounting a spirited campaign to argue that Amazon receives only about five percent of Americans’ retail spending, a figure that excludes categories like cars, car parts and visits to restaurants and bars. That’s accurate. By contrast, those in favor of regulating Amazon argue that Amazon’s share of Americans’ online spending is 49 percent, up from 43.5 percent in 2017. The debate, and the use of statistics to bolster a narrative, is worth watching.

Bloomberg Businessweek, “Amazon Captures 5 Percent of American Retail Spending. Is That a Lot?,” Aug. 8, 2018


“Were we in on it? Absolutely not. Do you really think Banksy, who spent his youth stenciling walls in Bristol and dodging the local authorities, would want to collaborate with the art establishment? Come on.” This quote references a Sotheby’s auction that included a piece of art from infamously anonymous street-artist Banksy. After Banksy’s painting, “Girl With Balloon,” sold for $1.4 million, a device triggered and the painting was lowered through a shredder in full view of the audience around the world. Banksy played a trick and the statement above was in response to the suspicion that Sotheby’s was in on the ploy for publicity purposes. After all, even cursory inspection revealed that the painting was housed in a box a few inches thick. Sotheby’s expert Alex Branczik, speaking for the venerable auction company, had the perfect response, even managing to position the auction house as “the art establishment.”

The Wall Street Journal, “Banksy Buyer Plans to Keep Shredded Painting,” Oct. 11, 2018


In line with Southwest Airlines’ company values—built on a “fun-luving attitude”—is another example courtesy of the University of Nebraska women’s volleyball, a team with more wins than any other in its NCAA division and five national championships. Its co-captain Mikaela Foecke is one of the moving spirits keeping practice organized and fun. They don’t just workout. Rather, they play Ultimate Frisbee, flag football, rabbit and hound, which is sort of like follow the leader, and Mikaela can tell you what muscle group each of their games develops. They have lots of off-season activities keeping them together and engaged, and there is growing documentation that this is a sound strategy. Director of the University of Kansas Sport and Exercise Psychology Lab Mary Fry said, “Making physical activity fun is key to sustaining workout motivation over time.” Of course, founder and legendary CEO of Southwest Airlines Herb Kelleher preached this concept decades ago. Mikaela, shall we send your resume on to Southwest? Now the question becomes, how do we spread the word to other companies?

The Wall Street Journal, “The Team That Digs Deeper to Have Fun,” Oct. 8, 2018


“You know what, a bad day in a store is better than a good day in the office,” said new Lowe’s CEO, Marvin Ellison. The new CEO has his work cut out for him, but seems to have made a good start. He’s barely been in his office, touring stores and talking to employees. He has also kept up a regular stream of tweets and Facebook posts. Images show him in the store, listening, with employees crowding around him. Nevertheless, we have to note Ellison’s quote that made the headline: “Home Depot’s best practices and Home Depot’s playbook is really the retail playbook.” Though his former employer, it was unwise to spend valuable interview time discussing Lowe’s competitor. Next time, he should stick to his own headlines.

Atlanta Business Chronicle, “New Lowe’s CEO: ‘Home Depot’s playbook is really the retail playbook’ (Photos),” Oct. 11, 2018


The Allstate Foundation has the “Purple Purse Campaign,” an initiative that “contrasts the visible signs of physical abuse with the hidden ones of financial abuse,” particularly of women. Its impressive spokesperson is superstar Serena Williams and the effort scored a major profile in USA Today and received coverage from other media outlets, the kind of press that advertising can’t buy.

USA Today, “Serena Williams calls financial abuse a form of domestic violence in a new video,” Oct. 3, 2018


How information and stories move from person to person is a key part of our consulting practice. Check out the story that examined the role WhatsApp played in a well-publicized crisis where three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists and later found murdered. A researcher meticulously tracked how information and misinformation was spread during the crisis. He found that rumors transmitted via WhatsApp could be attributed to “journalists and other civilians who had been briefed on the operation, and who had used WhatsApp to leak details to their families or colleagues in small groups they assumed were private.” Each shared details after the kidnapping via WhatsApp to just one family member or another small group. Information and falsehoods quickly spread, sowing confusion and anger. Interestingly, the researcher highlighted that the story isn’t one of “malicious and indiscriminate rumor-mongering”; rather, it is “a story of a few people who trusted other people, who in turn trusted others, each passing along what he or she considered important and necessary information to friends and colleagues.”

The New York Times, “The Problem With Fixing WhatsApp? Human Nature Might Get in the Way,” Oct. 24, 2018


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

Believe in Memphis

  • Leadership
  • October 5, 2018
  • by Merrie Spaeth

Memphis skyline from the air

Sometimes you get to see the heart and soul of a city. Yesterday was one of those times for anyone at the memorial service in Memphis for a man named Phil Trenary. Phil was the former CEO of Pinnacle Airlines and responsible for building it into a success. As CEO of the Memphis Chamber of Commerce, he was involved in countless initiatives—creating jobs, improving transportation and infrastructure, grappling with education, reducing poverty. At the service, speaker after speaker, most visibly emotional, described his passion for improving lives in Memphis and for the city itself.

This service stood out from other memorial services for Business Luminaries. Phil was murdered last week by three young African Americans. They attempted to rob him at the conclusion of a Chamber-sponsored run. The individual alleged to have pulled the trigger is a 22-year-old man who has been reported to have special needs. Memphis has long been a city with racial wounds, and just days before, a police officer shot a young African American man. Other long-standing controversies fester. Phil’s daughter told those at the service that she knew they were grieving and that they were angry, but she urged them to channel their passion into positive efforts for Memphis. She said, “Take time to be kind.”

Her words fell on receptive ears. The congregants were a very diverse body racially, and what impressed me, is that it seemed like everyone knew everybody else. The African American Baptist pastor, the Reverend Roger Brown of the Greater Whitestone Missionary Baptist Church, observed that he and Phil had been friends and worked together for 25 years. Describing himself as Phil’s “other pastor,” it took him a while, but Reverend Brown appealed to the crowd, saying, “I’m a Baptist preacher, I need some help,” and finally got the crowd punctuating his spirited preaching with “amen,” “that’s right” and “hallelujah.”

Given the bitterness and partisanship dominating our debates in almost every policy issue, I wished that the 40 or so Democratic candidates running as avowed socialists and Black Lives Matter leaders could have been there to see a positive example of how a city riven with serious challenges is pulling together when it has leadership that inspires solutions. Black Lives Matter might indeed have been paying attention. They protested last year in Memphis and also targeted the Chamber. Phil’s response was to invite the group in, ask what they wanted and then say, “What can I do?” One issue they identified was the problems temporary workers have moving to permanent jobs. Phil helped create a program for staffing companies to provide mentorship to temp workers as well as a process for identifying training to address skills gaps that can help move temp workers to full-time positions.

The self-described socialists would have seen what American business and the American economic system can produce. The Chamber is currently chaired by FedEx executive Richard Smith who has built a reputation as a visionary leader. As a businessman, Phil built Pinnacle into a billion-dollar enterprise, and he remains a revered and beloved leader. When Rev. Brown asked anyone from Pinnacle to stand, more than a hundred people rose to their feet. One of Phil’s children read notes from his employees on his departure. Over and over, they mentioned his accessibility, his encouragement and his belief in them. Former colleague Peter Hunt described flying with Phil. The CEO would find a Pinnacle employee who was waiting for the flight and ask for his boarding pass. Then Phil would hand over his first-class boarding pass. Peter paused and added, “Then he would hand over my first-class boarding pass.” Hunt shared Phil’s oft-repeated admonition to Pinnacle employees, “Take care of each other.”

It seems fitting to close with advice shared by Phil’s youngest son, Pearce, from his father. After admonishing him to “do the right thing,” and “lock your phone,” the final commandment was “love,” the familiar commandment Rabbi Micah Greenstein noted was inscribed on his Temple’s wall, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Thank you, Phil Trenary and rest in peace.

BIMBO Nominees for October 2018

  • Bimbo
  • October 1, 2018
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image e

Lots of material this month. Additional BIMBOs from author Max Boot, White House senior staff, Michael Avenatti, a UK reality TV star, former president Barack Obama and more. Examples of the power of bad words include those from Elon Musk, Gwyneth Paltrow's company Goop, a Sesame Street writer and President Duterte of the Philippines. You'll also find a body language example from the Kavanaugh hearings, an example of bad optics courtesy of The Weather Channel and a nice use of humor from Cathay "Paciic" (yes that's right, no 'f').


“I think once you meet me, you realize I’m not necessarily some soft yoga guy,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who ran against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in 2016 and is considering a run for president in 2020. (Ryan has appropriated President Trump’s language, adding, “…I’m tired of losing” and “Maybe the country needs a scrapper, a guy who’s not going to take any prisoners…” Ryan gained notoriety as an advocate for mindfulness. He is the author of a book titled “A Mindful Nation” and has sponsored deep-breathing and mediation programs for veterans in his district suffering from PTSD. We hope he takes a deep breath before launching his campaign.)

The Hill, “Ohio Dem: ‘I’m not necessarily some soft yoga guy,’” Sept. 9, 2018


“Google has never manipulated its search results or modified any of its products to promote a particular political ideology…,” said the search giant in a statement responding to leaked employee emails. In response to the travel ban instituted by the Trump administration in January 2017, employees discussed how to tweak the company’s search functions to direct people to liberal groups and show users how to donate to pro-immigration organizations. (This topic isn’t going away and we can probably count on more leaked emails. This demonstrates why companies can’t say something for external audiences that isn’t true. Today, the line between internal and external communications is very blurred. Google should have said that they are redoubling their efforts to ensure that the company behaves in a manner to justify public confidence and trust.)

The Wall Street Journal, “Google Workers Discussed Tweaking Search Function to Counter Travel Ban,” Sept. 20, 2018

“The EU should be clear, I will not overturn the result of the referendum, nor will I break up my country,” said UK Prime Minister Theresa May about news that the UK and EU were at an impasse negotiating Brexit. (Maybe it’s just that we’re writing this in London this month, but we have a lot of respect for how May is handling herself. We’re watching closely.)

The Telegraph, “Defiant Theresa May tells EU 'show us some respect' as she refuses to back down on Brexit plan,” Sept. 21, 2018

“I want to stress I was not an ‘alt-right’ provocateur when I was at Berkeley. I was not promoting racism or nativism. I was not saying batshit crazy stuff to ‘own the libtards,’” said author Max Boot in an interview with his school’s alumni association publication. (This interview is so over-the-top in promoting his new book, “The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right,” that it’s hard to view it as anything other than grandstanding.)

UC Berkeley Cal Alumni Association, “Politically Homeless: Q&A With Columnist Max Boot,” Fall 2018 Culture Shift issue

“The idea I ever called the president an idiot is not true,” said White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. “There was no so-called ‘practice session’ or ‘re-enactment’ of a mock interview at the Special Counsel’s office. Further, I did not refer to the president as a ‘liar’ and did not say that he was likely to end up in an ‘orange jump suit,’” said John Dowd, one of the president’s lawyers. (These were just some of the denials from senior White House officials about Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear: Trump in the White House.” The slew of people trying to distance themselves from quotes would fill several BIMBO memos. Vice President Mike Pence had the most graceful denial when he said, “These accounts are very foreign to me.” As a former White House staff member, I am disposed to believe Generals Mattis and Kelly because their training has prepared them to hold their tongues.)

The Daily Signal, “6 Denials of Claims in Woodward’s Trump Book Before Its Release,” Sept. 10 2018

“I am not exploiting my client,” said an exasperated Michael Avenatti, lawyer for adult entertainment actress Stormy Daniels during an ill-advised interview with Tucker Carlson. (Though Carlson did bait Avenatti by accusing him of “exploiting” Daniels several times before he bit, Avenatti eventually spit back the negative word.)

RealClear Politics, “Tucker Carlson vs. Michael Avenatti: Why Are You Exploiting Stormy Daniels? She Strips, You Wear $1,000 Suits,” Sept. 13, 2018

“We won’t win people over by calling them names, or dismissing entire chunks of the country as racist or sexist or homophobic,” said former president Barack Obama while speaking to students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (He’s not reading the papers or watching the news. That’s all that Democrats are calling conservatives. To be balanced, Republicans are trying to find equally insulting phrases, they’re just failing.)

The New York Times, “Obama Lashes Trump in Debut 2018 Speech. President’s Response: ‘I Fell Asleep.,’” Sept. 7, 2018


Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, is paying for bad words. Several months ago, he slammed analysts who had the temerity to ask him challenging questions on an earnings call by cutting them off and describing their inquiries as “boring bonehead questions.” The words keep popping up in news coverage—which has gotten worse, as the Justice Department is now investigating his tweet in which he announced he was “considering taking Tesla private” and then added, “funding secured.” He may have been testing the waters, but the water is now about to boil. (This is an example of why powerful, successful leaders and celebrities should have someone empowered to tell them when they are flying off the rails. More recently, he smoked marijuana during an interview with a popular radio personality.)

“I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were”—were what? Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman presumably was asked, “Are Bert and Ernie gay?” and he responded with the comment above. No surprise, the remark generated national headlines. Saltzman hastily backtracked and Sesame Street issued a statement that Bert and Ernie were good friends and, by the way, puppets. (Lesson? Choose your words more carefully. Saltzman tried to repair the damage saying, “As a writer, you just bring what you know into your work. Somehow, in the uproar, that turned into Bert and Ernie being gay. There is a difference.” A great example of the power of words.)

The New York Times, “Are Bert and Ernie Gay? ‘Sesame Street’ Writer Says His Comments Were Misinterpreted” Sept. 18, 2018

Claiming that Goop’s “‘eggs’ for vaginal wellness” would provide an array of health benefits, actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s company paid $145,000 in fines for making unsubstantiated claims. The company tried to spin it as an “honest disagreement” about the claims it made regarding women’s health, but the Orange County district attorney said, “The claims have the potential to affect women’s health. It’s important to hold companies accountable for unsubstantiated claims.” (Goop’s CFO tried to position the company as “a forum for practitioners to present their views and experiences with various products like the jade egg.” She added, “The law, though, sometimes views statements like this as advertising claims.” No joke.)

The New York Times, “Goop Agrees to Pay $145,000 for ‘Unsubstantiated’ Claims About Vaginal Eggs,” Sept. 5, 2018

“As long as there are many beautiful women, there will be more rape cases,” said President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines who faced criticism for claims that he had eliminated crime as mayor of the city of Davao. (We don’t even know where to begin counselling President Duterte, who has made a string of outrageous comments throughout his history. About the only good news resulting from this statement is that a coalition of women’s groups, “#BabaeAko (I Am Woman),” is active, growing and has received a fair amount of press coverage. President Duterte’s spokesman reiterated that the president was joking and tried to argue that Duterte isn’t a misogynist because he appointed several women to government posts. Digging the hole even deeper, the spokesman then claimed that the rural populace wasn’t nearly as upset by rape jokes as urban dwellers when he said, “perhaps the standard of what is offensive and what is not offensive is more liberal in the south.”)

The New York Times, “Duterte Jokes About Rape, Again. Philippine Women Aren’t Laughing.,” Aug. 31, 2018

BODY LANGUAGE            

Former law clerk to Judge Brett Kavanaugh Zina Bash was accused of flashing a white supremacist symbol gesture with her hands during the Supreme Court nominee’s hearings. (This is an example of the power of social media and conspiracy theories. It turns out that the “‘OK’ hand gesture”—which Bash may or may not have been making—is not a hate symbol, and the coverage was the result of a hoax from a website called 4chan.)

Newsweek, “Did Zina Bash Flash A White Supremacist Sign During Kavanaugh Hearing? Husband Calls Accusation A ‘Vicious Conspiracy Theory,’” Sept. 5, 2018


Before a flight from Mumbai to Jaipur, India’s Jet Airways didn’t properly pressurize the aircraft. The result demonstrates the velocity of news—how quickly it can move from local to international. As the jet ascended, passengers experienced nose and ear bleeds and gasped for air. When oxygen masks deployed, no oxygen flowed. Passengers instantly whipped out cell phones and filled the airways with images of passengers bleeding and gasping. Airlines and the public learned of the incident instantly from the cell phone pictures and videos. This is an example of the kind of crisis that all companies—not just airlines—should prepare for. Today, everyone is a reporter.

The New York Times, “Bloody Nosed Passengers Gasp for Air on Indian Flight After Crew Fails to Pressurize Cabin,” Sept. 20, 2018


While The Weather Channel’s Mike Seidel reported on Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, North Carolina, he appeared to struggle to stay upright due to strong winds. The trouble was that, behind him, two pedestrians seemed to be walking just fine. Predictably, the picture of the ostensibly battered reporter with the two nonchalant-walkers behind went viral. The Weather Channel didn’t help by claiming that the pedestrians were “walking on concrete, while Seidel trie(d) to maintain his footing on wet grass” and that Seidel was exhausted from long hours of reporting on-air. We’re dubious. The video has over a million shares on social media.)

CBS Philly, “Weather Channel Responds To Claims Reporter Was Faking Coverage Of Hurricane Florence,” Sept. 17, 2018


County medical officials grappled with how to get physicians to be more careful prescribing opioid medicine after a number of deaths. Advisory letters didn’t affect behavior. Rather, “pretty aggressive” letters citing the “possibility of harms to patients” like overdose death did have an impact. Kevin Volpp of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics noted that pop-up alerts in electronic medical records helped doctors achieve best practice; but as pop-up alerts proliferated, the doctors began ignoring them. The lesson? Try lots of things to communicate with your key audience, but be prepared to innovate and always look for new techniques.

The New York Times, “Here’s a Cheap Way to Fight Drug Misuse: Send Doctors a Sharp Letter” Sept. 5, 2018


We love Secretary Pompeo’s effort to build morale at the State Department with the new “Department of Swagger” plaque and “sneak peeks behind the scenes.”

Twitter, Sept. 10, 2018

Nice use of humor by Cathay Pacific. When observers noted the company spelled its name wrong on the side of a plane, “Cathay Paciic,” the company issued a humorous tweet that said, “Oops this special livery won’t last long! She’s going back to the shop!” alongside photos of the misspelled company name on the side of the plane. Those on social media had a field day tweeting comical comments in response.

The Guardian, “Cathay Pacific spells its name wrong on side of plane,” Sept. 19, 2018

The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

Lehman Brothers—Ten Years Later—One Eternal Lesson to Remember

  • Trends
  • September 14, 2018
  • by Merrie Spaeth

Richard s. fuld, jr. at world resources institute forum

News outlets and commentaries are talking about the tenth anniversary of Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy, an event that many experts believe pushed the U.S. into the worst recession since the Depression. Analysts are again debating the wisdom of the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve letting Lehman go belly up after having bailed out Bear Stearns. There’s one eternal lesson to remember from Lehman; that is, there’s no barrier between internal and external information. In other words, it’s very risky to say one thing internally and something else—totally contradictory—externally.

Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal in the aftermath of the debacle, we can see that on September 9, 2008, Lehman was internally discussing how to arrange to restructure its debt and estimated it would need between $3 to $5 billion. Their bankers advised against holding a conference call saying it would generate too many questions. Twelve hours later, Lehman held the conference call anyway, and CEO Richard Fuld assured investors that the restructuring (which was anything but secure but was portrayed as a done deal) would “create a clean, liquid balance sheet.” Their CFO Ian Lowitt said that they had “maintained strong liquidity and capital profiles,” which was an outright lie. To cap it off, when an analyst asked about raising billions, Lowitt said they “don’t feel that we need to raise that extra amount.”

Why should we care about a decade-old communication example? The headline of a recent USA Today editorial reads, “The next financial crisis is a matter of when, not if.” Think of all the news that has broken this year. Google and Facebook spying on customers and selling their data. Uber mistreating drivers. Company after company discovered fostering toxic environments where sexual harassment and abuse of women was tolerated, even encouraged. All these companies initially claimed, “Not us, no how,” only to be uncloaked. Yes, Lehman taught us many lessons, and what has been learned? Not much. However, there is an opportunity to learn and grow via this one simple principle: your internal and external messages should be in alignment.

BIMBO Nominees for September 2018

  • Bimbo
  • September 5, 2018
  • by Spaeth Communications

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Lots of material this month! Additional BIMBOs from the CEO of MoviePass, Meghan Markle’s father, a teacher at Dallas’ St. Mark’s school (this one is scary), a Boston Globe editorial writer, a senior director at The Catholic Health Association, the president of NBC News and more! You’ll also find examples of the power of words, a major proof reading fail and an insightful piece about the benefits of culture versus training.


“Alien abduction doesn’t define me,” read headlines from Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, candidate for the Republican nomination for a Florida U.S. House of Representatives seat being vacated by retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The candidate said: “It has nothing to do with what I have done. It happened when I was 7 years old.” (It’s certainly going to define her in voters’ eyes. The former City Council member claimed she was taken by extraterrestrials to a spaceship at age seven and that she has since been in touch with them telepathically. This congressional seat is rated a strong chance for a Democratic pick-up in November. Let us guess why...)

Orlando Sentinel, “Florida candidate for Congress: Alien abduction doesn’t define me,” Aug. 24, 2018


“We do not want the image of being a bunch of weird losers who march around like a--holes while completely outnumbered and get mocked by the entire planet,” wrote Andrew Anglin, self-described neo-Nazi who runs a white supremacist website, the Daily Stormer. (Too late. The alt-right community is disputing whether to focus on what they see as an ultra-liberal media and culture or whether to openly and proudly display neo-Nazi symbols. Anglin added, “…the image of angry torch-bearing whites chanting racist slogans is not what we are looking for.” Again, too late. But he was correct when he noted, “…we’ve completely lost the moral high-ground after Charlottesville, and they know it.”)

Vox, “The alt-right is debating whether to try to look less like Nazis,” Aug. 10, 2018

“I’m not a clone of my father,” insisted Levi Sanders, candidate running for the Democratic nomination for the congressional first district in New Hampshire. (It is a little hard to tell them apart. On the issues, Sanders the son wants “single-payer health care, a $15 minimum wage and tuition-free public college” and shouts just like his dad – who has declined to endorse him. Perhaps he thinks one Sanders—that is, the original— is enough. Note that Sanders’ denial of the negative became the headline.)

The New York Times, “Levi Sanders Is Not His Father. He Keeps Telling That to Voters.,” Aug. 21, 2018

“I’m not the weirdo schlubby dad living in a shack in Mexico drinking beer and eating McDonald’s,” wrote Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle’s dad, Thomas Markle, in an op-ed published in the U.K.’s The Daily Mail. (Claiming he wants his “quiet boring life back,” Markle guaranteed just the opposite by writing a public letter and admitting he made up the story about staged paparazzi  photos. And, although previously unfamiliar with the term “schlubby,” we think it’s a perfect fit.)

ABC News, “Meghan Markle’s dad claims he lied to Prince Harry, hung up on him,” Aug. 13, 2018

“They’ll stop hearing MoviePass is going out of business,” said company CEO Mitch Lowe explaining why the company reduced its $9.95 monthly unlimited movie subscription service to include just three movies a month. (The background is that the low monthly fee enabled movie fanatics to run wild, thereby killing the company’s profits. MoviePass tried increasing the monthly subscription fee to $14.95 but this proved unpopular. Lowe explained that 85 percent of the company’s customers see three or fewer movies a month and correctly said the company will now concentrate on those customers; however, by mentioning bankruptcy, Lowe instead emphasized a false rumor, ensuring people heard it one more time.)

The Wall Street Journal, “MoviePass Slashes Offering to Three Films a Month,” Aug. 6, 2018

“I am not a predator,” said a long-time teacher at St. Mark’s School of Texas, an exclusive private school in Dallas, when it was revealed that he had been fired from Phillips Exeter Academy, another of the nation’s top preparatory schools, for “making sexual advances to students.” (The teacher, Henry Ploegstra, taught at St. Mark’s for three decades. He told media it was “an isolated incident,” a phrase we usually hear from companies following some sort of horrendous accident. We call this response the law of exceptions and recognize it as a mistake because the listener hears the phrase as a confirmation of guilt. Compounding the impact of the story, news outlets noted that administrators at St. Mark’s “did not respond to several requests for comment.” Another mistake. Every St. Mark’s parent is thinking, “How many more predators are there at my child’s school campus?”)

The Dallas Morning News, “‘I am not a predator’: Ex-St. Mark’s teacher responds to sex abuse allegations at East Coast school,’” Aug. 30, 2018

“We are not the enemy of the people,” said Marjorie Pritchard an editorial writer for the Boston Globe defending the Globe’s plan to organize dozens of editorial boards to coordinate editorials denouncing President Trump. (What can we say about the stupidity of this plan? Let’s quote The Wall Street Journal’s comment: “Reporters who have ventured out to talk to Republicans have likely discovered the common belief among such voters that media professionals are almost entirely lined up in opposition to Mr. Trump and tend to parrot each other’s attacks. Therefore announcing that dozens or perhaps hundreds of ostensibly independent editorial pages will publish similar Trump critiques at the same time probably isn’t the best way to expand readership among the rightward half of the electorate.” We’re sure Pritchard would insist, “There’s no collusion.” But wait! Doesn’t someone else say that already?)

The Wall Street Journal, “Trump’s Honeymoon with Media Almost Over,” Aug. 13, 2018

“But it is certainly not in an attempt to deceive anybody,” said Father Charles Bouchard of the Catholic Health Association responding to queries about why Catholic hospitals are toning down signage and other components of hospitals’ religious affiliations—and therefore potentially downplaying the list of medical procedures not offered for religious reasons. (Bouchard emphasized, “…it is not to trick anyone.” He added, “It’s simply to make people feel comfortable and welcome in an increasingly pluralistic society.” Bouchard and his colleagues should have promoted instead the benefits of a spiritually-grounded health care system.)

The New York Times, “As Catholic Hospitals Expand, So Do Limits on Some Procedures,” Aug. 10, 2018

“I don’t go to bed feeling outrageously drunk and I don’t black out on the sofa,” said Paul Tomlinson, a Lancashire, England, resident explaining that he feels fine drinking in one night several beers, a bottle of wine and two to three gin and tonics. (He added, “Do I consider myself an alcoholic? No! Do I want to stop drinking at the level I do? Not really.” You have to hand it to this guy for his honesty.)

BBC News, “‘Why I drink 100 units of alcohol a week,’” Aug. 21, 2018

“Not a cat hater,” insisted John Collins, the chairman of Omaui Landcare Trust, a group in a small New Zealand town that is trying to phase out local feral cats to protect an unusual array of rare birds. (It’s true, we’re dog people at Spaeth, but this approach seems extreme and, yes, frames Collins as a “cat hater.” Instead, he should focus his communication efforts on what locals can do to protect rare birds while preserving the local ecosystem.)

The New York Times, “New Zealand Town May Ban Cats to Protect Other Species,” Aug. 30, 2018

“He was never told to stop in the way he’s implying,” said NBC News president Noah Oppenheim responding to a charge that the network tried to shut down Ronan Farrow’s blockbuster story about Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual abuse and harassment in Hollywood. (The story, which dominated much of the news for months after Farrow broke it in The New Yorker, was back in the headlines when a producer working alongside Farrow, Rich McHugh, quit and went public with the allegation, calling it “a massive breach of journalistic integrity.” We’re more than a little amused by the sanctimonious comments from the network about President Trump when it turns out they tried to help their pal Weinstein stay, well, out of the news. Oppenheim’s denial is a classic non-denial.)

The New York Times, “Ronan Farrow’s Ex-Producer Says NBC Impeded Weinstein Reporting,” Aug. 30, 2018

“I don’t micromanage anything,” said Leonard Riggio, founder and chairman of Barnes & Noble, the mammoth bookstore chain. (Barnes & Noble has been in the news already for all the wrong reasons. The internet—including Amazon—has drastically changed the industry. Barnes & Noble has been through four CEOs in five years, abruptly firing the last one for allegedly “violating policies” although the chain emphasized the violations weren’t related to financial matters or fraud. Riggio is a genius, but anyone who reads Barnes & Noble’s history must conclude that the man is a serial micromanager. On a personal note, we worked for years for now-defunct major competitor Borders and shop frequently at B&N because we love the feel of books and love browsing. Mr. Riggio, if you’re out there, listen to your customers. We need you.)  

The New York Times, “As Barnes & Noble Struggles to Find Footing, Founder Takes Heat,” Aug. 12, 2018


“The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state,” said Rep. Ron DeSantis, Republican candidate for Florida governor who will face Democrat and African-American Andrew Gillum. (Seriously? “Monkey?” Predictably, a storm of protest charging racial “dog whistles” ensued. The problem is that the word “monkey” overshadowed the key charges about the issues Gillum backs. DeSantis cannot afford to make any more mistakes that would allow his opponents to characterize him as tone deaf.)

The New York Times, “DeSantis Warns Florida Not to ‘Monkey This Up,’ and Many Hear a Racist Dog Whistle,” Aug. 29, 2018

“You know, this is something that we first heard from Joseph Stalin,” said NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell in reference to President Trump on Comedy Central’s Daily Show. (Stalin? Mitchell is one of a number of reporters who has compared President Trump to Stalin. Whatever one thinks of the president’s campaign against what he calls fake news, these kinds of comparisons are so over-the-top and damaging that they hurt the media’s crucial role in our democracy. Note that the powerful comparison made the headline.)

mrcNewsBusters, “Andrea Mitchell Compares Trump to Joseph Stalin,” Aug. 1, 2018

“Funding secured,” were the two short words Elon Musk added to the end of a tweet announcing that he is “considering taking Tesla private.” (Oops. Remember our advice to ask yourself, “Who’s my audience?” And guess what, the SEC was listening. Musk has since walked back his claim, but the federal agents take such claims very seriously.)

The Wall Street Journal, “Elon Musk Tweets He Is Considering Taking Tesla Private,” Aug. 8, 2018

When Democratic politicians talk about President Trump, many talk about treason, too. This proved true especially following President Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland last month, after which a raft of officials and commentators labeled the meeting as well as the president’s comments “treasonous.” As use of this hyperbole undoubtedly will continue, interested citizens across the political spectrum should read Christopher Buskirk’s op-ed on the subject to illuminate the true implications of the word. Why take the time? We label the word—“treason”—as a typical “bad word,” as it is negative and therefore memorable and powerful. But this word in particular proves much more important because treason is a crime and actually embedded in the Constitution. Thus, throwing the word around is actually like accusing someone of something as serious as murder—a crime with very real penalties.

The New York Times, “Let’s Not Throw the Word Treason Around,” Aug. 8, 2018

A graduate of Colorado Mesa University took a close look at his diploma. He noticed it was granted by the “Coard of Trustees,” instead of the “Board.” (Humiliating. Even worse, the college found the error had appeared in its diplomas for six years. We guess the proof reader profession is withering.)

The Wall Street Journal, “Nice Degree, but Your Diploma Gets an ‘F’ for Spelling,” Aug. 19, 2018


By now, everyone has heard about the incident in a Philadelphia Starbucks where a staff member called police after two African-American men asked to use the bathroom but hadn’t made any purchases yet. Starbucks fired the employee and then publicly advertised its company-wide diversity training initiative. Now, another Starbucks employee has been fired for making fun of a customer named Sam who stuttered, the employee even wrote the customer’s name on his cup as “SSSAM.” Again, the company fired the employee. The article linked below is worth reading for a cogent discussion about why “training” is frequently a poor answer to a problem. Although the article focuses on senior living facilities, its advice is worthwhile for everyone. Its basic premise is that “culture,” the behavior that becomes the standard for a company and that everyone imitates, is the most powerful dynamic and that real leadership stresses this rather than ameliorating processes and procedures part of training.

Senior Housing Forum, “Starbucks Wastes Millions Proving Culture Beats Training Every Time,” Aug. 7, 2018


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

Can A Tie Produce A Win?

  • Crisis
  • August 20, 2018
  • by Merrie Spaeth

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Has Pro Football Hall of Fame wide-receiver Randy Moss found a path out of the tricky situation the NFL finds itself in? The issue, of course, is the situation with the national anthem and Old Glory, the American flag. The NFL has waffled about what a player can, must or should do. Owners have also tried to have it both ways—letting players who don’t want to stand for the anthem and show respect hide out in a locker room--presumably so they won’t be visible on TV. The respective sides have created a win-lose situation, that is, for someone to win, one loses. Both sides are right—in their own minds—and so they cannot imagine giving in.

But Randy Moss may have found a way. At his induction ceremony, he wore a tie listing the names of African Americans who have lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement. The resulting pictures resulted in hundreds of infuriated “back the blue” individuals and numerous private messages of thanks and support from pro athletes. If the players are smart, they will jump on this opportunity – and the owners will back them up.

Moss has demonstrated that the players have a unique platform to promote their concerns—that is, an alternative platform off the field on game day. Players should rally around some slogan about how a tie can produce a win and then follow suit—or jacket, hat, shirt, watchband or sneakers.

If what the players want is attention to what they see as an injustice insufficiently discussed, Moss has proven that powerful, yet respectful symbols exist. A tie with the names of the deceased is much different than Colin Kaepernick’s socks with depictions of policemen as pigs. Moss’s gesture allows the players to keep their high-profile, public positions while also saving face and eliminating the head butting occurring off the field. This provides an indirect “win” for the owners – which is exactly what they should want. They should step back and respect the players “Phase II” protest and the result will be to mitigate the frustrations of millions of patriotic fans for whom the anthem and flag represent freedom. How ‘bout it guys? Can a tie produce a win?

TSA Adopts the “Washington Monument Strategy”

  • Trends
  • August 9, 2018
  • by Merrie Spaeth

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The Transportation Security Administration has set off a storm of criticism for its proposal to stop screening passengers at approximately 150 of the nation’s small airports. Travelers, regulators, elected officials and others are conjuring up scenarios of brazen criminals and terrorists flooding into system.

The former Inspector General of the Department of Transportation terms the idea “completely nuts,” which USA Today picked up in its headline. (“Closing TSA checkpoints called ‘completely nuts.”)

On the contrary. It makes perfect sense. This is called the “Washington Monument Strategy.” The idea is that no one wants to spend money on boring maintenance for something, but when you announce that you’re shutting it down, the money flows. Indeed, that seems like the idea here because news stories reported that over a billion dollars in TSA ticket fees is siphoned off TSA’s budget and diverted to the general budget to make the deficit look smaller.

I’ve participated in a Washington Monument strategy. In 1970, the turnaround time for the FBI to identify fingerprints submitted by local law enforcement jurisdiction was three days. In 1981, it was 30 days. Criminals were being released because the Bureau couldn’t identify them as wanted for other crimes in a timely fashion. The main reason was the loss of 750 personnel in the fingerprint division under the Carter administration. Reagan Budget Director Dave Stockman had declared a hiring freeze. What to do? With sage advice from Justice Department career staff and an FBI Director with nerves of steel (Judge William Webster) the FBI announced it would simply stop accepting fingerprints from local law enforcement. The result? Panic and horrified reaction. Then, we got the positions back. The only thing surprising about the TSA brouhaha is that it’s still working just as planned.

Is Your Company Ready For a Cyber Attack?

  • Crisis
  • August 3, 2018
  • by Sally Ann Rivera

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A recent news story tells the tale of government workers in a small Alaskan town who became dependent upon typewriters to do their jobs after cyber criminals infected their computer systems with ransomware. How are your typewriter skills? Are your employees ready to do their jobs with pen and paper only? To avoid this plausible reality, it’s time for your business to prioritize cyber security.

Cyber-crime has become the latest petty theft (and also high-dollar heist). Many companies are starting to think about cyber defense plans and are taking proper preventative measures. The right preventative measures extend beyond adding security tools to your internal network to developing a new company culture that prioritizes communication.

We’ve worked with clients who had to pay in Bitcoin to recover their data, including a small healthcare client that lost access to electronic medical records amongst a staff never trained in updating charts by hand. The pattern of the latest wave of cyber threat? Hackers are targeting companies of all sizes. Whether you have a staff of two or two thousand, you need a crisis communication plan that includes a plan for handling cyber security incidents. And by “plan,” we mean more than a piece of paper drawn up on a typewriter.

A comprehensive and effective crisis plan is part of a culture change that begins with aligning your entire organization’s communication, training key executives and leaders and gathering the appropriate competitive material before cyber criminals infilitrate your system.

BIMBO Nominees for August 2018

  • Bimbo
  • August 1, 2018
  • by Spaeth Communications

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Lots of interesting and good teaching examples this month, including BIMBO comments from Lesley Stahl in the developing story about sexual harassment at CBS (and an example of how not to write a statement) and Whoopi Goldberg. You’ll also find sensational examples of the power of “bad words” (see also this blog post about Papa John’s founder John Schnatter’s recent comments), the perils of email, how unofficial communication had a very real impact on Baltimore’s police and a great example from the CEOs of Delta and American Airlines.


“Rodent complaints are not an accurate indicator of the rat population in an area,” said the Chicago Streets and Sanitation spokeswoman after the city was named the rat capital of America. (The study was conducted by apartment search service Like so many examples, the rest of the quote was better. The spokeswoman highlighted that the complaints show that “Chicagoans care about the health and safety of their communities.” But there’s no denying that being the “rat capital” of America isn’t good, especially since the study went on to identify one cause as “an abundance of garbage.”)

USA Today, “Chicago beats out New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C., as America’s ‘rat capital,’” July 23, 2018


“I don’t think these are handouts,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about the proposed $12 billion emergency aid package allocated to soybean farmers hurt by China’s new tariffs. (This is a classic BIMBO comment because Mnuchin was responding to Chris Wallace’s question, “So, when did handouts to farmers become strong, good, solid, conservative policy?” Our technique of acknowledging the question with a short phrase would have been helpful. He should have started by saying, “I disagree with your premise,” or “Let me put that in perspective” rather than denying and therefore highlighting the negative word “handouts.”)

Fox News, "Rudy Giuliani takes aim at Michael Cohen’s credibility," July 29, 2018

“Labeling Flint’s children as ‘poisoned,’ as many journalists and activists have done since the city’s water was found to be contaminated with lead in 2014, unjustly stigmatizes their generation,” wrote two experts in toxicology and environmental health. (This is an excellent teaching example because it demonstrates how statistics, if not properly put in context, can rule a story for years. For example, the elevated levels of lead found in the systems of Flint’s children, although noteworthy, were blown way out of proportion. The controversy was driven by “bad words”– “poisoned” and “lead”–and was clouded by lots of statistics, which were confusing and meaningless to journalists and scary to the public. Micrograms anyone? Notice the word “poisoned” anchored the headline.)

The New York Times, “The Children of Flint Were Not ‘Poisoned,’” July 22, 2018

The infamous “n- word” made two appearances this month (read about Papa John’s founder John Schnatter’s comments here). Members of an Alabama Boy Scouts troop used the slur when bullying a 14-year-old scout of Ethiopian heritage. In response, the scoutmaster of the group aggravated the situation by saying, “Things happen at camp.” (Like so many of these examples, the story also contained good quotes. The director of camping for Camp Woodruff said, “We certainly have policies and procedures to combat bullying to try and reduce things like that from happening. We as adults need to help build them into good citizens.” Predictably, the most damaging quote became the headline.)

Atlanta Black Star, “Alabama Scoutmaster Dismisses Bullying of Black Scout by White Peers ‘Things Happen,’” July 2, 2018

"This notion that ‘60 Minutes’ is an unpleasant, unwelcoming place for women isn’t true," said Lesley Stahl in a long article by Ronan Farrow about the escalating stories of sexual harassment at CBS. (The lengthy article is full of on-the-record quotes and horrific stories. The piece focused on CEO Les Moonves and begins with an account of his assault on writer/actress Illeana Douglas, which he attempted to justify when he said, "Come on, you’re not some nubile virgin." This article is an important one to pass around because Farrow explored how behavior at the top of a corporation set the standard and tone and is imitated throughout. It’s also an example of how not to write a statement. In Moonves' statement, he said, “I recognize that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances. Those were mistakes, and I regret them immensely. But I always understood and respected—and abided by the principle—that ‘no’ means ‘no,’ and I have never misused my position to harm or hinder anyone’s career.” Note the hedged word “may,” and the attempt to portray the incidents as “decades ago.” He should have stuck with the simple, “Those were mistakes, and I regret them immensely.”)

The New Yorker, “Les Moonves and CBS Face Allegations of Sexual Misconduct,” August 6 & 13, 2018 Issue

“Listen, I don’t have ‘Trump Derangement,’” said Whoopi Goldberg, co-host of “The View.” She was responding to Fox News host Judge Jeanine Pirro who muttered “something about people having ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’” and pointed to Goldberg. Not a good idea. The show promptly degenerated into a shouting match, which apparently continued when the participants left the stage. (Aside from the BIMBO comment, we would have recommended against Pirro’s direct insult. If her goal was to promote her new book “Liars, Leakers, and Liberals: The Case Against the Anti-Trump Conspiracy” or to reach independent voters, this was not a winning strategy. Note that the sensational phrase made the headline.)

The Washington Post, “Whoopi vs. Judge Jeanine: ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’ comment sparks yelling match on ‘The View,’” July 20, 2018


The key to crafting a statement is to ask, “Who’s my audience?” and to understand how a listener hears things. A common mistake companies make when something goes wrong or attracts criticism is to try to minimize the damage by saying things like, “This is an isolated incident.” The problem with this response is that it confirms that these things do happen. Amazon made headlines when scamming tactics used to trick its automated system came to light—that is, tactics used to boost the position of certain products in the search results and to glean other inside information. In response, Amazon’s spokeswoman said, “those trying to abuse its systems ‘make up a tiny fraction of activity on our site.’” Maybe, but again, it confirms that not all of Amazon’s search results can be trusted. The spokeswoman continued by insisting Amazon is “…making it increasingly difficult for bad actors to hide.” Translation:  there are bad actors and they’re always one step ahead.

The Wall Street Journal, “How Sellers Trick Amazon to Boost Sales,” July 28, 2018

The downside of emails:  people don't read them. Tennis pro Tim Smyczek learned this lesson the hard way when he failed to register for the Wimbledon qualifying tournament because he didn’t read the weekly email from his agent. Smyczek described the experience as “a tough lesson to learn.” Use this as a lesson about the perils of emails. If you want someone to actually internalize something, it better be in the top two lines. Consider a video or personal follow up as well.

The New York Times, “How a Missed Email Put One Player in Illinois Instead of Wimbledon,” July 11, 2018

TXU is using email both to communicate with customers and to encourage them to conserve energy—all good. However, in the last six months they have sent virtually the same email twice: once in January (we wrote about it here) and again in July. The July email noted that customers helped save “1,252,225 kWh on the Texas power grid.” A statistic they say is “like taking 200 cars off the road for a year.” While we again applaud TXU’s dedication to making statistics relevant to their audience by placing them in context, it is equally as important to change up communications and to implement a sense of humor.


“People used to want to take a shower after meeting me,” said William Strong, chairman of the litigation-finance firm Longford Capital Management, LP. (Strong was speaking at a conference pitching the fast-growing industry of law firms financing high-dollar lawsuits in return for a (large) share of the eventual settlement. The bad news is that these arrangements are not only exploding, they are attracting top talent from firms like Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP. We applaud Strong for his humorous comment. Where’s the soap?)

The Wall Street Journal, “The New Hot Law Job: Litigation Finance,” July 5, 2018

An example of informal–but powerful–communication can be found in a recent USA Today article that examined Baltimore and “the possible costs of a remarkable national reckoning over how police officers have treated minorities.” In brief, Baltimore police are responding to calls “as quickly as ever” but are now initiating far fewer encounters themselves (this is when “an officer sees a crime himself and stops to do something”). Department leadership and other officers who commented on the decrease in the initiation of encounters pointed to actions taken by the U.S. Justice Department following the death of Freddie Gray in 2015. We’re not taking a position on whether the Justice Department’s stipulations are at fault, but the article makes clear that–intended or not–officers in Baltimore got the message that their actions were going to be second guessed. As some have said, “no one ordered them to make fewer stops or take fewer risks.” A retired lieutenant who supervised the overnight shift in Baltimore emphasized, "We didn't have to tell them…We just said these are the facts, this is the situation, and if you want to risk your career, have at it." 

USA Today, “Baltimore police stopped noticing crime after Freddie Gray's death. A wave of killings followed.,” July 12, 2018


Anyone who flies complains about the seats in coach. Delta CEO Ed Bastian and American Airlines CEO Doug Parker put themselves on the line–or, rather, in the seats. Both 6-foot-3-inch men managed to fit into a coach seat in one of their airplanes to “explain why they think the skimpy confines of coach today are acceptable.” Best of all, both took a pro-active stance and defended having a range of seats—and prices to match. “Their message: If you want more space, buy it.” We applaud Delta and American for promoting a basic business lesson about supply and demand. By the way, United’s CEO, Oscar Munoz, declined to be interviewed and declined to explain why. This adds to United’s string of bad communication examples over the past 14 months. For more, see the April 2018 BIMBO Memo, the May 2017 BIMBO Memo and this blog post.)

The Wall Street Journal, “When Airline CEOs Try the Cheap Seats,” July 24, 2018


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

Choose Wisely: How Papa John’s Proved Hiring the Right Crisis Communications Firm Matters

  • Crisis
  • July 31, 2018
  • by Merrie Spaeth


Readers of the BIMBO Memo are familiar with our focus on “bad words” and their tendency to replicate and cause trouble. This is certainly true of Papa John’s founder John Schnatter and his now-infamous use of the “n-word.” Our comment focuses on the background of the situation. News reports described the situation as a “media training exercise” or “a call…on how to prevent negative public relations incidents” (read the accounts here and here). We’re exceptionally familiar with the media training situation, as this is one of our core competencies. Almost always, these trainings begin with role playing an interview that includes the kinds of realistic questions a client potentially could encounter and have to field.

We’ve had some doozy responses during these first encounters. Years ago, we had a client facing serious issues with some key personnel. The client was planning to issue an ultimatum that would certainly become public. The client expressed emphatic confidence that he would prevail. “How can you be so sure?” was the question. The client reached down, pulled a knife out of his boot and said, “We have our methods.” This precipitated a spirited discussion later with the lawyers about what was acceptable behavior. It was determined that the excuse, “We were just exaggerating for impact,” was inappropriate to the point of danger.

Our puzzlement with this whole incident is two-fold. What were they doing holding this kind of conversation on a conference call? How many people participated? Who was in charge?

Second, it’s not clear how a report of what should have been a confidential strategy discussion was leaked to the media. The inference is that the marketing firm Laundry Service was in charge, but it could have come from another source. No matter how it happened, we’re appalled. If it was indeed a true training session, the initial Q&A is supposed to uncover weak spots in a client’s narrative. Professionals owe their clients complete confidentiality. Even if Laundry Service wasn’t the source of the leak to the media, they are still culpable because they should have been in charge of the session and enforced confidentiality.

The lessons to be learned thus far:

- establish the requirement for complete confidentiality at the start
- host training sessions in person and under the guidance of a company with lengthy credentials in preparing executives for challenging encounters
- be aware that some topics and words are so toxic that they can literally derail your career

Are We On to Sacha Baron Cohen?

  • Wildcard
  • July 17, 2018
  • by Merrie Spaeth

Sacha baron cohen, 2011

Sacha Baron Cohen is at it again with a show, “Who is America?” on Showtime. His first show aired an “interview” in his persona rightwing redneck character Billy Wayne Ruddick with 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders. He has notched up a number of other celebrities and ordinary Americans he can make look stupid and racist.

We just got an email from one of our own clients that Cohen and cast, or rather Billy Wayne and pals, tried to con them into a tour of their organization. We’ve worked hard with this client to articulate their message. I cannot tell you the client because they were suspicious from the beginning of Billy Wayne’s son who claimed they were from Tennessee. Terrific, said our client, so are we! Things went downhill, or rather out the door and into the street.

Who was it that said, “Trust but verify?” 

Video Over Voice Chat

  • Trends
  • July 11, 2018
  • by Merrie Spaeth

Blog photo

Maybe the Wall Street Journal’s crack writer on personal technology, David Pierce, should talk to our team of up-and-coming stars. He recently wrote “Voice Chat is Way of the Future” and I started to think that this was one more avenue our clients would need to pay attention to in our continuing quest to communicate with and enlist employees and customers as ambassadors. I was caught with his line, “We need voice back in our communication.”

In these days of Instagram, Snapchat, text and so on, I said “Right on!” But started to be skeptical when he touted the brevity of voice chat. No need, he says for pleasantries and “social norms.” But isn’t that what makes personal interaction better than the limited boxes for text or characters or an exchange punctuated by the latest emojis?

I circulated the article and one of our smartest – and most confidently vocal! – associates said she had only used the feature when she had accidentally held the button. A more serious problem she identified was background noise. Her final thought: “Video wins over voice chat because you can see facial expressions.” Maybe our clients are safe from having to adopt another communication channel – at least for now.

BIMBO Nominees for July 2018

  • Bimbo
  • July 5, 2018
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image c

This month we have great examples of the “Wrong Thing To Say” from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Roseanne Barr (of course), agent David Sloane, Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen, a Dallas pastor, Rudy Giuliani and more. You’ll also read about two interesting examples of statistics, an example of a nice quote and Sixers’ Bryan Colangelo’s Twitter problems.


“Donald Trump is wrong. My client Peter Strzok is a patriot, not a ‘sick loser,’” was the headline of an article by Aitan Goelman, lawyer for the FBI agent who authored the emails asserting that he would prevent Trump from becoming president. (Strzok’s emails have been all over the news, so readers are highly likely to have seen them. Goelman also wrote that Strzok had “express[ed] [his] personal political views,” but the emails show much more than that. Goelman pointed out that Strzok is cooperating with the investigators—an argument he should have maintained. Note that the “sick loser” phrase Strzok used originally came from a tweet from President Trump, thereby reiterating the human tendency to pick up and repeat each other’s words. Predictably, the salacious description made the headline.)

USA Today, “Donald Trump is wrong. My client Peter Strzok is a patriot, not a ‘sick loser,’” June 19, 2018


“This sort of portrayal of me as a right-wing yahoo riding in on a steed from Ohio with a red cap on is just silly,” said Keith Burris, editorial page editor of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (This merits the number two spot because the paper dismissed cartoonist Rob Rogers for regularly drawing Trump cartoons—many of which criticized the president. Burris explained the reason saying, “I’m certainly not in Trump’s base and I don’t think our publisher is, we just don’t think he’s Satan. We never said ‘don’t do Trump cartoons.’ A Trump cartoon every day is not interesting, and a Trump cartoon every day that’s not funny and is just enraged is not particularly effective.” This is a thoughtful editorial opinion. Burris, as a writer, should know it was a mistake to add the phrase “right-wing yahoo.”)

The New York Times, “Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Cartoonist Fired as Paper Shifts Right,” June 15, 2018

“We want to show you that these are not kids kept in cages,” said Alexia Rodriguez, a spokesperson for an organization providing shelters for youth intercepted while crossing the southern border illegally. (Here, Rodriguez refers to the widely circulated photos of young children sleeping in cages, which were published in 2014. Like so many examples, the negative, “kids kept in cages” comment Rodriguez introduced overshadowed her positive quote: “We provide them excellent care.” Plus, the entire article was written because there was a tour for media to see the largest of such facilities and press coverage was balanced, as it even noted that the children had living, recreational and eating services. Unsurprisingly, the negative comment became the headline.)

NPR, “’These Are Not Kids Kept In Cages,’: Inside A Texas Shelter For Immigrant Youth,” June 14, 2018

“I am not hiding anything from you,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at a House Judiciary Committee hearing focusing on the Department of Justice’s handling of the investigations of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and of the Trump campaign. (This is a classic BIMBO situation. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said, “We caught you hiding information!” Rosenstein did a great job acknowledging the question saying, “It’s not accurate, sir,” but offered the “not hiding” sentence before saying that DOJ staff were “working around the clock, doing their best (to provide the information requested).” Like so many examples, he shouldn’t have included the negative phrase. He also said, “I’m not a Democrat, and I’m not angry.” Fortunately, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., urged the DOJ to “… finish it the hell up!” which became the headline. The Deputy Attorney General was also referenced in the news after House staff reported they felt “personally attacked” during a closed-door meeting with Rosenstein in January. A Justice Department official said, “The Deputy Attorney General never threatened anyone in the room with a criminal investigation.” This is a lesson demonstrating that denying the threat only intensifies the impact.)

USA Today, “Deputy AG Rosenstein, FBI Director Wray grilled by House panel on Clinton inquiry,” June 28, 2018

“We are not the enemy of the American people,” said media star Wolf Blitzer. (This is particularly amusing because Blitzer whined, “Everybody’s always criticizing us,” as if the subjects they cover don’t feel the same way! And, like so many of our BIMBOs, he also included a positive, even emotional comment, “We love the American people.” He missed the opportunity to commit himself to provide fair, balanced coverage and analysis.)

The Washington Free-Beacon, “Wolf Blitzer: ‘We Are Not the Enemy of the American People, We love the American People,” Jun 13, 2018    

“I’m not a racist, I’m an idiot,” said Roseanne Barr in an emotional podcast interview with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. (This tearful interview may or may not help Roseanne redeem herself. It seems she’s really missing an overall strategy for how to reclaim her talent and her career. Per usual, the comment became the headline.)

NBC News, “Roseanne Barr gives tearful interview after scandal: ‘I’m not a racist, I’m an idiot,’” June 25, 2018

“I didn’t get out of the agent business because I was a bad agent … I got out of the agent business because I was tired of swimming in a sewer,” said veteran agent David Sloane who didn’t mince words about what he thought was happening in major league baseball. “I’m not slinking away,” added Sloane. (The dispute involves his fee for a player named Justus Sheffield, which spilled over into a spat with the state of Tennessee, the Major League Baseball Players Association and Vanderbilt University. We include it here as an example of the use of inflammatory words, which live forever. It’s hard to see how Sloane can navigate his way back to a civil relationship.)

USA Today, “Why a baseball agent is leaving the industry over $33,000: ‘Tired of swimming in a sewer,’” June 3, 2018

“We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period,” said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in a tweet reacting to continuing criticism about the administration’s immigration policies. (The day before this tweet, Sec. Nielsen tweeted, “… if you are seeking asylum for your family, there is no reason to break the law and illegally cross between ports of entry.” Interesting that the debate is over the word “policy” and what actually constitutes a “policy.” In this case, Nielsen was narrowly correct that it wasn’t a “policy” but no matter what she wants to call it, it certainly triggered the undesired and highly criticized results. Better not to have engaged in the debate, especially via Twitter.)

Vox, “DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s defense of separation of families at the border: it’s not a ‘policy,’” June 18, 2018

“We’re not here to criticize or be antagonistic toward people and to beat them down. There’s no threat. The people in the community should not feel a threat,” said Shelton Gibbs III, minister of a church in suburban Dallas reacting to criticism of a flyer the church distributed. The text warned of “Dangerous Isms” like “Alcoholism,” “Materialism,” “Pessimism” but also “Judaism” and “Islamism.” (Afterwards, a predictable outcry from Jewish and Muslim leaders resulted. What makes this unusual is that Pastor Gibbs is African American. When asked why he didn’t include “’isms’ such as racism, or sexism,” he replied that they were taking up one “ism” each Wednesday and there were only so many weeks in the summer. The church, which has grown from 20 members into a mega-church, released a statement in which it vowed to work on its phrasing in the future.)

The Dallas Morning News, “Richardson minister stands by church flier that warns Judaism, Islamism ‘dangerous,’” June 4, 2018

“Therefore, he had no intent to defraud anyone,” said John Teakell, defense attorney for self-described “whale whisperer” Paul Gilman. Gilman was charged with federal securities law violations for raising millions from investors for GilmanSound and then lying to investors about his use of their money after the company failed. As noted above, his lawyer fell into the denial trap. (As with so many examples, the first part of the comment was on-target, “Mr. Gilman believes that the evidence will show that the subject technology was being developed and continued to be developed.” His lawyer should have continued by saying that he felt investors shared his passion or understood that this was a long-term project.)

USA Today, “’Whale Whisperer’ accused in $3.3M financial scam used to finance a lavish lifestyle,” June 5, 2018


“I don’t respect a porn star the way I respect a career woman,” said Rudy Giuliani, acting as a senior lawyer and counselor to President Trump. (Giuliani was talking about porn actress Stormy Daniels’ publicity tour and whether she has any credibility. We have this filed under “Wrong Thing To Say” because it’s irrelevant and inappropriate to attack her personally. He also veered off topic and said that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was “begging” for a meeting with President Trump. Fortunately, that insult didn’t derail the historic meeting, but we question why in this case Giuliani, one of the savviest political types around, would choose to talk to the media.)

ABC News, “Giuliani takes swipe at Stormy Daniels, adult film stars: ‘I don’t respect a porn star the way I respect a career woman,’” June 6, 2018

“I have personally never observed (housing discrimination)," said bank regulator and comptroller of the currency, Joseph Otting during a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee. (He added that “many of my friends from the inner city across America will tell me that it is evident today.” Who writes his briefing material and talking points? This was guaranteed to produce negative press and to appear disconnected and elitist.)

The New York Times, “Bank Regulator, on the Defensive, Endorses an Obama-Era Approach to Fight Discrimination,” June 14, 2018

“Indeed, for law, the giver is as guilty as the receiver. So, you cannot exonerate their enticer and condemn their…victim,” said Charles Bentum, the attorney defending Ghanaian soccer officials caught over many months taking cash bribes. (This is another example of an attorney trying to put a spin on his clients’ unfortunate situation. The undercover news team led by journalist Anas Aremayaw Anas and BBC Africa Eye had hundreds of hours of videotape where the officials took “shopping money” or asked that sponsorship money be diverted to a company they controlled. Referees were recorded saying things like, “We need your team to play well” and took money on the eve of important matches. This is included as an example of how video changes the legal equation. As the saying goes, “seeing is believing.”)

BBC, “Betraying the Game: African officials filmed taking cash,” June 7, 2018


Did the government “lose” 1,500 illegal migrant children? This is an interesting example of how statistics – coupled with a sensational word, “lost” – creates a story, in fact, major news. Spoiler Alert: it wasn’t true. Here’s what happened: The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), part of the Department of Health and Human Services, is responsible for unaccompanied alien (non-citizen) children entering the country illegally. They release children to sponsors, usually a parent or close relative. ORR only began to track released children in 2016, calling 30 days after releasing them to a sponsor to ask if the children needed additional services. In one recent period, 14 percent of the sponsors didn’t respond to the call. That led to the story that they had been “lost”; although, by that logic, tens of thousands of children had been “lost” in previous administrations. The narrative of “lost” children fit the media’s narrative that families were being ripped apart at the border. Plus, it was National Missing Children’s Day when the story was released. Finally, the reporter who originally reported the story, Ron Nixon, wrote about it in the column where New York Times’ reporters reflect on a story or other personal item of interest. This is worth looking at to show your C-Suite and communications colleagues about how a statistic can anchor a story.

USA Today, “Health & Human Services: We didn’t lose 1,500 migrant children. Most are with family.,” May 30, 2018

A New York Times column, “Harvard is Wrong That Asians Have Terrible Personalities,” is worth reading for anyone seeking to understand the convoluted issue of affirmative action and the competing priorities of fairness, merit and inclusion. In brief, a group of Asian-American students is suing Harvard and charging racial bias. Harvard’s admissions data showed Asian-Americans outperformed white candidates in grades, SAT scores, the most AP exams passed and had more extracurricular activities. Interviewers who personally met with the Asian-American students rated them on a par with whites on personal qualities of subjective measures like likeability, helpfulness, courage, kindness and positive personality. By contrast, interviewers who had not met the student they rated, scored Asian-American students a personality rating low enough to make them less competitive in the admissions process. Whatever your views are on the admission criteria of elite colleges, this column by an Asian-American writer and author is a fair consideration of the topic.

The New York Times, “Harvard is Wrong That Asians Have Terrible Personalities,” June 25, 2018


What was First lady Melania Trump thinking when she wore a jacket with the words “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” on the back of the garment to visit a shelter for migrant children in Texas? For someone as careful with her clothes and image and as aware of the likelihood of the media to seize on every detail to note or mock, she had to have known that the jacket would overshadow the purpose of her visit. Her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, tried to criticize the media when she said on Twitter, “If media would spend their time & energy on her actions & efforts to help kids -- rather than speculate & focus on her wardrobe -- we could get so much accomplished on behalf of children.” (In this case, we think the media was within their purview. She did choose to wear the jacket…)

The Washington Post, “How Melania Trump’s jacket choice overtook her visit to the Texas border shelters,” June 21, 2018

Blue Bell Creameries produced a nice quote after a Louisiana teacher encouraged her home-schoolers ages eight to 11 to rename Blue Bell’s combined vanilla-and-chocolate flavor offering. Averse to the name, “The Great Divide,” the children came up with “Better Together” and then shared the idea on Facebook as an open letter to the ice cream giant, which not only received the message, but also read it and responded: “We were amazed when we read the letter, by their thoughtfulness and their compassion for all people, and we are humbled by their love of our ice cream.” Kudos to Blue Bell for responding. We thought it was a very nice response with an appropriately muted – but still evident – product mention.

The Dallas Morning News, “Blue Bell ‘impressed,’ ‘humbled’ by children’s idea to rename an ice cream flavor,” June 15, 2018


Take a look at this cautionary Twitter story about Philadelphia 76ers president of operations Bryan Colangelo. The story began when snarky and damaging comments about former Sixers executives--clearly from insiders--were tweeted from five different Twitter accounts. Sports publication “The Ringer” received an anonymous tip from an individual who speculated that all five accounts were burner accounts and likely operated by one person. According to the tipster, it was likely that the one person was Colangelo himself. Afterwards, an investigation was launched and revealed that Colangelo’s wife was the author. Even if he actually knew nothing about his wife’s well-intentioned but entirely inappropriate actions, what she posted revealed that her husband had been talking to her about extremely confidential team matters. Oops. It cost Colangelo his job. A good case study for coaches to show their team members. Nobody is truly anonymous on Twitter. Just as Kevin Durant

The New York Times, “The Story of the Wife Who Defended Her Husband in a Way That Left Him Unemployed,” June 7, 2018


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

Planning For “What If”: Why Now is the Time to Add GDPR Noncompliance to Your Crisis Plan

  • Trends
  • June 6, 2018
  • by Karen Carrera, APR

Gdpr - 2

It’s going to happen.

The European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is so comprehensive and far-reaching, that at some point a company that thought it had covered itself will get hit with a charge of non-compliance or data breach. The implication will carry a stiff fine, and with that punitive power, it’s an easy bet that the first offenders will find themselves very publicly held up as an example of what will happen to others who play fast and loose with customer data.

If you have any business dealings in the EU – and PwC reports that 92 percent of US companies with interests in other countries named GDPR a top priority, and 77 percent plan to spend $1 million or more on compliance – it’s time to dust off your crisis plan and invest some time and money in how your company will respond to non-compliance or data breach charges.

GDPR is so new, with both specific and vague guidelines, and the fines so severe, that first offenders will spend millions on lawyers and legal battles trying to argue against ambiguities and intent. But few will consider how that battle plays out in the press, with investors, employees and customers, or in the community.

Court room vernacular rarely translates well in the news. Companies must carefully craft a strategic, impactful and focused message to be communicated through the media and marketing channels, including social media. That message must resonate with an intended audience, align with the legal strategy, and integrate with other messages the company has communicated on its efforts around GDPR.

While GDPR is new, the idea of preparing for the worst certainly isn’t. Smart companies have learned how to prepare for crisis and shore up their reputations before the inevitable happens. With the initial operations and communications for the May 25 deadline behind us, now it’s time to sit down and plan for “what if.”

How to Inform Your Employees About the Implications of GDPR

  • Trends
  • May 31, 2018
  • by Spaeth Communications


General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the European regulation drastically changing how companies collect and track everyone’s data. There are scores of articles about it – and that’s the problem. There’s too much information! How should you inform and enlist your employees?

We recommend setting up a dedicated email address where employees can share the various and often sneaky examples they find. Those examples can then be used when you share short, repetitive paragraphs that educate employees over time. Include links to occasional articles, like this one to start.

What should your first message to employees say? Here’s a suggestion:

Have you noticed you’re getting more messages popping up with questions about the sender’s advertising policies? You’ve been tempted just to delete them, haven’t you? We’ve been doing that, too. But it’s very risky. Reason No. 1: Some companies are taking your continued access to their website as acceptance of their policies to collect and sell your data.

Take the time to look at those messages. And – send them to us at [insert dedicated email] and we’ll share them weekly.

BIMBO Nominees for June 2018

  • Bimbo
  • May 31, 2018
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image h

This month we have BIMBOs from -- of course Roseanne Barr -- the lawyers for travel and convenience store chain Buc-ee’s, GOP Senate candidate Joe Arpaio, the House Agriculture Committee and the Mayor of Pittsfield. You’ll also find examples of the Wrong Thing to Say from Elon Musk and the American Conservative Union’s communications director and, even, a quote to remember, two mini case studies, an understatement of the month from a (former) New York Post reporter and the retirement speech of now-former Dallas Cowboy Jason Witten.


“I did not create unsafe work environments. I did not assault women. I did not offer employment or advancement in exchange for sex,” wrote iconic actor Morgan Freeman in a second statement/apology after eight people accused him of inappropriate behavior or harassment. (Freeman clearly doesn’t agree with the allegations, but he set himself up for failure by repeating the charges against him. If he’s going to refute, he should have stuck to his first quote, “I am devastated that 80 years of my life is at risk of being undermined, in the blink of an eye, by Thursday’s media reports.”)

USA Today, “Morgan Freeman on sexual harassment allegations: ‘I did not assault women,’” May 26, 2018 


“This is not a quid pro quo or anything else,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said about possibly easing the sanctions the U.S. imposed on ZTE Corp. (Easing the sanctions imposed on the Chinese telecommunications company would prevent it from going out of business and is widely regarded as a bargaining chip designed to influence the Chinese position during ongoing trade negotiations--which would make it a quid pro quo. Note the phrase makes it into the headline. Mnuchin continued, “The objective was not to put ZTE out of business,” although this is what the original threat was designed to do.)

CBS News, “Mnuchin says no quid pro quo in ZTE rescue talks,” May 22, 2018

“The MasculinUT program does not treat masculinity as a ‘mental health issue,’” said language on the University of Texas webpage for a new program called MasculinUT, which UT claims “was established to bring more men to the table to address interpersonal violence, sexual assault and other issues." MasculinUT featured posters showing male students wearing makeup and dresses and explored the definition of “restrictive masculinity,” which they said gives people “a narrow definition of what it means to be masculine.” (Predictability, the new counseling program generated a howl of criticism and ridicule. The job posting for a “healthy masculinities coordinator” was deleted and the vice president for student affairs and dean of students said she is reviewing the program’s messaging. Again, note that the phrase “mental health issue” made it into the headline.)

Dallas Morning News, “MasculinUT program does not treat masculinity as a ‘mental health issue,’ UT says to conservatives,” May 4, 2018

"I’m not a racist, just an idiot who made a bad joke," said Roseanne Barr reacting to the firestorm caused by her tweet about a former Obama aide (which we won't repeat here). She is both. Numerous people have already commented on her continued strange behavior since the fallout that resulted from her 2 a.m. tweet. Since, she apologized, then got defensive, abandoned Twitter, then proceeded to tweet scores of times. However, the best part of this situation was the uncharacteristically sly comment from Sanofi, the maker of Ambien: "While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication." And they released the comment fast.

CNN, “Roseanne Barr blames Ambien: 'I'm not a racist, just an idiot,'” May 30, 2018

“I am not racist,” said attorney Aaron Schlossberg after he verbally attacked Spanish-speaking workers at a restaurant in Manhattan and, assuming they were undocumented immigrants, threatened to call immigration agents. (No surprise, the exchange was captured on video by other patrons and went viral, which generated a storm of criticism. Schlossberg apologized – sort of – when he said, “What the video did not convey is the real me. I am not racist.” That’s a bi-product of video. It did show him. What he should have done is told the truth—that he lost his temper and was out of line. And once again, the BIMBO comment made the headline.)

The New York Times, “‘I Am Not Racist’: Lawyer Issues Apology One Week After Rant,” May 22, 2018

“It’s absolutely not about a beaver versus an alligator,” said the general counsel for mega convenience and travel store chain Buc-ee’s about its charge that a much smaller company’s alligator logo violates trademark law due to its close resemblance to the Buc-ee’s beaver logo. (We’re with the rival, Choke Canyon, whose alligator, in our opinion, looks nothing like Buc-ee’s beaver. We understand Choke Canyon’s lawyer’s even-handed comment, “We respect the jury’s verdict but we don’t understand it since all the evidence indicated there was no confusion.”)

Houston Chronicle, “Buc-ee’s wins federal court trademark fight against competitor Choke Canyon,” May 23, 2018

“I am not a ‘yes’ man,” said former Arizona sheriff (previous BIMBO nominee) and current GOP Senate candidate Joe Arpaio responding to reporters’ questions about whether he blindly supports President Trump without understanding much about Trump’s specific policies. Presumably these questions stem from the fact that the president pardoned Arpaio last year after he was convicted of charges that he racially profiled people and ignored court orders to stop. (We know Arpaio is very controversial because of his hardline position on illegal immigration, but we think the reporters purposely baited him hoping for a sensational response – at one point “he was even asked if he knew what a tariff was.” However, Arpaio didn’t do himself any favors when he argued with reporters and failed to prepare press conference-ready talking points. And, as happens so often, the quote made the headline.)

MSN, “Arpaio: ‘I Am Not a Yes Man’ to Trump,” May 23, 2018

“The idea isn’t to kick people off the program,” said a spokeswoman for the House Agriculture Committee defending legislation that not only provided ongoing support for various crops but also increased the work requirements for recipients of food stamps. (The spokeswoman was responding to criticism that the work requirements would dissuade people from taking advantage of the program, and she fell into the trap of repeating the negative. The second half of her quote was what should have been her main message: “That’s why we’re making employment and training available to anyone.” The problem with communication on this issue is that decades of experience show that getting people into a job, any job, helps them start climbing the ladder to economic security, but frequently those jobs are minimum wage and basic entry. We personally would like to see more attention to the kinds of apprenticeships like those in Europe, vocational schools and opportunities like McDonalds which advertises itself as the “best first job.”)

Dallas Morning News, “Poor, hungry and under age of 60? House GOP says you should work if you want food stamps,” May 8, 2018

“At no time did I authorize any kind of soft enforcement,” said the Mayor of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, about an initiative by the city’s vendor providing trash pick-up, which started declining to pick up improperly disposed of waste items. (The mayor was trying to combat criticism that she had ordered the vendor to start enforcing existing rules that had been in effect but hadn’t been enforced previously. This initially attracted us because of the unusual phrase “soft enforcement,” but it’s actually interesting as a mini communication case study. The topic of enforcing waste disposal regulation had apparently been discussed by several different city committees with different perspectives and mandates. Two senior government officials told the Resource Recovery Commission – which doesn’t have actual power over solid waste disposal – that existing regulations were going to be enforced. The vendor, Republic Services, took them at their word.  It’s a case study of how communication can get messed up when there’s no clear person in charge, particularly in government. This is also an example of the one government official who should be in charge, the mayor, fleeing responsibility.), “Pittsfield Councilors Told Trash Hauler Started Enforcement On Its Own,” May 23, 2018


“Boring bonehead questions are not cool,” was how Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, characterized a question during a conference call with analysts about whether and when the company might need to raise additional capital. (Musk has more guts than we do— we take analyst calls very seriously and this was a legitimate question. During the same call, Musk also said, “We have no interest in satisfying the desires of day traders. I couldn’t care less. Please sell our stock and don’t buy it.” Investors, who were digesting another large quarterly loss from Tesla, apparently took his advice and Tesla’s stock tanked. This is yet another example proving that words matter and have real-world implications.)

The New York Times, “Elon Musk Rejects ‘Boring, Bonehead Questions,’ and Tesla’s Stock Slides,” May 3, 2018

“We elected Mike Steele to be the R.N.C. chair because he’s a black guy. That was the wrong thing to do,” said Ian Walters, the communications director for the American Conservative Union. (Though the comment was made in February, it nevertheless lives on. The comment, alongside chairman of the American Conservative Union Matt Schlapp’s defense of it, led a lengthy profile of Mr. and Mrs. Schlapp in a recent article published in The New York Times. This is an example of how in today’s environment a salacious crack lives on.)

The New York Times, “Meet the Schlapps, Washington’s Trump-Era ‘It Couple,’” April 30, 2018


“With the drugs we use, we could kill a healthy person within minutes,” said Dr. Mary Dale Peterson of the American Association of Anesthesiologists. (Another mini case study for the comms folks: CHRISTUS Spohn Health System cancelled its contract with Gulf Shore Anesthesia and in its place enlisted another company, EmergencHealth. The announcement generated puzzled comments from established physicians in their service area who are quoted saying things like, “I have never heard of this group called ‘Emergenc.’ I asked around and could not find anyone else who had heard of them, either.” The listed owner of Emergenc is a pulmonologist who practices with a “small Dallas-area hospital.” A series of email exchanges between Corpus Christi TV station investigative reporters and the Spohn PR coordinator raise even more questions. Back to the “kill a healthy person” quote: you can bet that if there are any incidents of less-than-quality care, we’ll see them – and the quote – in court.), “6 Investigates: Spohn contract raises questions of transparency,” May 2, 2018


“I should have exercised better judgment,” said New York Post reporter Shawn Cohen after he was fired when he admitted to having an affair with a prostitute who is also a witness in an investigation regarding corruption within the New York City Police Department. (Reality TV here we come: the prostitute is alleged by federal prosecutors to have had sex with cops on an airplane during a flight to Las Vegas. Cohen covered the investigation and wrote a front-page story filled with what the NY Daily News called “lurid detail.”  When I went to Washington as a White House Fellow, I asked my boss, Judge William Webster, Director of the FBI, what my job description was, and he replied, “Use good judgment.” The directive applies more broadly. Cohen added, “As a journalist, I certainly appreciate how this looks given her past profession and the fact I’d written about her, but the reality is quite innocent.” Innocent? Really? Has he lost his mind – as well as his capacity for good judgment? Perfecting the story, The New York Post declined to comment.)

Daily News, “New York Post reporter axed for secret affair with hooker at center of NYPD corruption scandal,” May 4, 2018


Take time to read about, and perhaps to watch, Jason Witten’s speech formally announcing his retirement as a Dallas Cowboy player. “After much self reflection, prayer and faith, today I’ve decided the time has come to pass the torch to the next generation of Dallas Cowboys and retire from the National Football League.” (We call the speech to your attention because of his open discussion of prayer and faith, but also because you’ll see that he shows a great deal of emotion. Well done, Jason Witten—a truly heartfelt farewell for the books!)

SportsDay, “Why Jason Witten’s retirement is much different than Tony Romo’s,” May 3, 2018


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

Finding Their Way?

  • Crisis
  • May 11, 2018
  • by Merrie Spaeth


Wells Fargo has a new, multi-million-dollar ad campaign aimed at convincing consumers that its well-publicized regulatory problems have been settled. (Recap: Wells has been fined over a billion and a half dollars to settle revelations that it opened hundreds of thousands of accounts that weren’t authorized by customers; allowing it to charge them fees by taking out unneeded and unauthorized mortgage and auto insurance.) The ad initiative, called “Trust,” is excellent. The narrative is compelling, with images harkening back to their founding frontier days combined with customers moving forward. Who hasn’t seen pictures of the Wells Fargo stagecoach forging ahead to deliver passengers, cargo and money boxes? The key line: “We always found our way until we lost it.” 

What’s missing? People, actual bank employees taking ownership and delivering the line in addition to the compelling ad. I’m a Wells mortgage holder and just called to change my address on my account. I got an account rep who was professional but didn’t take the opportunity of this person-to-person interaction to say, “We really appreciate your business and we’re dedicated to living up to the line in our advertisements about justifying your trust.”

Advertising is still a key medium and the impact of social media is well documented— but nothing, nothing—replaces the impact of person-to-person communication where we can hear and experience genuine connection.

Wells has people in its ads. Where are they in its communication?

BIMBO Nominees for May 2018

  • Bimbo
  • April 30, 2018
  • by Spaeth Communications

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This month we have BIMBOs from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, two councilmen – one in Texas and another in D.C. – and, even, two ads from a wealth management firm. See also an example of the wrong thing to say from star-counselor Tony Robbins, a twisted statistic about starving college students, excellent articles proving words matter and a suspect psychology study on smiling.


“It was not an alien,” insisted astronaut Buzz Aldrin about an “unidentified” object outside the spaceship on the way to the moon in 1969. (This is a hilarious story, mainly worth reading as an example of what our president loves to call “fake news.” Although the claim that Aldrin saw an alien outside Apollo 11 made headlines and had all the trappings of news, including a “‘scientific’ organization” and the claim that Aldrin passed a lie detector test, all the facts had only a grain of truth. Spoiler alert: what astronauts saw was probably a panel that had separated from the ship. An alien is a much better story.)

USA Today, “No, Buzz Aldrin did not see an alien on his trip to the moon,” April 13, 2018


“I don’t expect there will be a trade war… It could be, but I don’t expect it at all,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in what was hardly a rousing vote of confidence. (Like so many of these examples, he also had positive quotes. He said the intention is to “continue to have discussions with China.” Remember what theater impresario Billy Rose said, “Never make predictions—especially about the future.”)

The Wall Street Journal, “Trump Officials Soften Tone on Trade Dispute With China,” April 8, 2018

“I’m not the Brett Favre girl,” insisted Jenn Sterger. (Who was it that said, “some people are famous for being famous?” Sterger was apparently the recipient of unwanted attention from quarterback Brett Favre a decade and a half ago, and her accusations got a lot of attention in the sports pages at the time. According to the news story, she has decided to cash in this ticket to fame – again – while posing for a provocative picture. Naturally, the quote became the headline.)

For the Win, “'I'm not the Brett Favre girl': Jenn Sterger speaks out in hopes of helping others,” April 17, 2018

“I’m not a journalist jack ass. I’m a talk host,” tweeted Fox star Sean Hannity. This comment was widely circulated after the judge in Michael Cohen’s case unaccountably insisted that Cohen read aloud the names of clients in open court. (Interestingly, Hannity tweeted this in October 2016, but it was nevertheless resurrected and circulated in recent weeks! However outrageous it may be that Hannity’s name was mentioned in federal courts in connection with a separate matter, this example is proof that it is best to avoid BIMBO comments, as, fair or unfair, they may come back to haunt you!)

“I am not calling Donald Trump a fascist,” said former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. (Wait! Before you jump to conclusions, this is another example of picking up each other’s words but in an unexpected way. Our dear friend Hugh Hewitt was interviewing Albright about her new book, “Fascism: A Warning.” During the interview, he clarified, “You’re not calling Trump a fascist, but you are warning about…,” and, predictably, Albright repeated the salacious claim.)

Hugh Hewitt, “Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright On Her New Book ‘Fascism: A Warning,’” April 12, 2018

“I don’t get confused,” said UN Ambassador Nikki Haley responding to new-to-the-job Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow, who called her momentarily “confused” when she predicted new sanctions against Russia. (Apparently, the Trump administration had decided not to increase sanctions but neglected to tell its UN Ambassador. Another error from the administration based on words.)

Bloomberg, “Trump Considering New Russia Sanctions Despite ‘Confusion,’ Kudlow Says,” April 17, 2018

“I am not resigning, I’m not backing down, I’m not discouraged, I’m not depressed,” said D.C. City Council member Trayon White Sr. over  growing controversy for his alleged anti-Semitism and a donation he made to the Nation of Islam convention. (At the convention to which White donated money, Nation of Islam founder, Louis Farrakhan, attacked “powerful Jews” and credited them for “the existence of transgender people” in Hollywood. An interesting story because Farrakhan’s views and comments have been public for so long and also because White argued that he didn’t agree with everything Farrakhan said, but that people should accept his position. That’s a worthy and civil argument and we’ll see if those on the extremes of political discourse agree. Note that one of the negative phrases appeared in the headline.)

The Washington Post, “Under fire for Farrakhan donation, D.C. lawmaker Trayon White says he’s ‘not backing down,’” April 21, 2018

“I am neither a racist nor a bigot,” said Plano (Texas) Councilman Tom Harrison. He’s facing a recall after refusing to step down when he received criticism for posting an inflammatory comment on Facebook: “Share if you think Trump should ban Islam in American schools.” He included a picture of students wearing hijabs. (He’s gone. So much is wrong with his post, including that it promotes violating the First Amendment. He says he did it to start a conversation, but the way to do that would have been to say, “Let’s start a conversation about different religions in schools and how that may change how we teach American history and other uniquely American topics.” But, Harrison instead has dug his hole too deep.)

The Dallas Morning News, “4,400-plus sign petition to recall Plano councilman over ‘ban Islam’ post, other shared images,” April 4, 2018

“We are NOT BROKERS,” screamed one ad for Fisher Investments, an independent wealth management firm, and another that said, “I HATE Annuities. And you should too.” (Interesting. We normally pay a lot of deference to the marketing folks, as they usually do research, test their material, etc., but here, what sticks in your mind? “Brokers” and “hate”? Me too.)


Even CEO-counselor and life coach Tony Robbins had a comeuppance with the #MeToo movement. (Background: Robbins, who has made millions as a semi-bombastic motivational speaker, initially said that some abuse victims were using the movement to “make themselves significant.” Clearly, this isn’t the time to be the voice of nuance. The mob rolled over him, and he, like others, had to abase himself and apologize. He ended up describing the movement effusively as “a beautiful force for good.” Robbins gets the “you did it to yourself” nod; however, he did use one of his trademark presentation approaches. He invited the questioner up on stage and tried to role play with her. He’s 6’7” and she was about 5’5”. This failed and the optics killed his otherwise reasonable point. I’ve seen Robbins do this with CEOs when he brings them on stage and tells them to drop and give him 10 pushups. He violated Spaeth principle No. 1, which is always to ask, “Who’s my audience?”)

CBS News, “Tony Robbins rips some sex abuse victims for trying to ‘make themselves significant,’” April 9, 2018

This article is another example of how statistics often generate news stories, but when further examined, turn out to be highly suspect. Temple University and Wisconsin’s HOPE Lab released a study generating a headline that college kids are “starving” and purported to find that 36 percent of four-year college students and 42 percent of community college students are “food insecure.” Additionally, the study found that gay students were at greater risk and bisexual students at highest risk of food insecurity. The study falls apart when you realize that only 10 percent of students surveyed responded and that students were enticed to fill out the survey by the chance to win $100 prizes. Those ambitious enough to research survey specifics found participants were asked questions like whether they ever “feared ‘food would run out before I got money to buy more.’” Contrast with the more dependable statistic that 70 percent of students gain weight during their undergraduate years and this study is one more example of why readers of such publications are dwindling.

USA Today, “Starvation issues in universities? The real college problem is obesity.,” April 11, 2018


A good example of the power of words and honing the effectiveness of employees as ambassadors results from the debate over genetically-modified foods, which is growing as technology like Crispr plough ahead. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun.) The International Seed Federation produced a 12-page “how to talk about” the gene-editing technologies paper. It included tips like refer to “plant breeding methods,” not “techniques or technologies.” Those working in agriculture are also being encouraged to train to become “research ambassadors” to explain modern agriculture methods to consumers. This sounds like the old “go talk to folks” outreach programs we have championed for years. Go Green!)

The Wall Street Journal, “Is This Tomato Engineered? Inside the Coming Battle Over Gene-Edited Food,” April 15, 2018

Another study examining how words matter comes from Stanford University. This one looks at how metaphors affect perception and the article is worth reading (even if the study is not). The article shows how pervasive metaphors are in our society. For instance, “We describe time as money…, arguments as war …, love as a journey…,” etc. The article also argues why metaphors and, more generally, “words matter.” Describing an effort as a “‘war’ rather than a ‘race’” for instance can affect how the audience remembers or perceives an issue. As mentioned, this article reinforces our own decades of teaching and is worth a look!)

Quartz, “Metaphors can change our opinions in ways we don’t even realize,” March 31, 2018

The University of Wisconsin psychology department has been busy working on a study with the goal of trying to find out just why emotions show up on our faces, particularly in a smile. This is another one of the “worth a look, but we have real reservations” articles. At least these researchers disclose that only 90 participants, all undergraduates and all males, were the lab rats. In theory, the study found that people react differently to different kinds of smiles. It’s a topic we’re interested in and is why we benchmark our clients’ facial expressions on camera.)

The Wall Street Journal, “Smiles Hide Many Messages—Some Unfriendly,” April 5, 2018     


Heineken is getting slammed for its ad campaign ending with, “sometimes lighter is better.” The ad promotes their light beer and features a bartender sliding a bottle of beer down a bar to a woman who is noticeably lighter-skinned than the others at the bar. In our view, Heineken got a lot of attention and got away with a statement they released that didn’t apologize but highlighted their marketing message: “While we feel the ad is referencing our Heineken Light beer, and that light beer is better than other high-calorie options—we missed the mark, are taking the feedback to heart and will use this to influence future campaigns.”

CNN, “Heineken pulls ‘Sometimes lighter is better’ ad after racism claims,” March 27, 2018 


Just after we figured out how to navigate Nextdoor, along came Modern Message, the brain child of two Dallas entrepreneurs. It is a combination of a newsletter and community engagement tool/app for apartment communities. When residents complete tasks in their complex, they can use the platform to accrue reward points. This is significant because the idea of being a first-mover to gather the electronic addresses and involvement of everyone in a complex proves a new network of communication and adds another new network to the Influence Model.

Dallas Business Journal, “40 Under 40: John Hinckley, CEO, Modern Message,” March 2018


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

Why Presentation Skills Training Will Elevate Your Everyday

  • Leadership
  • April 15, 2018
  • by Sally Ann Rivera


We’ve just wrapped a week of a two-part series of Persuasive Presentation SkillsSM trainings in the UK. While many of our clients come to us seeking a specific need (“I have a speech coming up”), an increasing amount are looking more generally for training that satisfies the vague “professional development” category.

Our mainstay trainings cover all the traditional skills (media and presentations), and, as we walk boldly into our fourth decade of business, our clients’ needs continue to expand. However, we’ve discovered that, regardless, the same skills apply.

While you may never be approached by a reporter with his camera directed at your face, you are nevertheless a spokesperson for your company or organization every day. In the same vein, one training participant mentioned she had never given a presentation before the first part of our training day. Some others this week confessed they hadn’t given any formal presentations in between their first Spaeth training a few months ago and the follow-up training this week—and probably wouldn’t any time soon. Or would they?

If you interact with colleagues or customers, you need presentation skills training. Most presentations don’t involve a PPT deck or podium (which we hope you never confine yourself behind). Instead, they occur during a coffee break, sitting at your boss’ desk or over a customer lunch.

Take every interaction to the next level by giving it the same priority and level of forethought. Rehearse, have a focused message to deliver and anecdotes at the ready. If you want to make every interaction strategic and memorable, we can help.

BIMBO Nominees for April 2018

  • Bimbo
  • April 3, 2018
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image a

This month there are more good and bad examples in all sorts of categories – misuse of statistics, employees as ambassadors and more! 


“The special counsel is not an unguided missile,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein fending off demands to fire Robert Mueller. (As is usually the case, the rest of Rosenstein’s comments were excellent: “I believe much of the criticism will fall by the wayside… I’m very confident that when the history of this era is written, it will reflect that the department was operated with integrity.” A plea for help from all of our friends in the legal profession and from former DOJ staff: please tell the Deputy Attorney General he needs our assistance. Finally, note that the quote made the headline – and the front page.)

USA Today, “Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, says Robert Mueller is 'not an unguided missile,'” March 12, 2018


“I did not knowingly mislead or lie to investigators,” protested former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe in a lengthy opinion in The Washington Post after he was fired. (As a former special assistant to FBI Director William Webster, it grieves me to see the bureau politicized. McCabe’s cri de cœur is worth reading as an example of much too much protesting. Unbelievably, he quibbled that some of his answers “were not fully accurate” and that he may have been “confused and distracted.” FBI senior officials are supposed to have more self-control than that. He should have stuck to reciting his loyalty to the bureau, cited his work on earlier investigations and allowed time for the investigation to take its course.)

The Washington Post, “Andrew McCabe: Not in my worst nightmares did I dream my FBI career would end this way,” March 23, 2018

“There’s nothing nefarious about the Chamber talking to a company,” insisted Austin City Council member Jimmy Flannigan defending the city’s decision to outsource recruiting discussions with Amazon regarding the company’s second headquarters. He added, “There’s no lacking transparency with the Chamber having a conversation with Amazon.” (Flannigan was trying to fend off criticism, but he should have taken a cue from his colleague, Ann Kitchen who explained, “There’s a role for the Chamber to play. Part of what they do is help the city in the role of economic development.” Our bet is that Flannigan was either asked if the Chamber’s role was “nefarious,” or he had the all-too-common tendency to start talking and keep talking.)

Austin-American Statesman, “Council member: City, chamber mishandling Amazon pursuit,” March 1, 2018


“We have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation through bots and human-coordination, misinformation campaigns, and increasingly divisive echo chambers,” wrote Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey in response to criticism. (Ouch! While it’s great that he realizes the need to be proactive, the slew of bad words crowd out what he should have been talking about: solutions, determination and commitment. He also added, “…we’ve been accused of apathy, censorship, political bias…” However, he concluded with, “This is not who we are, or who we ever want to be,” which should have been his message.)

The Wall Street Journal, “Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey Gives Blunt Assessment of the Company’s Failures,” March 1, 2018


United Airlines sent out a company-wide memo announcing its decision to replace quarterly employee bonuses linked to performance-related metrics, like on-time operations, with a raffle that would have much fewer winners. United announced this by calling it an “exciting” new rewards program. Predictably, the memo generated a storm of criticism and protest. After widespread disapproval for the program was expressed (United’s internal communication forum, Flying Together, received over 2,100 comments related to the rewards program announcement), United decided it was “rethinking the lottery program” three days after releasing the initial announcement. (This was a totally predictable path. Our question is: where were the communication people and were they empowered to advise President Scott Kirby? Kirby told employees that he believed the program "will build excitement and a sense of accomplishment with more bang for the buck.” He had to know this was ridiculous.)

The New York Times, “United Airlines Pauses Lottery for Bonuses After Employees Rebel Online,” March 5, 2018

Former Sen. Rick Santorum swallowed his entire foot when he criticized young people in the March for Our Lives rally by saying they should take “CPR classes” instead of “looking to someone else to solve their problem.” Then, he compounded his egregious comment by claiming it was a joke, and that he misspoke when he talked about CPR. (Predictably, this ignited a storm of protest. Santorum should have immediately apologized and said that he spoke without thinking.)

CNN, “Santorum: Instead of calling for gun laws, kids should take CPR classes,” March 26, 2018

Similarly, NRATV host Colion Noir actually baited the Parkland student survivors saying: “No one would know your names” if the shooting hadn’t taken place. (Noir also picked an unnecessary fight. He praised the Sheriff’s Deputy who stepped in at a school in Southern Maryland and prevented a disgruntled ex-boyfriend from shooting additional people after he fired at his former girlfriend. That’s fine, but he diluted the message about how law enforcement can play a proper role.)

The Washington Post, “NRA host taunts Parkland teens: ‘No one would know your names’ if classmates were still alive,” March 24, 2018

What is it with radio and TV hosts? Tongues unleashed? Radio host Cody McClure decided to attack 98-year-old Sister Jean, the unofficial mascot and official chaplain for the Loyola-Chicago basketball team. In an interview with Chicago Tribune columnist David Haugh, McClure said he was just joking and affirmed, “I'm not some kind of monster… So I'd be glad to issue an apology to Sister Jean and to anyone who felt that my joke was intended to be anti-Catholic or anti-elderly. It wasn't.” (Really? A snarky joke about a 98-year-old nun?)

MSN, “Radio host calls profane tweet about Sister Jean 'a joke,'” March 20, 2018

“I don’t think it is the worst hotel in the world, but that is because the world is very big,” said the president of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, about The Grand Hotel in Pristina, the country’s capital. (Talk about damning with faint praise…and the comment became the international headline. This is too bad because even The New York Times reporter who traveled to write about the enormous, 500-room relic from communism had a few good things to say.)

The New York Times, “Not the Worst Hotel in the World, Perhaps, but ‘the World Is Very Big,’” March 1, 2018

Having worked hard to restore Uber’s reputation as a responsible company, new-CEO Dara Khosrowshahi let forth a Trump-like tweet criticizing an MIT study about Uber driver compensation. He ridiculed them in a tweet saying, “MIT = Mathematically Incompetent Theories.” (As so frequently happens, the negative comment crowded out his real point that the data underlying the study’s conclusion was deeply flawed, which the reporter actually explored.)

Inc., “With a Single, Insulting Tweet, Uber’s CEO Just Destroyed Months of Hard Work,” March 5, 2018


A reporter covering the scripted celebration of China’s political structure including the abolition of term limits for President Xi Jinping, watched in disbelief as a colleague rambled while asking an embarrassingly obsequious question. She finally rolled her eyes and was caught on tape. She became international news, despite the efforts of government censors to delete all the comments. Who says body language isn’t a language of its own? 

The New York Times, “A Reporter Rolled Her Eyes, and China’s Internet Broke,” March 13, 2018

The definitive answer to “does body language matter?” (and bad words) comes in the sentencing decision for former pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli who “smirked through his trial, taunted prosecutors as ‘the junior varsity,’ called the case a ‘witch hunt’ and was suspended by Twitter after he threatened to have sex with a female journalist who covered him.” The judge said his behavior didn’t influence her decision, but she also said that his conduct made her doubt the sincerity of his remorse. Oops. His own lawyer commented that his behavior “probably added several years to his sentence.” The article is well worth reading and sharing with your own legal department. 

The New York Times, “Shkreli vs. Holmes: 2 Frauds, 2 Divergent Outcomes. Were They Fair?,” March 22, 2018


Now-former Trump adviser Gary Cohn illustrated one of our cherished advanced skills: audience interaction through participation. However, he unwittingly illustrated the importance of doing it strategically. He asked a group of CEOs to raise their hands if they intended to increase investment after the administration’s tax reform. Alas, few did, which created news and undercut the administration’s claim about the impact of reform. (What can be learned from this? First, as we’ve always taught, interaction is a great tool to drive memory and highlight a specific point out from the overall presentation – which it did here. But, as lawyers advise, don’t ask questions when you don’t know the answer. Or, as performers would add, make sure you’re prepared with a reaction for whatever the response is. Even if Cohn had anticipated the weak response from sampling what business publications were reporting, he could have followed it up with, “Who thinks the historic tax reform package will help the economy?” That would have received a large supportive response, after which he could have cracked, “Well, I guess we don’t have to ask the president to take back tax reform.”)

The Wall Street Journal, “Don’t Blink or You’ll Miss the Trade War,” March 9, 2018

We always tell our clients to take the time to setup their presentations in a way that both illustrates their message and grabs the audience’s attention. Patrick Byrne, the founder of, sure took this to heart at his speech to the North American Bitcoin Conference. Wearing a red “Make Bitcoin Great Again” hat and a T-shirt that said “Dirty Hippie,” he started by saying that the way to kill Wall Street – presumably hostile to Bitcoin – was to drag it behind a barn and kill it. The screen behind him showed an animated cartoon bull disappearing behind a barn and an explosion of blood. (We’re not endorsing animated disembowelment, but we would like to point out that it got people’s attention – including the media’s – and became the lead in news reports.)

Bloomberg Businessweek, “’s CEO Thinks Crypto Can Replace Wall Street,” March 7, 2018


Best example ever of how statistics in the media get mangled: international headlines screamed that United Nations aid workers providing humanitarian assistance in countries like Haiti had raped 60,000 people. The New York Times reporter Amanda Taub decided – amazingly – to check it out. Turns out, it’s a “made-up number.” The entire investigative article is worth reading. In brief, the expert took a report finding 311 victims of sexual exploitation by United Nations’ peacekeeping forces in 2016. He decided that sexual abuse on the civilian side of the organization was probably worse and therefore estimated the number at 600. Then, he decided 600 probably represented only 10 percent of actual assaults, so he assumed 6,000 victims was the annual number, which finally he multiplied by ten to arrive at an estimate for the decade: 60,000. Taub commented on the damage made-up statistics cause and she quoted an expert who said this tactic “discredits the very brave women and children who struggle to come forward.”

The New York Times, “Lies, Damned Lies, and One Very Misleading Statistic,” Feb. 28, 2018


Excellent example of how someone can actually hear something that wasn’t said. At the New York Open, player Donald Young accused opponent Ryan Harrison of using a racial slur. The only problem? A third person, one of the ball boys, was standing right there when the two players screamed at each other and testified that Harrison never said it. Is this possible? Yes. When I was in in the White House, we did the first briefing ever for editors of women’s magazines. I was terrified that my first briefer, the director of policy, was going to start by saying that the president didn’t support the Equal Rights Amendment, the top priority for that group of writers. After the event, I criticized the speaker for starting with the Equal Rights Amendment. He looked at me puzzled and said, “I never mentioned it.” I checked with attendees, watched the video tape, and he was right. He hadn’t mentioned it. I was positive I had heard it, but it was in my head. This is a cautionary tale to be careful that we don’t set up and then fulfill our expectations, particularly the dark ones.

The New York Times, “A Flash of Anger, a Charge of Racism and a Witness Who Says It Didn’t Happen,” Feb. 16, 2018


Check out this write-up about an employer’s ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) committee’s decision to deny an in-house lawyer her accommodation request after she experienced three miscarriages and needed to work from home during a fourth, high-risk pregnancy. We’ll let you read the specific facts in the newsletter. The relevant point for us is the lawyer’s concluding comment, “Think Twice About Trying A Case Against Such A Sympathetic Plaintiff.”

FisherBroyles, “How Not to Handle an ADA Accommodation Request,” March 15, 2018

You know that your employees are your best ambassadors, but a number of companies are just discovering this and only recently have they started encouraging their employees to get out and talk about their company and product. An example includes Bacardi, which makes rum and owns other brands like Grey Goose vodka, Dewar’s Scotch and Bombay Sapphire gin. Check out this write-up and share it with your own C-suite and HR folks. Kudos to Bacardi’s global communications officer, K.C. Kavanagh, who clearly is a real leader in his company.

The New York Times, “Have a Drink on Us. And Tell Your Friends.,” March 4, 2018


A writer for a magazine featuring news about diabetes (who herself has diabetes) began by writing, “I’m a person first,… not a diabetic.” She noted that a study published in the May 2017 issue of Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice found that words can help people do a better job caring for themselves. She then came up with seven key words and phrases that people should “skip” as well as seven corresponding “simple swaps.” For example, instead of saying “compliance or adherence,” say “engagement.” Instead of saying “suffering from diabetes,” describe the person as “living with diabetes.” We’re always delighted when people realize that words matter, and the writer emphasizes, “Empowering, strengths-based language... can have a positive impact on the way people with diabetes manage their disease on a daily basis.” Yes!

Diabetes Forecast, “Retire Negative Language Associated With Diabetes,” March 2018

A reminder to take a quick look before hitting send on an email would have spared the State Bar of Utah from attaching a picture of a topless woman to its notice advertising for its annual spring convention. Because people don't read, we would suggest adding a video message from the president of the bar association instead. Let this also be a reminder that dumb errors are common and it is therefore necessary to have a crisis communication plan in place!

Fortune, “Utah Accidentally Sends Picture of Topless Woman to Every Lawyer in the State,” March 6, 2018


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

Can Smiling Improve Performance?

  • Leadership
  • March 21, 2018
  • by Merrie Spaeth


I’m frequently asked “What kind of research backs up your teaching?” While we believe that our thirty years of experience is our first credential, we also voraciously look for studies and other material we can apply.

We pay attention to facial expression, particularly what we call the “listening face,” what people look like when they are listening. A facial expression signaling “I like you” and “I want to be here” helps bond the speaker to the listener. The ability to incorporate real smiling into delivery is one element of leadership.

Recently, we came across a study that links smiling and performance. Researchers were studying whether serious runners could improve their performance, particularly late in a race, if they consciously tried to smile. Not surprisingly, runners who tried to keep a smile on their faces ended up looking unnatural. The best results were achieved by bursts of smiling.

This makes perfect sense to us and is relevant to our clients. They may not be running marathons, but they are certainly running in the race of life and in the race for achievement. Let us teach you how to master this key performance skill.  

BIMBO Nominees for March 2018

  • Bimbo
  • March 4, 2018
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image c

Dilbert Wins! Other BIMBOs from a Plano, Texas Councilman, several members of the administration, a brouhaha over journalistic ethics, a homeless advocate versus the Queen’s Windsor Castle, the woman who allowed her husband to drown and a new kind of Russian incitement. Examples of the wrong thing to say from the sheriff of Broward County (twice!) and the communications director for the American Conservative Union as well as several examples of the misuse of statistics. Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer does it wrong and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ lawyer makes a powerful statement. A good example from the Chair of the Fairfax, Virginia Republican Party about how to deal with a leader’s racist statements, and PepsiCo’s CEO is in the news with “lady-friendly” Doritos. (Message: rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.)


Dilbert discovered the BIMBO comment phenomenon this month. In the first strip, one of the managers reported to his pointy-headed boss that “A feature article in the business press called our leadership a ‘bunch of morons,’” and his boss replied, “To counter that slanderous story, our new marketing slogan is ‘we’re not a bunch of morons.’” In the next strip, Dilbert explained to his boss, “When we say, ‘we’re not a bunch of morons,’ it kinda sounds to my ears as if we are,” and the boss replies, “But it says we’re not.” Then Dilbert retorted, “And you’re not a rat-faced waste of oxygen.” Thank you, Scott Adams! (If any readers know Scott, please forward this to him!)


“I would not use ‘crumbs’ personally, and I think a lot of Blue Dogs would not use ‘crumbs,’” said Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, about Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s description of $1,000 - $2,000 bonuses received because of the tax cut legislation as “crumbs.” (This also shows the power of a bad word. Conservative publications pointed out that Pelosi described a $40 tax cut in 2011 as a “victory for America.” Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., criticized Pelosi with an announcement introducing the “‘Creating Relief and Useful Middle-Class Benefits and Savings’ Act — or ‘CRUMBS Act.’”)

Liberty Headlines, “Pelosi Doubles Down on ‘Crumbs;’ Dems in Mid-Term Election Panic,” Feb. 20, 2018

“I’m not ‘gutting’ CFPB,” said Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in an op-ed in USA Today. (This is a classic BIMBO comment. Mulvaney was dispatched to the CFPB, the only agency with no accountability to anyone, and promptly took several actions to restore what we consider reasonable regulatory actions. Mulvaney was accused of “gutting” the Bureau and he fell right into the trap and repeated the negative, which became the headline. This is a shame because in the body of the op-ed, he described some of the important actions he took, and he explained that he requested a budget of zero because the agency had created a $177 million slush fund.)

USA Today, “Mick Mulvaney: I’m not ‘gutting’ CFPB,” Feb.13, 2018

”I am not xenophobic, I am not a bigot, I am not a racist,” said Plano (Texas) City Council member Tom Harrison reacting to criticism after he posted a video with the caption, “Share if you think Trump should ban Islam in American schools.” (Harrison took the post down and was censured by his colleagues. As of this writing, he’s still on the council. There is a good news side to this story in the comments from other councilmen and the mayor. They pointed out this wasn’t a partisan issue, and that Plano is a diverse, inclusive community.)

KERA News, “Plano City Councilman Tom Harrison Will Not Resign Following Anti-Islam Facebook Post,” Feb. 18, 2018

“I don’t think the president supporting due process for any allegations is…tone deaf,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (This is a classic BIMBO comment that resulted from the controversy over accusations of abuse from the ex-wives of senior White House aide Robert Porter. The president first called for investigation and due process and did not immediately condemn the aide, which generated criticism that he is “tone deaf.” Sanders fell into the trap by repeating the negative phrase back, and it became the headline. This is a shame because President Trump’s actual statement was right on target; however, Sanders repeated the negative.)

Politico, “White House: Trump call for due process on abuse claims ‘not tone deaf,’” Feb. 12, 2018

“We don’t want any kind of conflict of interest. We don’t want anyone to say that we’re taking advantage,” said Donald Trump Jr. on a trip to New Delhi to pitch luxury high-rises with the Trump name. (The controversy is predictable because the president’s adult children have lives and businesses of their own. Trump Jr. is also a celebrity in his own right as well as in his well-known position as adviser to his father. As is so frequently the case, the rest of his quote was fine: “From a business perspective, it’s clearly a negative. There will be a time after politics where we will be able to get back into that market.” What’s more, Trump Jr.’s attention is clearly beneficial to business in India.)

The New York Times, “As Donald Trump Jr. Drums Up Business in India, Some Ask What’s Being Sold,” Feb. 22, 2018

“There is no corporate pressure to participate and no consequence for not participating. It doesn’t put them in any ethical bind whatsoever,” said Rebecca Hanson, senior vice president of strategy and policy of Sinclair Broadcast Group in reaction to the company’s solicitation of its employees, including news directors, for contributions to the company’s Political Action Committee. (Again, the rest of the quote was fine, as she went on to explain the news directors “were solicited as a result of being part of our managerial level” and that “participation is completely voluntary.”)

TVSpy, “Sinclair Defends Asking News Directors to Contribute to Company’s Political Action Committee,” Feb. 12, 2018

“I’m not a weirdo at all,” said Chris Milam after being arrested and charged with “indecency with a child by exposure.” (This is a troubling story because Milam claims he has been accused by two people with a parental dispute and possibly a vendetta against his business dealings; however, the affidavit charged that the girl involved provided the information to police. We’re troubled to hear of these serious allegations.)

Statesman, “Austin developer of Backyard in Bee Cave charged with indecency with a child,” Feb. 20, 2018

“Dudley called it an ‘epidemic.’ It’s not an ‘epidemic,’” said Murphy James, director of the Windsor Homelessness Project in Windsor, UK, rebutting the charge by Simon Dudley, a Conservative Party official, who expressed concern about homeless people lying in front of the well-known castle where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will be married in May. (This is also an example of statistics. Defenders of the rights of the homeless point out that Windsor only has 32,000 people and only 12-15 chronically homeless people living on the streets. That misses the point. Even the media pointed out that they are “bundled in sleeping bags amid cardboard boxes” and that “layers of warm clothing could be seen in prominent spots on the town’s High Street.” This is part of a greater debate about providing affordable, safe shelter while also dealing with mental or substance abuse issues. But, for basic communication purposes, it’s another example of how we pick up and repeat words and how our choice of words affects perception.)

USA Today, “Meghan Markle, Prince Harry’s wedding may relocate homeless in ‘caring’ Windsor,” Feb. 14, 2018

“I’m not cold, and I’m not heartless,” said Angelika Graswald, newly released from prison after being convicted in the death of her fiancé, Vincent Viafore. (This is a strange, disturbing story. Her fiancé drowned on a kayaking trip and it turned out she knew that the plug on the bottom as well as the paddle were missing and may have removed them herself. Initially the subject of sympathy, she posted a video of herself appearing to celebrate his death. It’s disturbing because of the facts, but also because police interrogated her for 11 hours and she claims she agreed to anything just to have it end. Now she’s talking to the press and trying for a book deal.)

The New York Times, “Out of Prison, Fiancée in Kayak Case Says, ‘I’m Not Heartless,’” Feb. 18, 2018

“Ukraine is not an afterthought,” was the response of the Atlantic Council to a tweet by a Russian attending the Munich Security Conference. Dmitri Trenin said that in Europe “Ukraine is more or less an afterthought.” (The statement of rebuttal is powerful, but may be truer than Europeans and Americans want to admit.)

Atlantic Council, “Ukraine Is Not an Afterthought,” Feb. 21, 2018


"I gave him a gun. I gave him a badge. I gave him the training. If he didn’t have the heart to go in, that’s not my responsibility,” said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel to a local reporter in defense of his refusal to resign after one of his armed officers failed to go inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the shooting. Avoiding any responsibility is a bad look. Plus, he said himself, “I’m the Sheriff, my name’s on the door.”

The Daily Caller, “Sheriff Israel To Local Reporter On His Deputy’s Failure: ‘That’s Not My Responsibility,’” Feb. 25, 2018

“We elected Mike Steele to be the R.N.C. chair because he’s a black guy,” said Ian Walters, communications director for the American Conservative Union at the annual CPAC conference. (This was a stunningly insulting thing to say, particularly from the communications director. Really? He must have missed entry level courses in communication. Who’s his audience? This quote was guaranteed to make the headline. Plus, it sent reporters to Steele for his reaction and when they asked him whether the Republican Party had a problem with “racism” (a major bad word), it’s not surprising he responded with “yes.”)

The New York Times, “CPAC Official Says Michael Steele Was Chosen to Lead G.O.P. Because He’s ‘a Black Guy,’” Feb. 25, 2018


The FBI has received intense criticism since it was revealed that callers to the Florida tip line had flagged Nikolas Cruz as a potential threat. FBI Acting Deputy Director David Bowdich held a press conference to commit to rebuilding public trust. Unfortunately, he also said, “I’m not making excuses.” Ironically, he proceeded to do just this, arguing that the tip line received 765,000 calls along with 750,000 online tips and that nine out of 10 tips don’t pan out. He then added the totally irrelevant information that the bureau had opened “‘well over' 1,500 financial crimes cases last year, 200 of which involved elderly victims.” Other commenters pointed out that other large organizations have developed ways to handle large volumes of calls and communications. As a former special assistant to FBI Director William Webster, I know the bureau’s dedication; however, it has stumbled badly in the past year.

The Wall Street Journal, “Senior FBI Official Expresses Concern About Lack of Public Trust,” Feb. 22, 2018

Sheriff of Broward County, Scott Israel, was annoyed that news reports kept saying there had been 39 calls for service regarding the Parkland shooter or his family. “STOP REPORTING 39; IT’S SIMPLY NOT TRUE,” said a public statement released from his office. (This may take the cake in missing the point: there were many opportunities for law enforcement to recognize this threat.)

CNN, “Sheriff says he got 23 calls about shooter's family, but records show more,” Feb. 27, 2018


Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, a celebrity in his own right, said, “While Mr. Weinstein’s behavior was not without fault, there certainly was no criminality.” (Brafman then tried to change the topic by saying that “at the end of the inquiry it will be clear that Harvey Weinstein promoted more women to key executive positions than any other industry leader.” The first quote is completely twisted and only confuses people who don’t understand the exact definitions of what’s criminal.)

The New York Times “Weinstein Company Sale Delayed by N.Y. Attorney General Lawsuit,” Feb. 11, 2018

We roasted Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens for his lengthy list of denials related to an adulterous episode before he became governor when salacious details came to light through the ex-husband of the woman involved. Now the story has taken an even darker turn. The state’s circuit attorney brought a charge before a grand jury and indicted Greitens on charges that he photographed a woman and disseminated the picture over the internet. Since we’re usually poking fun at lawyers, we want to recognize the enormously powerful statement from Greitens’ lawyer to the state’s elected leaders: “Not only is he presumed innocent – he is innocent.” This situation disturbs us because it’s another allegation that has generated huge headlines. I was part of the Reagan administration when Ray Donovan, Secretary of Labor, was cleared of fraud charges after two and a half years and asked, “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?”

WFAA, “Gov. Greitens indicted for invasion of privacy stemming from March 2015 affair,” Feb. 23, 2018

A similarly sensational accusation was made by a college student who claimed Spirit Airlines forced her to flush a hamster down the toilet. She charged that it was an emotional support animal. Spirit admitted giving her incorrect information that she could bring the hamster on the plane, but emphatically insists that they did not suggest she release the rodent or flush it down the toilet. They also pointed out that they arranged a later flight on which she could fly so she could make other arrangements for her hamster. We are increasingly concerned by the willingness of the media to report sensational charges and by their belief that they are fulfilling journalistic balance simply by including the denial of a charge. Such reports proliferate on the internet and hang around forever.

Time, “Spirit Airlines Slams Student Who Claims She Was Forced to Flush Emotional Support Hamster Down Toilet,” Feb. 8, 2018


A good example comes from the Fairfax, Virginia Republican Party chairman. One of the county’s party officials posted on Facebook, “MAKE FAIRFAX GREAT AGAIN: Having preference for Christians over non-Christians as political leaders is not bigoted. It is a preference and a duty we are allowed.” Chairman Matt Ames wrote a long, eloquent letter to party members about why he demanded that the state official resign. Congratulations.

The Washington Times, “Va. Republican’s ‘preference for Christians’ as political leaders prompts calls for resignation,” Feb. 12, 2018

The brouhaha over PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi’s discussion on the Freakonomics Podcast that women eat Doritos differently from men led to stories that the snack food giant was going to create “lady-friendly” Doritos. PepsiCo was forced to issue a clarifying statement, which it did with a sense of humor via Twitter: “We already have Doritos for women – they’re called Doritos, and they’re enjoyed by millions of people every day.” We include this because it’s apparent Nooyi didn’t rehearse, and because we already use her as a BIMBO comment example in our trainings. During a Fox Business interview she proclaimed, “Doritos are Not Bad for You,” which became the headline. CEOs – listen up! Rehearse! If President Reagan could do it, you can, too.

MSN, “PepsiCo Responds To Social Media Criticism Of ‘Lady Friendly’ Crisps,” Feb. 5, 2018


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

President Trump Appropriately Prepared

  • Leadership
  • February 23, 2018
  • by Merrie Spaeth

Ronald reagan bulleted writings

Stop with the criticism of President Trump for using notes during his visit with the victims and families of the Florida school shooting. I tell all my clients that it’s ok and even desirable to use notes. It’s very easy during a conversation to forget or lose track of the messages you want to get across. By using reminders instead of his famous tendency to wing it, the president is actually showing that he cares and wants to listen. 

As you can see, my old boss President Reagan used note cards. Let's not criticize President Trump for being appropriately prepared. 

From Morning in America to Making America Great Again

  • Trends
  • February 16, 2018
  • by Merrie Spaeth

Ms gramm hance

One of my favorite annual events is the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s legislative briefing (near and dear to my heart because my late husband, Tex Lezar, co-founded TPPF). This year, former Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, and former Rep. Kent Hance, D-Lubbock, teamed up for a timely discussion comparing Reagan and Trump’s first year in office. They are both grizzled warriors who have seen decades of political battles.

Gramm was first elected as a Democrat, thrown off the budget committee because of his conservative economic views, resigned amid great fanfare, switched to the Republican party and ran again and won. He and Hance were important architects of the Reagan tax cuts.

They started by telling the story of the type of backroom maneuvering that produced success. Gramm reported that at one negotiation, he observed, “If you had been at the Alamo, we would have had a discussion rather than a line in the sand,” to which Rep. Jack Hightower, D-Amarillo, pointed out, “Every man who crossed that line died.” Gramm’s comeback was, “All the people who didn’t cross the line died, too but nobody remembers the sumbi****s’ names.”

Hance weighed in, and they sharpened their message to current representatives: “Stand on principle.” They demonstrated this by telling a story of Rep. Sam Hall who changed his vote on the Reagan tax cuts from no to yes after great personal anguish.

Not surprisingly, both slammed the media, but Gramm reminded the group that media bias is nothing new and noted, historically, “Most of the things I didn’t like reading in the paper came out of my mouth.” It’s a strong reminder to our clients on why it’s so important to have a clearly defined message.

The two jokesters did not urge the President to clam up, but rather to use more humor. The conversation ended with Gramm saying, “I am more optimistic now than I was in ’79. I believe America can change, I’ve seen it happen before. Politics is not about liking or disliking someone, it’s about doing things that make life better.”

Communication as a Core Competency

  • Leadership
  • February 9, 2018
  • by Merrie Spaeth

Hr executive

A version of this article originally appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of Human Resource Executive Magazine.

Communication is a hot topic for HR professionals these days. The importance of communication popped up in HRE’s coverage, “Building a Team of Teams,” in the Oct. 16, 2017 edition. (The HR analytics chief of the Inter-American Development Bank said the teams needed to include someone with a background in communication, noting, “We needed someone to explain to people outside HR what we can do for them as well as someone who can help our team collaborate.”)

Communication was cited by a Dallas Morning News columnist writing on “hybrid skills” as “technical expertise and the ability to communicate, think critically and work with a team.” It’s even the solution proffered by some in discussions over the cascading topic of sexual harassment in the workplace. One writer argued, “Instead of formal rules, it is much more important to have strong workplace communication.”

HR is the logical location to promote communication as a key strategic skill across the entire enterprise. Here’s a reminder that it’s important to have a philosophy, model and definition of effective communication. Ours is that most of us approach communication with the attitude: “What do I want to say?” or “What do I think the listener needs to know?” But how much does a listener remember: a lot or a little? Everyone knows it’s just a little. HR departments are particularly liable to fall into the “What do I think the listener needs to know?” mentality because a good deal of their communication is oriented to compliance or to new or expanded benefits or mandates—and things change continually.

[Our organization] encourages HR professionals to use [a model that] maps the vehicles the company controls in the formal network and the “informal” network, particularly verbal communication, which is more important than ever.

One big change over the past few years is the growth of “verbal/video-enabled communication.” This is the strategic use of video that requires the skill of speaking through a device—camera, iPhone or iPad—rather than just at it. (Speaking “through” the camera creates the impression that you are speaking directly, personally to the listener. Speaking “at” the camera is when the speaker is looking at the camera but not making true eye contact nor projecting personally.) HR departments can model how to use this powerful technique and encourage both the strategic use and the requirement to improve personal skills. Why is this important? People don’t read.

One of my favorite clients, the just-retired CEO of a major healthcare system, would partner with his HR department to do a 15-second, straight-to-camera video for the annual open-enrollment period. Right to the camera, he would say, “I know you haven’t looked at the material, but it’s really important. It’s important to your family, it’s important to our system and it’s important to me. So here’s the link. Take a look. Let me know what you think.” People would send him emails thanking him for telling them personally.

The next step in re-thinking communication is setting up systems to enlist the listener as an ambassador. The strategy, skills and vehicles are too much to review here, except to say: It can be done, it needs to be a way of thinking and, again, HR professionals are the ones who stretch across the entire enterprise.

Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, recognizes that employees look to him. He said, “I found that leadership is infectious in a positive and negative way. So if I’m worrying, other people begin to worry. If I’m confident, people tend to be more confident. Whatever you are bleeds into others.” When a CEO recognizes this, it’s up the HR team to carry this commitment throughout the organization.

Remember Tufte’s Lesson From the Space Shuttle Columbia

  • Trends
  • February 1, 2018
  • by Merrie Spaeth


We remember the brave members of the Columbia crew who lost their lives 15 years ago today when the space shuttle disintegrated in a tragic accident as it re-entered the earth’s atmosphere. If we wish truly to honor them, we should also learn from a critique of how NASA came to make its fateful decision. Interestingly, NASA took its cues from PowerPoint slides. After the tragic event, Yale professor and leader of the “envisioning information” movement Edward Tufte went public with a stinging critique of the slides that informed the momentous decision.

The key slide obscured the problem. Later investigations found that some within the space agency wanted to get pictures of the underside of the wing but NASA bigwigs declined to ask the Department of Defense for help. Clearly, one message that should have been front and center in this slide deck was “Help!” NASA avoided telling the shuttle crew the truth and many feel that they also avoided grappling with whether or not to launch a rescue mission. You know the saying, “It’s not rocket science?” Well, the rocket scientists should have demanded better than the dense, incomprehensible PPT slide.

We may not be rocket scientists, but we owe our clients a better way to use visuals – and PPT – to inform and motivate. We can change corporate cultures that have fallen into the habit of throwing everything onto a PPT slide, a habit that fails to engage listeners or teach its users how to construct, deliver and, yes, illustrate a compelling story.   

BIMBO Nominees for February 2018

  • Bimbo
  • February 1, 2018
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image d

I love this job. This month we have a newly dubbed “stealth” BIMBO from California’s Gov. Jerry Brown, plus additional BIMBOs from the Homeland Security Secretary, provocateur author Michael Wolff, the former athletic director at Michigan State University as well as BIMBOs from a maintenance man and park operator for a nudist park. You’ll also see a cringe worthy example of the wrong thing to say from a Republican candidate for Senate and great examples of how to make statistics verbally visual thanks to TXU and a reporter writing about Bitcoin. Finally, an example of when not to signal support for your university. 


"There was no blackmail, there was no violence, there was no threat of violence, there was no threat of blackmail [and] there was no threat of using a photograph for blackmail,” said Gov. Eric Greitens, R-Mo., about a report that he had an extramarital affair and, well, all you need to see is this denial to know what the report alleges. (This sordid tale was promoted by the ex-husband of the woman in question; she has declined to be identified or interviewed and her ex now says he secretly recorded her description of the affair. The problem is that Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, ran on a platform of pro-family values. He and his wife issued a joint statement when the story broke saying, “This was a deeply personal mistake. Eric took responsibility, and we dealt with this together honestly and privately.” It’s a serviceable statement and they should have stuck to it. One more thing: Greitens’ lawyer issued a separate statement saying, “There was no blackmail and that claim is false.” Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. This implies the other claims were true. Note that the sensational words became the headline.)

Los Angeles Times, “Missouri governor: ‘No blackmail,’ ‘no violence’ in affair,” Jan. 20, 2018


“I am not a trainwreck,” wrote activist Elizabeth Beck in a blizzard of tweets following the decision by CNN to cut her out of a panel interview about the latest issues surrounding Special Counsel Robert Mueller. (Ah Twitter, it makes it so easy to say whatever comes into your head. Beck, a Yale-educated lawyer, apparently thought she was muted and tried to talk over another guest’s comments. CNN abruptly bumped her off the show. One user tweeted, “HOW have I not heard of you before?! You’re my new favorite trainwreck.” That was the last straw for Beck who, going by the handle “The Cranky Lawyer,” replied, “I am not a trainwreck. I am actually very organized. CNN is a trainwreck. I was ON a trainwreck.” Of course, it became the headline. You can read the string of tweets in the article linked below.)

Raw Story, “’I am not a trainwreck’: CNN guest defends herself in Twitter rampage after bizarre on-air outburst,” Jan. 26, 2018

“I wouldn’t say the party was out of control but I would definitely say there was a lot of debauchery,” said a spokesperson for Bucketlust, a British-based company that rents luxury yachts. (We saw this story while in London for a week of training for a wonderful client. The story really needs the accompanying pictures. Here, at least, is the explanation: supermodel Kate Moss’ younger sister, Lottie, was at a New Year’s Eve party in the Bahamas and the group on the yacht apparently moved the days-long party to the beach, leaving huge piles of trash left over from a “lottie” drinking and sex. With a name like “Bucketlust,” the company probably wants to be characterized as noted above, but we would have recommended a more conservative statement like, “We respect the privacy of our guests.” Boring, but probably safer in the long run. Lawsuit anyone?)

The Daily Mail, “Lottie like her sister: Kate Moss’ model sibling part of a group who sparked outrage in the Bahamas with their wild New Year partying,” Jan. 13, 2018

“I am not running away from any anything,” said Michigan State University’s then- Athletic Director Mark Hollis in response to the growing controversy over former Michigan State University and national women’s gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar. Nassar was convicted of sexually abusing a number of Olympic gymnasts and MSU athletes while the university ignored warnings and allegations. (While this was probably a reaction to a question, it’s still a classic denial. He should have said, “I’m trying to do the right thing for my beloved university and for athletics.”)

The New York Times, “Nassar Case Topples U.S.A. Gymnastics Board and M.S.U. Athletic Director,” Jan. 26, 2018

When Gov. Jerry Brown, D-Calif., (who is about to retire from a long life in politics) was asked if he is confident that he is leaving the state in good hands, he replied, “Well, that’s a loaded question. What if I say I am not confident? That’s one damn headline. So I have to say I’m confident.” This comment was dubbed a “stealth” Bimbo by one of our most enthusiastic collectors of blooper comments (and also a nationally known editor) because it looks as if the governor wanted to have it both ways – convey his disapproval of the next generation, while also avoiding being quoted as actually disparaging it.)

The New York Times, “For Jerry Brown, the Face of California’s Old Order, the Ranch Is Calling,” Jan. 24, 2018

“I did not and will not lie under oath,” snapped Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. (Nielsen was testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing when she was asked repeatedly about the cabinet meeting where the President allegedly referred to several “s---hole countries.” After she said she did not hear the inflammatory comment, several Democratic senators accused her of “amnesia” and “complicity,” triggering her emphatic response. We tackle this with regret because it’s so clear she should have said, “I have always told the truth and take seriously that I was testifying under oath about serious topics facing our department and our country.” Note that the quote becomes the headline.)

CNN, “Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen: ‘I did not and will not lie under oath,’” Jan. 17, 2018

“I am not a hit man,” said Michael Wolff, author of the bestselling and highly sensational book, “Fire and Fury: Inside The Trump White House.” (One of the mainstream media reviews noted that Wolff is skilled at taking semi-true factoids and spinning a narrative from them. Wolff also said, “people regret what they said to me.” We bet they do.)

NPR, “’People Regret What They Said To Me,’ Michael Wolff Tells NPR About Trump Book,” Jan. 5, 2018     

“We may be nudists, but we ain’t stupid,” said the maintenance man at the Indian Hills Nudist Park west of Slidell, Louisiana. (We never saw a connection between taking off all your clothes and stupidity—maybe just eccentricity. Park participants [MK3] wore clothes when a rare cold snap complete with snow occurred; however, the park nevertheless remains open in the winter and even hosts parties every Friday and Saturday. With a surge in business in recent times, the park is trying to tap into a younger crowd. So far so good, that is, until the park operator said they’re trying to show young people, “It’s not just about old, fat, ugly people.” Of course, they want people to see that beauty is not just skin—or skin deep.)  

The New Orleans Advocate, “’We may be nudists, but we ain’t stupid’: Indian Hills Nudist Park deals with cold snap,” Jan. 2, 2018


“She devils” was how Courtland Sykes, a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Missouri described feminists. Hoping to unseat Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Sykes went on to describe feminism as “radical” in remarks posted on his Facebook page this week. He also appeared to attack working women, saying he expects his fiancée to have dinner on the table for him at 6 p.m. every evening and also that he expects his daughters to be “traditional homemakers.” He also alleged that women who don’t agree with him have “nasty, snake-filled heads.”  When his Facebook comments attracted attention from the mainstream media (what a surprise), he protested that he didn’t believe his statement was demeaning to women. (Sykes’ campaign ad is worth watching. If you remember the speech by the man hoping to be nominated for the position of Stark County Treasurer in 2010, Sykes looks like he took lessons from the same speech coach. We have no advice for Sykes except to say – please get off the ticket. And, get your money back from whoever counseled you and created that ad.)

The Washington Post, “GOP candidate says feminists have ‘snake-filled heads,’ hopes daughters don’t become ‘she devils,’” Jan. 26, 2018


TXU sent an email to customers who responded to the energy company’s request for conservation, noting, “Customers like you helped save 761,286 kWh on the Texas power grid in response to Wednesday’s call for conservation.” Recognizing that no one has a clue what that means, they explained, “That’s like taking 121 cars off the road for a year.”  We call this making a statistic “verbally visual.” Congrats to TXU.

An article about the crypto currency Bitcoin explains that it took a lot of computer power to create the currency, a process called “mining.” The reporter described an analysis courtesy of Morgan Stanley and economist Alex de Vries: “The computer power needed to create each digital token consumes at least as much electricity as the average American household burns through in two years.” The reporter then made an additional comparison saying, “The total network of computers plugged into the Bitcoin network consumes as much energy each day as some medium-size countries.” Another good verbal visualization!

The New York Times, “There Is Nothing Virtual About Bitcoin’s Energy Appetite,” Jan. 21, 2018


We’re always saying that it’s important to identify your audience. For you non-Texans, Texas Tech, home of the Red Raiders, has a greeting, “guns up,” that is accompanied with a hand symbol in the shape of a gun. And members of the Tech community are exceptionally enthusiastic. Wearing a Texas Tech t-shirt at a hotel workout room in NYC, I received a “guns up” from another guest. But, there’s a time and place for everything, and the security queue at the airport is not the place, as 19-year-old Diana Durkin found out at Houston’s William P. Hobby airport. Durkin saw a fellow traveler wearing a Texas Tech sweatshirt and threw him the “guns up” sign. Predictably, TSA pounced on her. She sent out a panicked tweet that went viral. TSA let her off with a warning.

BuzzFeed News, “This Sorority Girl Tried To Show Some School Spirit And Accidently Pissed Off The TSA,” Jan. 11, 2018


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

How Not to Answer an Accusation

  • Crisis
  • January 28, 2018
  • by Merrie Spaeth


A version of this article originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal Opinion section.

Gov. Eric Greitens of Missouri is in trouble thanks to an allegation that he had an affair with a hairdresser. He didn’t do himself any favors with his emphatic denial: “I have no plans to resign. There was no blackmail, there was no violence, there was no threat of violence, there was no threat of using a photograph for blackmail.”

This kind of denial leads listeners to believe the opposite. Words like “blackmail” and “violence” grab much more attention than “no” or “not.” At my firm we call such comments “bimbos,” after a comment from a young woman in a 1980s sex scandal: “I am not a bimbo.”

In 2013 General Motors CEO Mary Barra characterized her message to employees: “No more crappy cars.” A reporter followed up and repeated the word “crappy” three times. Sometimes reporters are the ones who introduce the words in the denial. New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie was once asked: “Are you a bully?” Answer: “I am not a bully.”

I write this with regret because my late husband, Tex Lezar, wrote the speech into which President Nixon inserted the memorable assertion “I’m not a crook”—the best political example until President Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” These days social media, particularly Twitter , picks up negative words like a vacuum cleaner and spews them out.

What’s a better approach? When the Greitens story broke, the governor and his wife issued a joint statement saying “it was a deeply personal mistake” and they had “dealt with this together honestly and privately.” He should have stuck to that. He’ll be criticized, and he should be. He ran on a family values platform. But by repeating all the negative words—threat, blackmail, violence—he keeps them in the headlines.

The governor’s attorney, James Bennett, made a similar error when he issued a statement saying: “There was no blackmail and that claim is false.” Really? Does that mean the other claims are true? It’s like the comedian who was the target of multiple claims of sexual harassment who said, “Some of the allegations are true.”

Does this analysis have implications for members of the Trump administration? Of course. Let’s hope they‘re reading.

BIMBO Nominees for January 2018

  • Bimbo
  • January 3, 2018
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image a

Happy New Year! With each new year comes new public relations blunders, and we hope this Memo continues to serve as a healthy reminder of what NOT to say! This year, we challenge each of you to add developing your communication skills to your list of New Year’s resolutions. We can develop a plan to help you reach your goals. Let “no BIMBO comments” be one resolution you keep!


"First and foremost, we have never — and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades," Apple said in a statement responding to rumors that it was purposely slowing down the speed of older iPhones. A few days later, Apple issued an apology for – slowing down speed. Think communication doesn’t matter? Despite offering a hefty discount for replacement batteries, the confirmation triggered breach-of-contract lawsuits. What should they have said? They should have come clean from the beginning. It was bound to get out and cause problems. Their apology is a classic example of a company that’s not really sorry, only sorry it got caught., “Apple apologizes for iPhone slowdowns, lowers cost of replacement batteries,” Dec. 28, 2017


“I deny most of the allegations,” said Don Hazen, executive editor of AlterNet, after seven women accused him of sexual harassment. He added that he thought other accusations have been “mischaracterized.” (Here’s another example of where it would have paid off to think the response through before shooting off the mouth. A few days later, Hazen said that in “the atmosphere of lots of discussion about editorial topics like sex and drugs,” he had “lost track of some boundaries.” Also, apparently of common sense. This is an example of how we hear statistics. You can’t deny “most” of the allegations. That makes “some” true, which provides substance for all the allegations. His explanations were transparently laughable. One female staff member said he would point at something and his hand would touch her breast. His response was that this was “accidental.”)

BuzzFeed News, “Five Women Are Accusing A Top Left-Leaning Media Executive Of Sexually Harassing Them,” Dec. 21, 2017

“Our schools have nothing to hide,” said Sarah Flanagan, vice president for government relations and policy development at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), trying to duck questions about why no information is available to parents who want to know post-graduation job and earning potential for all fields of study. (NAICU claims they are concerned about privacy, but what they are really concerned with is the information that a degree in classical studies may cost $250,000 but only prepare a student for a minimum wage instructor job. What should she have said? “This is a perennial debate and statistics can be highly misleading.” It would be nice to add that these colleges prepare students to think critically and give them a sound education.)

The New York Times, “Want to Search for Earnings for English Majors by College? You Can’t,” Dec. 1, 2017


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

A recipe for Networking Mixers - Equal parts talking and listening

  • Leadership
  • December 13, 2017
  • by Laura Barnett

Cocktail party

What comes to mind when you think of networking mixers? Is it a vision of those weak cocktails in plasticware combined with awkward conversation and way too many business cards?. If the thought of attending one fills you with dread, here are a few tips to make the most of one.

1) Buddy-up. A friend of mine also likes business development, so we partnered up to attend a recent networking mixer in Dallas. It’s so nice to have a friend who you can chat with when your conversations die down, who can talk you up to potential contacts, and who can help you escape in case you get trapped in an unwanted conversation.

2) Bring plenty of business cards and be able to get to them quickly. It’s a bit awkward to ask someone to hold your drink while you’re digging in your jacket pocket like you’re rifling through Mary Poppins’ magical bag to get a card.

3) Be nice. People often aren’t, which stinks. So, I guess I have to say this. For example, when you’re telling someone about how you can help them, never disparage the other person’s company as a tactic to try to sell your product or service. It’s never worked and it’s simply in poor taste.

4) Listen. People don’t seem to do this either, so here we are again. When I explained that our office was closing for the Christmas holiday in a few days, one gentleman plowed right ahead, ignoring social cues, and asked to set up a meeting in the next three days. Furthermore, he didn’t know my role at our company, what our company does or whether I needed his help.

5) Talk about something other than business. One woman I talked with was wearing a fabulous sweater. I now know where my next shopping trip will be. I talked with another young woman about her recent move to Dallas and how graduating college means no more month-long breaks…remember those days?!

Cocktail conversation is an art…and a bit of a science.  Spaeth can help you improve how you talk about your work, your company and your goals. Want to get better at that in 2018? Let us know!

Photo Gallery:

Cocktail party

Photo Gallery:

2017 BIMBO of the Year

  • Bimbo
  • December 11, 2017
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image a

It may be that time of year for mistletoe and holly, but it’s also time for folly…at least in language. Check out the 2017 BIMBO of the year, the president of the White House Correspondents' Association, and the runners-up. And remember, it’s a serious teaching tool. Since most of our submissions come from you, our readers, keep your eyes open and send us comments you spot. Happy reading and happy holidays!




“We are not fake news. We are not failing news organizations. And we are not the enemy of the American people,” said the president of the White House Correspondents' Association, Jeff Mason. (Without President Trump or other White House participation, the annual dinner became an exercise in self-congratulation. Bob Woodward also repeated the “We are not fake news” line. This year’s event, which has produced some live-forever moments in the past, such as when President George W. Bush appeared with an impersonator beside him, only confirmed the low opinion that many Americans have about the media.)

The Washington Post, “A different sort of White House correspondents’ dinner,” April 29, 2017

(As seen in the May 2017 BIMBO Memo)


“We are definitely not tanking,” said the New York Jets’ new CEO, Christopher Johnson, after taking over the position from his brother Woody, who is now U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom. (The Jets have a 0-2 start, and it looks like reporters asked something about “tanking,” which triggered Johnson’s response and created the headline. Johnson needs some media and messaging help. He should have focused on his positive message: “I’ve been a fan of this team all my life,” and “I think you’re going to see this team get better and better and better.” His positive prediction should have been the headline. It just got overpowered by comments like “growing pains” and “not tanking.”)

New York Post, “Jets’ new boss speaks: I’m in charge, and we’re not tanking,’” Sept. 20, 2017

(As seen in the October 2017 BIMBO Memo)

“I have never provided alcohol to minors, and I have never engaged in sexual misconduct,” said Judge Roy Moore, Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama. (By now, everyone knows about this situation and has heard the Judge’s denials. It’s another example of how hard it is to refute sensational charges because the power of “bad” and volatile words is all people are talking about. Moore made the story worse when he was asked if he had ever dated a teenager when he was in his 30s and he replied, “It would’ve been out of …my customary behavior.” The reply reeks of dissembling. What should he have said? Given his electoral position, he should have announced that he is running to protect the seat and that, if elected, he will resign so the governor can make a new appointment. Josh Holmes, Sen. Mitch McConnell’s former political advisor, described Steve Bannon, who engineered Moore’s victory over Sen. Luther Strange, as “an idiot” and described politics saying, “This is not a game.” Note the quote became the headline.)

The Wall Street Journal, “Republican Feud Flares Up Over Roy Moore Sex Allegations,” Nov. 10, 2017

(As seen in the December 2017 BIMBO Memo)


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

Speaking versus Reading? Speaking wins

  • Trends
  • December 4, 2017
  • by Merrie Spaeth

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Here’s a news flash. If you talk to someone who disagrees with your ideas, if they can hear your voice, your inflection, maybe the passion you feel for the topic, they are likely to listen more carefully and think more highly of your reasoning. If you send them a text or an email, so they just read your words, they are likely to be much more critical of you as a person. Don’t just take my word for it. It’s the finding of a scholarly article in Psychological Science by Juliana Schroeder, of the University of California at Berkeley and faculty at the University of Chicago. She’s primarily focused on the impact on political debate today, noting “In some ways, technology is making more of our interactions text-based.” Schroeder found that this increases polarized debate and dehumanization of those we disagree with. But the implications go far beyond politics. Job applicants who can talk to or submit video of themselves are rated much more favorably than applicants who only had text submissions. Surely this is of interest to your corporate leadership and to your Human Resources staff charged with professional development.

BIMBO Nominees for December 2017

  • Bimbo
  • December 1, 2017
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image christmas

Lots of BIMBOs and examples of “wrong thing to say,” but click through to good examples (for a change) and some interesting ones to learn from. Start off with BIMBOs from a lawyer commenting on universities hiding endowment funds overseas and President Trump (good example of technique and humor!). Wrong things to say from LaVar Ball (parent of star basketball players), ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt, lawyer David Boies (a big loser in the Weinstein scandal), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and founders of clothing company LuLaRoe. Speaking of Weinstein, lots of examples ranging from comedian Louis C.K. and actor Jeffrey Tambor to Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. and Ryan Seacrest. Examples of the staying power of “bad words” from Apple CEO Tim Cook from years ago and Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary. Good examples from Mother Jones magazine, Uber’s new CEO, Dole’s division general counsel (stupid lawyer comments later) and Interpublic Group. At the end, a few examples worth a glance.


“I have never provided alcohol to minors, and I have never engaged in sexual misconduct,” said Judge Roy Moore, Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama. (By now, everyone knows about this situation and has heard the Judge’s denials. It’s another example of how hard it is to refute sensational charges because the power of “bad” and volatile words is all people are talking about. Moore made the story worse when he was asked if he had ever dated a teenager when he was in his 30s and he replied, “It would’ve been out of …my customary behavior.” The reply reeks of dissembling. What should he have said? Given his electoral position, he should have announced that he is running to protect the seat and that, if elected, he will resign so the governor can make a new appointment. Josh Holmes, Sen. Mitch McConnell’s former political advisor, described Steve Bannon, who engineered Moore’s victory over Sen. Luther Strange, as “an idiot” and described politics saying, “This is not a game.” Note the quote became the headline.)

The Wall Street Journal, “Republican Feud Flares Up Over Roy Moore Sex Allegations,” Nov. 10, 2017


“This was not a criminal act,” said Donna Brazile, former interim chairwoman of the Democratic Party, regarding the DNC’s coordination with the Clinton campaign from early 2016, giving the campaign effective control over fundraising and strategy. (Brazile’s sensational charges were made in a just-published book. She went on to say that it “compromised the party’s integrity.” She should have stuck to the second phrase. The revelation contradicted the frequent and vehement denials by Debbie Wasserman Schultz that the party had its thumb on the scales in favor of Clinton. The story included a BIMBO comment from Clinton campaign COO Charlie Baker who unhelpfully added, “We never tried to be presumptuous.”)

The Washington Post, “Democrats express outrage over allegations of early party control for Clinton in 2016,” Nov. 2, 2017

“I don’t grope people anymore. I don’t expose myself anymore,” said comedian Andy Dick. (Could the flood of revelations following Harvey Weinstein’s fall from power get any stranger? Dick’s response is the worst – and that’s saying a lot. He made it worse by adding, “I overtook my medication and took too many Xanax and I was a bit loopy. That didn’t make me rape people.” And he couldn’t stop. He continued, “I don’t know the difference between sexual harassment and trying to get a date.” Dick has used his bad-boy persona as fodder for his act, but apparently much of it wasn’t an act.)

Salon, “Comedian Andy Dick promptly fired from film after sexual harassment claims,” Oct. 31, 2017

“They’re not cheating,” explained Loyola University Chicago law professor Samuel Brunson. He was commenting on leaked papers that revealed elite universities took advantage of a tax dodge by stashing tens of millions of endowment dollars offshore where they could escape taxes on potentially high-risk investments. (Classic BIMBO comment. It may not be “cheating,” but it’s certainly gaming the system.)

The New York Times, “Endowments Boom as Colleges Bury Earnings Overseas,” Nov. 8, 2017

“Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?’” tweeted President Trump – teaching everyone what the word “apophatic” means.  We like our nomenclature; it’s a BIMBO comment.  (Apophatic definition: “Rhetoric. denial of one's intention to speak of a subject that is at the same time named or insinuated, as ‘I shall not mention Caesar’s avarice…’” This tweet was very creative and President Trump gets a thumbs-up.) 

The Wall Street Journal, "American Intelligence Horror Story" Nov. 14, 2017


“Ain’t that big a deal,” said LaVar Ball, father of UCLA basketball player LiAngelo Ball and Lakers star Lonzo Ball. LiAngelo was arrested for shoplifting luxury goods with some of his teammates while playing an overseas game in China. (The Ball men truly are disconnected from reality, but a lot has been written about that already. In this case, maybe he should remember what happened to Otto Warmbier in North Korea. After President Trump personally intervened to secure the release of LiAngelo and two of his teammates, Ball Senior dissed the presidential help. Now we wait to see what UCLA will do.)

USA Today, “LaVar Ball gets reality check with son’s arrest in China,” Nov. 8, 2017

“And if you did that (give up cable because of anger over NFL politics), then you’re so dumb that I can’t even pray for you because you’re beyond hope,” said ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt. (This was a discussion with Sports Illustrated’s Jimmy Traina who asked whether ESPN was “a sinking ship.” This is a great training example because Traina framed the question by quoting others criticizing ESPN.  Van Pelt not only repeated all the charges, including the phrase “sinking ship,” but also made it worse by adding, “I guess people believe that we’re hemorrhaging money.” Notice that the obnoxious quote became the headline. Van Pelt failed in his attempt to convince listeners that ESPN is healthy and has a strategic plan to dominate the industry by offering the best programming. The positive message was buried completely.)

Blunt Force Truth, “ESPN To Boycotters, Cord-Cutters: You’re So Dumb I Can’t Even Pray For You,” Nov. 18, 2017

Another casualty of the Harvey Weinstein debacle is famed lawyer David Boies. It turns out that Boies’s law firm hired a private investigation firm to dig up dirt on Weinstein’s accusers in an attempt to prevent reporters from the New York Times from publishing a negative article about Weinstein. The problem? Boies’s firm had provided outside legal counsel for the Times in the past (the rules of conduct governing lawyers prohibit lawyers from representing clients where the two sides are in conflict). Boies claimed he had just believed he was hired to deal with a “billing dispute” with the intelligence firm and later said he was never disciplined for his work. This sounds way too much like a lawyer nitpicking.

The New York Times, “Weinstein Work Pulls Lawyer Back Into an Ethical Debate,” Nov. 7, 2017

“I guess I should take that as a compliment that I look like a villain in a great, successful ‘James Bond’ movie,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on being photographed with his glamorous wife holding a sheet of currency with his signature. (No, it’s not a compliment. Mnuchin and his wife are no strangers to the BIMBO Memo (see their comments in the October 2017 and September 2017 BIMBO Memos). The photograph, which went viral, was distinctly creepy. Note that the quote became the headline.)

The Hill, “Mnuchin: Comparisons to James Bond villain a compliment,” Nov. 19, 2017

“Uneducated,” was how founders of LuLaRoe, Deanne and Mark Stidham, described the opinions of those accusing them of running a “pyramid scheme.” (Another good teaching example, as multi-level marketing companies are frequently attacked. The CBS reporter repeated the quotes from critics and the Stidhams replied, “This is not a pyramid scheme,” which is a classic BIMBO comment. In addition to calling their critics’ opinions “uneducated,” the Stidhams accused their competitors of jealousy. They should have used the opportunity to describe the range and quality of their products and to tell a few stories of customers who had been successful building their own businesses. Remember, the stories must be true.)

BuzzFeed News, “The Founders of LuLaRoe Say People Accusing Them Of Running A Pyramid Scheme Have An ‘Uneducated Opinion,’” Nov. 8, 2017


The flood of men caught up in the tsunami started by the Harvey Weinstein revelations produced a variety of reactions. Two are worth examining. First, comedian Louis C.K. issued a statement with the crucial phrase, “These stories are true.” His statement was, to us, the best of the bunch. In it, he didn’t try to dissemble or make excuses and the writing was superb. He drew criticism for not apologizing, but we thought his admission and his commitment to behave differently in the future was the best start we’ve seen so far. Contrast this with Sen. Al Franken’s dramatic apology after he was accused by newscaster Leeann Tweeden of groping her breasts while she slept on the return flight home from a U.S.O. tour. Shortly thereafter, Lindsay Menz identified herself and said Franken had groped her at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010 when he was a sitting senator. She told her husband and others about it when it happened. Two other women have come forward, but Franken disputed their allegations saying, “I can categorically say that I did not proposition anyone to join me in any bathroom.” Franken would do well to follow Louis C.K.’s strategy. Own up to the truth.

The New York Times, “Louis C.K. Responds to Accusations: ‘These Stories Are True,’” Nov. 10, 2017


“We don’t depend on tax gimmicks,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook at a congressional hearing in 2013. It was a sensational quote at the time and became the cut line on the AP photo that appeared in many publications. The word is back this month, from papers revealing the company’s use of “ghost companies” to shift of tens of billions of dollars around the world to tax havens. (The new research found that although Apple said in 2013 they “don’t stash money on some Caribbean island,” they did rely on an island in the English Channel. Cook noted, “We pay all the taxes we owe, every single dollar,” and we don’t doubt this…)

The New York Times, “After a Tax Crackdown, Apple Found a New Shelter for Its Profits,” Nov. 6, 2017

Show this story to your CEO as an example of how “bad words” dominate communication. Michael O’Leary, CEO of low-cost airline Ryanair, messed up the fall vacation schedule for pilots. To mitigate the disaster, the airline wanted to cut a week of vacation from the pilots. O’Leary threatened the pilots, saying that if they “misbehaved” by not cooperating, they wouldn’t get any “goodies.” O’Leary has a history of spouting off. He told the pilots they had an “easy job” though pilots are among the most highly-trained professions in the world, and suggested charging a higher fare for “fat people.” Ryanair is vehemently anti-union due to its low-cost model, but the article chronicles how angering and threatening employees is stimulating the union’s organizing campaign. O’Leary read up on and modeled Southwest Airlines’ business model, but apparently didn’t read about Herb Kelleher’s culture that instilled teamwork among employees and made Southwest a great place to work.

The New York Times, “Jet Pilot Might Not Seem Like a ‘Gig,’ but at Ryanair, It Is,” Nov. 16, 2017

Actor Jeffrey Tambor has also been accused by a co-star of sexual harassment. He said he has “flaws,” but that he is not a “predator,” and he apologized if his actions were “misinterpreted” or considered “sexually aggressive.” Twice he repeated, “I am not a predator” and said, “I can be volatile and ill-tempered.” This is an example of a very unclear strategy. Tambor’s co-star went public with her accusation, which followed another accusation from a former staff member to which he responded with a denial and referred to his accuser as a “disgruntled assistant.” That’s always a mistake. Again, come clean, admit the actions and commit to change in the future.)

BuzzFeed News, “Jeffrey Tambor Responds To Sexual Harassment Allegations Made By ‘Transparent’ Costar Trace Lysette,” Nov. 17, 2017


Uber, which has had a lot of bad publicity, has a new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi. He introduced a new goal, “We do the right thing. Period.” and new culture values at an all-employee meeting. We applaud his understanding of how words anchor culture. Now he should set up a system to collect stories and quotes that illustrate the behavior Uber wants to encourage. Note that the slogan made the headline.

The New York Times, “Uber’s New Mantra: ‘We Do the Right Thing. Period.’” Nov. 7, 2017    

David Corn, the D.C. bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine, made news when it was revealed that staffers had complained about “uninvited touching” several years ago. Was Corn going to be the next Michael Oreskes (NPR’s news head who resigned after sexual harassment accusations)? Mother Jones gets a thumbs-up for handling the situation appropriately, which is to say in a timely and rational fashion, and for not panicking and overreacting. The leadership (both women) CEO Monika Bauerlein and editor-in-chief Clara Jeffery advised the magazine’s staff, “What we heard about in the past were concerns about nonsexual touching (patting on the shoulder, slapping on the back, poking in the arm). At no time did anyone claim that any kind of sexual touching occurred. In fact, the people who raised concerns about touching told us that they did not consider it sexual, but simply didn’t want any physical contact at all.” We were particularly glad to see the progressive magazine convey the difference between friendly physical contact and unwanted sexual advances.

Politico, “David Corn investigated for inappropriate workplace behavior,” Nov. 2, 2017

Big shout out to Dole– and their lawyers, of all people – for not overreacting to a meme-maker who photoshopped mini packs of Dole salad to poke fun prior to Halloween. While they sent a “cease and desist” letter, they made it funny and turned it into a great marketing opportunity. Read the whole letter and make sure you send it to your general counsel. We particularly liked the line, “Normally, we would insist that you take your images down or else I and our more formal and scary hired-gun lawyers would come and take all your candy away.” Instead, Division GC Richard Jacobs just asked, “please contact us in advance if you wish to use any of our trademarks in the future.” Brilliant!)

Lost At E Minor, “Dole sends ‘friendly’ cease and desist letter to Halloween meme-maker,” Nov. 1, 2017

Companies are watching the fallout from the Harvey Weinstein debacle and trying to get ahead of the curve with internal communication and training. We’re glad to see some companies are clearly serious and are publicly confirming their dedication. A shout out to Interpublic Group for doing this. CEO Michael Roth also briefed his board on their commitment by saying, “Women are crucial to our business and our workforce. We need our environment to be safe for all.” Read this article and circulate it to your own C-suite. The main lesson: talk to the Board and go public with your commitment.

The Wall Street Journal, “The Workplace After Harvey Weinstein: Harassment Scandals Prompt Rapid Changes,” Nov. 10, 2017 

A crew member accused Ryan Seacrest of “behave[ing] inappropriately toward her” a decade ago. Read Seacrest’s entire statement, but in particular pay attention to this sentence: “I’m proud of my workplace reputation, and believe my track record will speak for itself. I’m an advocate for women. I will continue to support their voices.” The one thing we would have changed is his use of the word “reckless” in his assertion, “I dispute these reckless allegations.” Note that the word “reckless” dominated the story and became the quote. Missing from this story, and important to future iterations, are comments from female colleagues confirming his goal of creating “a positive work environment of mutual respect and courtesy.”

USA Today, “Ryan Seacrest disputes ‘reckless’ misconduct allegations,” Nov. 17, 2017


Filmmaker Brett Ratner’s attorney didn’t help his case after Ratner was accused of very serious sexual assault and misconduct by actress Natasha Henstridge. Her charges were very graphic. Ratner’s attorney, Martin Singer, disputed the charges saying, “I have represented Mr. Ratner for two decades, and no woman has ever made a claim against him for sexual misconduct or sexual harassment. Furthermore, no woman has ever requested or received any financial settlement from my client.” Singer clearly needs to read Louis C.K.’s short essay about why women may not have spoken out about unwelcome conduct (the difference in power between filmmaker and potential employee is relevant).  In Ratner’s case, multiple women have now come forward with stories. One of the stranger parts of this story reinforces a theme common: people knew about his behavior for decades, but remained silent. Last year, Tina Fey spoke at the Hollywood Reporter’s annual Women in Entertainment event and noted that Ratner was attending, but “he thought this was a thing where you could eat breakfast off of 100 women.” So much for honesty and forthrightness.

Los Angeles Times, “Six women accuse film maker Brett Ratner of sexual harassment or misconduct,” Nov. 1, 2017

Amazon Studios Chairman Roy Price is another high profile senior executive discharged because of serious allegations. At first reading, this is another case in which there was a long, recognized record of misconduct. As stories flooded out, Price’s lawyer, Eric George, issued a statement: “In a career spanning three decades, Roy Price has never once been accused of engaging in unwanted physical contact. Nor has he ever been accused of sexual harassment—with the sole exception of the incident alleged by Ms. Hackett, the portrayal of which he vigorously contests. Any attempt to equate Roy with other stories that have emerged recently in Hollywood is false and misleading.” This is an example of another lawyer who missed not only the Louis C.K. essay, but also the entire situation at Fox News where a culture of empowering stars and ignoring bad behavior was disregarded until a lawsuit prompted the network to hire outside counsel to investigate – and we all know the result and repercussions. Ratner hired the wrong lawyer, one who told him what he wanted to hear. (See my column published for the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal “How to Change a Federal Agency From the Inside Out” for a relevant request of me from former FBI Director William Webster.)

The Wall Street Journal, “Roy Price’s Alleged Trail of Drinking and Sexual Harassment Challenges Amazon’s Culture,” Nov. 6, 2017


This article proved an interesting example of person-to-person communication with very significant implications. Wells Fargo executive Franklin Codel was fired after he made critical remarks about a regulator to another Wells Fargo executive, Greg Gwizdz, who had been recently fired. Gwizdz reported Codel’s comments to his former colleagues, who shared them with regulators. Wow. While the official story is that this was occasioned by the seriousness of Wells Fargo’s well-documented transgressions creating millions of fake accounts, we have a sneaking suspicion that Gwizdz could have been motivated by his own firing. An interesting article and situation to share with HR as an example of how a personal comment made in confidence can be used as a weapon.

The Wall Street Journal, “Wells Fargo Executive Fired After Complaining About Regulators,” Nov. 17, 2017

Interesting example of how times change, but court orders don’t. Tobacco companies are starting to run court-ordered advertising that alerts consumers that smoking and nicotine are highly addictive. These are part of a 1999 lawsuit. The ad buy was ordered in 2006, but appeals delayed it. However, the ads are a total waste because the they target young people who aren’t watching TV or reading newspapers.

The Wall Street Journal, “Cigarette Makers Must Advertise Their Dangers, But Will Millennials Get the Message?” Nov. 17, 2017

The article that set off the Harvey Weinstein tsunami was written by Ronan Farrow for The New Yorker, which proves one of the winners in the controversy. Losers are the New York Times who sat on the story for months and lawyer David Boies, as noted in an item above. The article is worth reading, as it unveils the resources available for deep-pocketed individuals or entities looking to influence a narrative.

The New Yorker, “Harvey Weinstein’s Army of Spies,” Nov. 6, 2017          


The BIMBO Memo is a reminder not to repeat and deny a negative word because of how the listener hears words. When you repeat and deny a negative word, the listener is likely to overlook the denial and hear the opposite of what the speaker is trying to say. It’s named for the young woman who was caught with a high profile, but alas married man. She held a press conference and announced, “I am not a BIMBO,” thus causing everyone to think she was.

Accountability First

  • Wildcard
  • November 27, 2017
  • by Merrie Spaeth

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We write often on the power of words and see one example today from the Consumer Financial Protection Board’s lawsuit, hinging on describing itself as “independent.”

Departing Director Cordray is trying to perpetuate his ideology by naming his own successor rather than deferring to the president because he’s “independent” of – well, of any kind of accountability.

Remember this is the agency which charged auto lenders were discriminating based on race. How did they know? They guessed the race of applicants for loans using last name and zip code. The statistical research and legal flaws in that approach didn’t stop the agency from levying large fines. One firm had to pay $98 million. But because the Bureau can’t really tell if anyone was discriminated against, no consumer ever got compensation.

The CFPB isn’t “independent.” It’s out of control. What it needs to be is accountable. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney’s appointment is a welcome step in that direction. 

What can HR Departments Learn from Political Campaigns?

  • Trends
  • November 6, 2017
  • by Merrie Spaeth

Blog post 2

An article published by Bulldog Reporter details a new study from GuideSpark based on research from marketing firm IDG. It highlighted the not-surprising finding that employees think their company’s communication to them - about the company’s mission, about their future, about benefits - is terrible.

This isn’t surprising for us because we work with a lot of HR departments and they are still thinking about output rather than how people engage and retain information. The study does provide solid information worth reviewing. Companies are trying all sorts of channels to reach and engage employees: mobile, instant messaging, internet, intranet, direct mail and video. We’ve always preached that a company must extensively use video and its leaders have to get really good talking through the camera rather than just at it. We call it “person-to-person, video enabled” communication and the goal is for the viewer/employee to feel that the leader is talking personally to him or her.

Why should HR consider skill development in this area? The numbers are shocking: 78 percent of the HR folks said their information and messaging were “readily accessible”; only 39 percent of their employees agreed.  The large perception gap wasn’t limited to this data point alone. When asked whether the communication was comprehensive, easy to understand, timely and engaging, there was a 40-50 percent chasm between how HR rated their communication and how employees saw it. That’s trouble!

Besides advising a multi-channel approach, the study had the answer buried in one line of an infographic: “take a campaign approach.” Right. And besides all the other channels, including video, what does a good campaign have? Lots of person-to-person interaction and lots of opportunities to visit in person, ask questions and interact. A good “campaign” is much more than a blizzard of information and messages along multiple routes. Remember that as you plan a workplace effort.

BIMBO Nominees for November 2017

  • Bimbo
  • November 1, 2017
  • by Spaeth Communications

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Lots of material this month. We have BIMBOs from Attorney General Sessions, a doctor working on chronic brain disease, fired coach Rick Pitino, two young entrepreneurs with a great idea but undisciplined mouths, the Taliban’s spokesman and a grieving young man. Actresses Meryl Streep and Gretchen Mol, designer Donna Karan, Woody Allen and the president of NBC News all contributed this month in response the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Larry Flynt provided a BIMBO and a statistics example. A Georgia Republican state representative and a Democratic candidate for congress showed the Wrong Thing to Say. Other examples from Montana Rep. Gianforte (last in the news for body slamming a reporter), Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton, the president of the University of Florida, UK PM Theresa May, State Street Bank and – do we have to? – another dumb comment from Anthony Scaramucci. 


“This is not an age thing,” said Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., about her call for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to step down. (Sanchez sent shock waves through the Democratic party and Washington leadership with her overt challenge to Pelosi, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and House Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn. Sanchez added, “…there comes a time when you need to pass that torch.” It’s certainly “an age thing” coupled with the losing thing. Note the quote made the headline.)

The Wall Street Journal, “A Coup Against Pelosi: a fellow Californian says it’s ‘not an age thing,’” Oct. 5, 2017


“I don’t think he’s alienated anyone,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (This is a classic BIMBO. Sanders was asked by a reporter whether the president’s comments about other Republicans had “alienated” them. Along with the denial above, she said that if anybody had “alienated” people, it was congress. The comment, anchored with the denial, became the headline. As with so many of these exchanges, there’s a great quote that got buried. Sanders also said, “(Congress) promised and campaigned on repealing and replacing Obamacare …They have campaigned on tax reform, hopefully we see that happen. We are certainly committed to that and we think we’ll get there.” That should have been the quote and the headline.)

Politico, “White House on GOP senator attacks: Trump hasn’t ‘alienated anyone,’” Oct. 10, 2017

“I don’t think we’re ever going to lose money again,” said American Airlines CEO Doug Parker. (Uh oh. Anyone want to bet that we’ll see this prediction come back to haunt them? The airline’s president also noted that with passenger baggage fees the airline is just “scratching the surface.” Both of these comments will infuriate the public and members of congress as well as attract the attention of regulators. Parker should have said he was pleased with the measures they were implementing to increase productivity and profitability, and it would have been the moment for a shout-out to employees.)

CNBC, “American Airlines CEO: ‘I don’t think we’re ever going to lose money again,’” Sept. 28, 2017

“I’m not part of a façade,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. (Another classic BIMBO. During a congressional hearing, Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., said, “My concern is that you were part of the Russian façade and went along with it.” Sessions replied with the denial, which became the headline. This is where our formula should come into play. Acknowledge the question by saying, “I disagree” or “on the contrary.” Go right to your headline with the operative word: “My independence and integrity are well known.” Reports noted also that the AG was “visibly uncomfortable.” Sessions has been around long enough to know that congressional hearings are theater. You must learn to perform – and look as if you like it.)

CNN, “Jeff Sessions on Russia interference: ‘I’m not part of a façade,’” Oct. 18, 2017

“Not everybody knew,” said actress Meryl Streep about the flood of allegations about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual harassment and extortion. (Right, Meryl. She went on and on. “I did not know about his financial settlements with actresses and colleagues; I did not know about his having meetings in his hotel room, his bathroom, or other inappropriate, coercive acts. And if everybody knew, I don’t believe that all the investigative reporters in the entertainment and the hard news media would have neglected for decades to write about it.” The great actress obviously was deaf, dumb and blind and ignoring all the explanations that have surfaced.)

CNN, “Meryl Streep speaks out on the ‘disgraceful’ Harvey Weinstein allegations,” Oct. 9, 2017

“It’s not ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’” said Dr. Harry Kerasidis, one of the pioneers of Pure Recovery, a new and controversial way to identify and potentially treat chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The degenerative brain disease is believed to affect scores of NFL players and, until now, could only be diagnosed after death. (The procedure begins by measuring electrical activity in the brain and then passes electrical currents through the brain, a sort of electroshock therapy, hence the “Cuckoo’s Nest” reference. In this instance, there were plenty of great quotes and one of them did become the headline.)

USA Today, “Clinic provides hope for athletes with brain injuries: “This is going to be huge,’” Oct. 3, 2017

“Nobody’s been arrested on my staff,” said fired Hall of Fame basketball coach Rick Pitino commenting on the University of Louisville’s decision following FBI allegations that Adidas paid the college’s recruits. Ten people were arrested, including assistant basketball coaches, but as the coach pointed out, none from his staff. He added, “I’ve been vindicated,” which became the headline.)

Louisville DieHards, “Former Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino: ‘I’ve already been vindicated,’” Oct. 19, 2017

“I did not exchange sexual favors with Harvey Weinstein,” wrote actress Gretchen Mol in a heartfelt column rebutting reports that she cited as examples of how rumors get repeated and then become described as “well-known facts.” (This is an interesting example the media should take seriously. Mol described allegations that appeared in gossip columns and then migrated to mainstream media. How do you say something isn’t true - without repeating it and keeping the story alive? In her case, Mol had the chance to assert her good character and innocence within the context of the scores of sensational and detailed allegations.)

The Hollywood Reporter, “Gretchen Mol Breaks Silence on Harvey Weinstein and Misogynistic Rumors,” Oct. 10, 2017

“We’re not selling donuts,” said Ramon Mendez, founder of DriveAds, a company that puts advertising on the sides of box trucks and uses GPS and other technology to measure how many views the truck gets. (Great idea and kudos to this Dallas-based company, but boy do they need media training. The young founders were profane and arrogant in this profile. The whole quote was, “We’re not here for (expletive) and giggles. This is a B2B play. We’re not selling donuts. Our cheapest product is $2,000.” They should have used the quote to explain that this is a great, cost-effective way for companies to expand visibility and differentiate themselves.)

Dallas Business Journal, “We’re not selling donuts. Our cheapest product is $2,000 - Dallas startup thinks it has $120M idea,” Oct. 12, 2017

“No one has intentionally killed the child or carried out other abuse on them,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid about the comments of former captive Joshua Boyle, who was released after being held in captivity for five years. (Guess we must have different definitions of “abuse.” The description of Boyle’s ordeal is the very nightmare of “abuse.” Note that the word “intentionally” is the giveaway.)

The New York Times, “Taliban Deny Fighters Raped American Hostage and Killed Baby,” Oct. 15, 2017

“I am not some nut ball,” said Robert Kuefler when it was discovered that he was living with the decomposing bodies of his mother and twin brother because he did not want to report their deaths to the authorities. (You’ve got to feel sorry for this poor man. Disability and Social Security checks were deposited into the mother’s and brother’s bank accounts, but Kuefler didn’t use the funds. He explained he was traumatized by their deaths.)

Fox News, “Minnesota man lived with bodies of mom, brother for year,” Oct. 9, 2017


A BIMBO and an example of statistics, “I do not expect Trump’s billionaire cronies to rat him out,” said Hustler Magazine publisher Larry Flynt announcing a $10 million bounty for anyone who will come forward with information leading to impeachment of the president. ($10 million certainly gets attention, but this is an unusually self-aware publicity stunt because Flynt added that this “will strike many as a sour-grapes plot by Democrats to overturn a legitimate election.” Right from the horse’s mouth.)

The Washington Times, “Hustler’s Flynt runs ad offering $10 million for ‘smoking gun’ leading to Trump impeachment,” Oct. 14, 2017

Responding to the tsunami of allegations about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, director Woody Allen warned against a “witch hunt” mentality. This showed the power of a phrase – “witch hunt” – plus the importance of the messenger, as Allen himself has been accused by his stepchildren of child sexual abuse. There’s another clue about how widespread knowledge was of Weinstein’s behavior: Allen said, “No one ever came to me and told me horror stories with any real seriousness.” Translation: I’ve heard this for years. Usually we try to advise what someone should have said. In this case, the recommendation is nothing. Stay silent. Allen put his foot in his mouth by trying to weigh in on the debate.)

The New York Times, “Woody Allen Warns of ‘Witch Hunt’ Over Weinstein, Then Tries to Clarify,” Oct. 15, 2017

“I don’t want to say the quarantine word – but I guess I just said it,” said state Rep. Betty Price, R-Ga., during a hearing about the spread of HIV. (Whoops! This is a case study of BIMBOs, the power of a bad word and the wrong thing to say. She went on to say, “It’s almost frightening the number of people who are living that are…carriers with the potential to spread. Whereas in the past, they died more readily, and then at that point, they’re not posing a risk.” Price, the wife of former Trump health secretary Tom Price, is a physician herself. She apparently skipped empathy, which is a shame because her point was “we’ve got a huge population posing a risk if they’re not in treatment.” That should have been the message as well as the headline. People would’ve heard it quite differently from “quarantine” and the rest of her quote.)

STAT News, “Georgia lawmaker, wife of Tom Price, suggests people with HIV could be quarantined,” Oct. 20, 2017

“A child,” was how Democratic congressional candidate Steve Krieg described his opponent, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., adding that it was fair to consider him “a sexist.” Krieg had already drawn criticism for posting on Facebook, “I intend to kick your stingy, money-grubbing, sniveling coward of a butt out of Congress. Don’t worry, sweetie, you’re a little girl. You can always run home to Mommy and Daddy.” (Stefanik was elected in 2014 and at 30 was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. She was re-elected in 2016 and is running again. We’re proud to support women in political office and know age matters little compared to maturity level.)

Fox News, “Dem candidate calls female GOP rep a ‘child,’ says it’s fair to call him a ‘sexist,’” Oct. 6, 2017

The feud between Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte, Guardian journalist Ben Jacobs and the media in general continues. Reminder: last spring, Gianforte body slammed Jacobs who was pressing him on difficult issues. Not surprisingly, it created national news. Gianforte won re-election anyway, donated thousands of dollars to the Committee to Protect Journalists and wrote a letter of apology. The latest news is that representatives from the CPJ were scheduled to meet with Gianforte, but he left to vote. The CPJ delegation then met with staff and suggested that Gianforte could join the Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press or other commissions. His chief of staff, Charles Robison, dismissed these ideas with, “Greg didn’t come here to join clubs.” In his report about the meeting, Jacobs wrote, “I had expected that he was sincere in his expressions of support for a free press. Instead, he is continuing to behave like the worst stereotype of a Washington politician.” Ouch. Robison’s comment was unnecessarily provoking, but Jacobs’ slam is guaranteed to prevent Gianforte from taking any kind of positive action, which is unfortunate. No matter what people think of the U.S. mainstream media’s political slant, journalists around the world face many challenges, including imprisonment and death. Americans should support them. Gianforte obviously needs communication training and advice. He also spoke at the Montana High Tech Jobs Summit, where one of the topics was the lack of diversity in the room. Gianforte, the keynote speaker, apologized for a photo of all-male employees at RightNow Technology (which he founded) saying, “We did hire women, but they knew better than to show up for the Christmas Party.” Excuse us? Maybe they won’t show up to vote next time.)

Committee to Protect Journalists, “CPJ meeting with Gianforte is disappointingly brief,” Oct. 12, 2017

Is this an overreaction? Carolina Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton took a question from Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue about how receiver Devin Funchess was running routes. He replied, “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes,” and set off a blizzard of criticism culminating with yogurt maker Dannon Co. pulling its sponsorship. (Rodrigue tweeted, “I don’t think it’s ‘funny’ to be a female and talk about routes. I think it’s my job.” She is correct; I would have liked Rodrigue to shoot back, “What’s funny is that your brain isn’t functioning, which may be why I’m asking about route running.” Newton’s agent didn’t help by saying, “Dannon did not drop Cam. He is still under contract. They did not terminate him.” Since Dannon announced it was breaking ties with Newton because of the remarks, we’re not sure what the real story is. But, the lawyer should have said, “Cam values his longstanding relationship with Dannon and hopes that his real nature is recognized. He will continue to carry Dannon’s message of yogurt health and deliciousness.” Note that the comment made it into the headline.)

The Wall Street Journal, “Dannon Ends Ad Deal with Panthers’ Cam Newton After Sexist Comment: Quarterback said it was ‘funny’ to be asked about ‘routes’ by a female reporter,” Oct. 5, 2017

A lot of big names got in trouble reacting to the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Fashion legend Donna Karan observed, “How do we present ourselves as women? …Are we asking for it? By presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality?” (You know what happened next. A storm of criticism descended upon Karan; celebrities demanded that Nordstrom stop carrying her products, and experts opined that she’s finished. “General consensus is she just broke her brand,” said Paula Rosenblum from Retail Systems Research. Again, who’s the audience? Nordstrom got it right, issuing a statement, “We’ve heard from some customers, and we certainly understand their concerns. We’ll continue to listen to their feedback.”)

The Washington Post, “’She just broke her brand’: Donna Karan’s defense of Weinstein is taking its toll,” Oct. 12, 2017

“The notion that we would try to cover for a powerful person is deeply offensive to all of us,” said NBC President of News Noah Oppenheim at a townhall meeting responding to questions about why NBC refused to air the year’s blockbuster story about Harvey Weinstein. It ran instead in The New Yorker. Oppenheim claimed, “We didn’t feel we had all the elements that we needed to air it.” The Washington Examiner noted that NBC moved heaven and earth to find someone to confirm that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had called President Trump a “moron,” but it couldn’t accept the ten plus first person, on-the-record stories about Harvey Weinstein. Why? The Daily Beast did a nice examination of all the joint business deals between Weinstein and NBC divisions. Now, what should Oppenheim have said? What about, “We should have been more aggressive and lived up to our own investigative standards. We made a mistake.”)

Washington Examiner, “NBC’s credibility collapse,” Oct. 14, 2017

“I don’t stand behind racist Richard Spencer,” tweeted University of Florida president Kent Fuchs. (The university had agreed to allow self-described white supremacist Richard Spencer to speak on campus, and students accused Fuchs of enabling racism. The second half of Fuch’s tweet was the real message, “I stand with those who reject and condemn Spencer’s vile and despicable message.” Now, if the first half had only said, “This is a First Amendment, free speech issue and the university is the place to hear all voices, including those we find unpleasant.”)

Twitter, Oct. 19, 2017

Theresa May, Britain’s Prime Minister, had a bad day. She gave a speech that was supposed to be a commanding call to action to rally the fractious and demoralized Conservative Party. She was suffering from a severe cold and her voice went from raspy to barely there. In the middle of the speech, a prankster jumped up on the stage and handed her a form Britons get when they exit a job, thoroughly disrupting her demeanor. When it seemed things couldn’t get worse, the sign behind her, “Building a Country that Works for Everyone” lost the letter F in “for.” While everybody gets sick, this is a case study where a single speech can make or break a political career. (Take heart, PM. Bill Clinton was so bad in his speech to the Democratic convention in 1988, that experts wrote him off as someone who would never, ever come back.)

The New York Times, “Theresa May, Coughing and Caught by a Prankster, Endures a Speech to Forget,” Oct. 5, 2017

Another example of inviting attention with unintended results: State Street Corp. paid for the Fearless Girl statue erected on Wall Street last spring facing off with the iconic Wall Street Charging Bull statue. This month, the company agreed to pay $5 million to women and African-American employees who were paid less than their white, male counterparts. Understandingly, the news was embarrassing to State Street. State Street Global Advisors CMO Stephen Tisdalle tackled the topic head on during an industry conference and had a comment that we think struck the perfect tone: “What I would say to that is we had a foundation we could go back to to say why we did Fearless Girl, and no matter what anybody said, no matter what rocks were thrown, we could say, ‘You’re right, but this is the way we invest, this is the way the world needs to invest, this is a human moral value. How can you argue against it? We have to be doing better ourselves. She’s as much an inspiration to our organization as she is to the world.”

Adweek, “Financial Firm Behind ‘Fearless Girl’ Will Pay $5 Million for Allegedly Underpaying Women and Minorities,” Oct. 5, 2017

Is Anthony Scaramucci the latest example of someone who’s famous for being famous? That’s the only explanation for attention to Scaramucci’s announcement of a new media venture, with no journalists, no articles and no website. At the announcement party, he said that he “had no idea what the Scaramucci Post is.” Neither do we and we fervently hope the media will resist the temptation to fawn over his every twitch.)

The New York Times, “Anthony Scaramucci Announces Mystery Media Venture,” Oct. 3, 2017

Who Said What to Whom

  • Wildcard
  • October 20, 2017
  • by Merrie Spaeth

Rep. wilson

Much ink and verbal venom has flowed over President Trump's condolence call to an army widow, Myeshia Johnson, on the death of her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., has claimed her 15 minutes of national fame by expressing outrage over the president's words and delivery. Chief of Staff General Kelly has weighed in. I want to add an additional perspective because we're experts in how people repeat each other's words. 

We weren't there, but the description from Rep. Wilson has all the earmarks of a situation where, after the president called, Wilson took control of the conversation, likely saying to Johnson, "Didn't you feel disrespected?" and/or "He didn't even mention La David by name." It's absolutely plausible Wilson caused Johnson to start crying. If you say "go ahead and cry" to someone emotionally distraught, you can get them to start crying. 

General Kelly, who also listened to the call and had a conversation with the president beforehand, made clear that the president's intention was to express his support for Sgt. La David Johnson's service. The media's favorite trick is to use negative or inflammatory words to get someone to repeat them back. It looks like Rep. Wilson has been studying their playbook. 

The World of Nora Johnson

  • Wildcard
  • October 11, 2017
  • by Merrie Spaeth

Nora johnson (2)

The news arrived that Nora Johnson, author of “The World of Henry Orient,” has died at age 84. Her obituary noted her many books, articles and essays and, of course, the screenplay she wrote with her father, Nunnally Johnson.  “The World of Henry Orient” was the United States entry to the Cannes Film Festival when it was released, and I represented the movie as well as our country.

In many ways, I am Nora Johnson, or at least half of her. The two young girls in “The World of Henry Orient,” Valerie Boyd and Marion Gilbert (my character) represented her conflicting desires. Nora’s life was just like that, split between her famous, Hollywood father and New York City mother. In the movie, Valerie experiences deep pain and betrayal when her mother (played wonderfully by Angela Lansbury before she became Miss Marple) has an affair with the philandering pianist, Henry Orient (played by Peter Sellers in one of his most memorable and too-little recognized roles). Though Marion also experienced divorce, she had a down-to-earth mother and was happy, well-adjusted and – let’s admit it – kind of boring. Valerie spiced up her life.

Nora spent her life pinging back-and-forth from daring and disturbing to settled and predictable. But then, who among us doesn’t yearn for the same contradictory experiences? We can pine for fame and the contentment of ordinary life in the same moment.

When Nora moved to Dallas a few years ago to be near her son, we saw each other a few times. While it would have been wonderful to be able to say we laughed and shared stories, it wouldn’t be true. She resented getting old. She was annoyed to be dependent on other people. She hated being out of New York City and couldn’t make her voicemail work. She was regretful that I was a generation younger and, channeling Marion, seemed to be happy. I’m embarrassed to admit I reacted to this by ceasing to call.

This is an overdue thank you and recognition that one of the most amazing things about Nora was that she created characters that came alive, and live still. Thank you, Nora Johnson.

For more information about Merrie’s role in the classic film, “The World of Henry Orient,” take a look at this post or watch this video in which Merrie explains what it was like working with Peter Sellers.

BIMBO Nominees for October 2017

  • Bimbo
  • October 5, 2017
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image b

This might be the largest batch of examples in our history! We have BIMBOs from a New York Times analyst, a non-underwear-wearing waitress, Vladimir Putin, an Italian politician, Hillary Clinton, Australian actress Rebel Wilson, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a border smuggler, an accused NSA leaker and, of course, a few senators. The New America Foundation, IBM’s CEO, a Wisconsin sheriff, Tennessee’s insurance commissioner, a lawyer for the Colorado River and former US Attorney Preet Bharara also make appearances. We have a very good example of making statistics verbally visual as well as of how to restructure medical advice based on how the patient hears the information.


“We are definitely not tanking,” said the New York Jets’ new CEO, Christopher Johnson, after taking over the position from his brother Woody, who is now U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom. (The Jets have a 0-2 start, and it looks like reporters asked something about “tanking,” which triggered Johnson’s response and created the headline. Johnson needs some media and messaging help. He should have focused on his positive message: “I’ve been a fan of this team all my life,” and “I think you’re going to see this team get better and better and better.” His positive prediction should have been the headline. It just got overpowered by comments like “growing pains” and “not tanking.”)

New York Post, “Jets’ new boss speaks: I’m in charge, and we’re not tanking,’” Sept. 20, 2017


“This is not about the bikini,” said Schuyler Lifschultz, the attorney for a group of baristas who work for a chain of bikini coffee stands and wear, what else? Bikinis! The City Council of Everett, Washington, recently passed two ordinances for how much skin restaurant employees can reveal. (This must have been an interesting discussion because the level of specificity reached identifying shoulders, breasts, torso and three inches below buttocks as areas that must be covered. The Council called it a health issue and a way to combat what are really “sexpresso” stores. The plaintiffs replied that their tattoos and scars prompt conversations with their patrons. We bet they do. Also, the regulation provides diagrams to illustrate the new requirements. Lifschultz gets a high five for the ability to defend bikinis with a straight face.)

The Seattle Times, “Bikini baristas sue Everett, say bare-skin ban violates their freedom of expression,” Sept. 11, 2017

“I don’t give Shermanesque statements on anything,” said Governor Chris Christie. This is a worthwhile example because it shows a reporter baiting Christie and trying very hard to plant words in his mouth. (The issue was whether Christie might appoint himself as New Jersey’s senator if Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., currently on trial for bribery, is convicted and forced to resign. A New York Times reporter, Nick Confessore, asked Christie about his plans and said, “I’m looking for a Shermanesque statement here,” prompting the response above. Confessore then tried to box Christie in, saying, “So it’s possible?” That would have led to a story about how Christie refused to rule himself out. Not done, Confessore said that “Senator Christie had a nice sound,” hoping Christie would agree. These guys never give up when they have a story narrative in mind. Beware.)

Legal Insurrection, “Chris Christie Will not give ‘Shermanesque’ Refusal to Appoint Himself to Replace Menendez,” Sept. 4, 2017


“It’s not evil,” said Pradeep Chauhan, managing partner of OnContracting, a site that helps people find contracting positions in tech. (He is referring to the seismic shift in employment away from lifetime employment with a company where employees can start by sweeping the floor and end up doing high end research in contrast to highly focused companies who subcontract all non-core functions. This lengthy and impeccably written article is a must read for anyone interested in policy and politics. It compares two individuals, one who began sweeping floors for Eastman Kodak for years and ended up as the company’s chief technology officer and her current counterpart at Apple who is stuck in a janitorial job – forever. Chauhan is explaining the pluses of the shift while recognizing the costs are primarily to employees. Conservatives, who are ideologically wedded to the importance of hard work, need to acknowledge the shifting environment for opportunity. One final comment, this is the Times at its best.)

The New York Times, “To Understand Rising Inequality, Consider the Janitors at Two Top Companies, Then and Now, Neil Irwin,” Sept. 3, 2017

“I’m not prancing my breasts around,” complained waitress Genevieve Loiselle who works for East Side Mario’s in Timmins, Ontario. She was protesting the manager’s request that she wear a bra. (This hilarious story is actually an examination in miniature of an employee’s rights and managerial communication. The manager in question was obviously uncomfortable with Loiselle’s clearly observable breasts with nipple rings, but she made a mistake: after an outcry, the manager backtracked and tried to rationalize the request, then she denied she had made it, then she retracted it. Maybe she needs to talk to the Everett, Washington, Council folks. We expect Loiselle to be hiring lawyer Lifschultz.)

Yahoo Finance, “East Side Mario’s waitress complains about manager’s demand that she wear a bra,” Sep. 8, 2017

“He’s not my bride,” retorted Russian President Vladimir Putin when asked if he was disappointed in the supposedly-close-now-fracturing relationship with President Trump. (Putin certainly has a way with words. We’re with Putin who added that the whole line of questioning “sounds very naïve.” Note that the line did make its own news and became the headline.)

ABC News, “Trump ‘is not my bride,’ Russian President Vladimir Putin says,” Sept. 5, 2017

“We absolutely don’t want to create a populist, extremist and anti-European Italy,” said Italian politician, Luigi Di Maio. The comment is noteworthy, if not believable because he may be Italy’s next Prime Minister. (Di Maio, who’s only 31, is part of what’s called the 5 Star Movement, a new party founded by Beppe Grillo which advocates for Italy to leave the Eurozone and to ignore and abandon the fiscal restraints agreed to in return for bail out from the European Union. Di Maio has certainly learned how to be a politician.  Of course, if elected and able to carry out the party’s platform, the result will be just the country described by the adjectives above.)

The Wall Street Journal, “Italy’s Upstart 5 Star Movement Looks to Candidate with Mainstream Appeal,” Sept. 20, 2017

“I am not someone who will say things that aren’t true,” said Hillary Clinton touring for her book, “What Happened.” (The tour has generated non-stop soundbites and controversy. Her harshest criticism is directed at former fellow Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. “He’s not a Democrat—that’s not a smear, that’s what he said.” Of course, it is. As with many politicians, we are in awe of Clinton’s abilities to say the patently untrue with a straight face – the subtitle of the article is, “Says she’s too honest for politics…?”—while selling tickets for, in some cases, thousands of dollars for book signings.)

The Daily Wire, “Clinton: ‘I am Not Someone Who Will Say Things That Aren’t True,’” Sept. 13, 2017

“This case wasn’t about the money,” claimed Australian actress, Rebel Wilson, who was awarded $3.6 million in a defamation suit against Woman’s Day magazine. (Oh please! Just like it isn’t about the bikinis. Predictably she wants to give the money to charity. We’ll hold our breath for those stories. While we sympathize with Wilson who was unfairly savaged by a gossip magazine, and we’re glad she won, she should have said, “I’m glad the truth and sanity won out and this judgment should remind publications of the importance of getting the facts and story right.”)

CNN, “Actress Rebel Wilson awarded record $3.6 M in Australian defamation case,” Sep.114, 2017

“This had nothing to do with convenience,” claimed Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin responding to criticism over his use of a government jet for his European honeymoon. (Mnuchin claimed it was for “national security” reasons. Oh please again! He also tried to rationalize a recent trip to Fort Knox, which coincidentally happened to be along the path of the total eclipse. “You know, people in Kentucky took this stuff very serious. Being a New Yorker…I was like, the eclipse? Really? I don’t have any interest in watching the eclipse.”)

Axios, “Mnuchin claims request for government jet was for ‘national security,’” Sept. 15, 2017

“Look, I’m not a hypocrite. I do it for the money,” said Alexis, the pseudonym of a human smuggler at the Mexican border. (This highlights the tension between being a reporter and a good citizen. While not disputing the superb reporting that went into this lengthy story, the paper and the reporter are helping criminals break the law and putting people’s lives at risk. And Alexis is a hypocrite. He crossed into and worked in the U.S. illegally himself. But we urge people to read the story because it’s a compelling explanation of why a “wall” won’t achieve its goal of border security.)

USA Today, “Human smuggler says wall would make him rich,” Sept. 21, 2017

“I wasn’t trying to be a Snowden or anything,” says Reality Winner, an NSA contractor arrested and charged with smuggling a highly confidential intelligence report on Russian attempts to obtain U.S. voter data and giving it to a new outlet. (This young lady had clearly read too many Mother Jones articles. (The only link she has to reality is her name. First, she denied the crime, and then she said the report  sat on her desk for days and someone else could have seen it. She finally admitted she smuggled it out in her pantyhose. We were amazed. She is the only 25-year-old who admits to wearing panty hose. She had also posted incriminating comments about her motivation on Facebook. As with all screw-ups, the smart thing to do would have been to admit the truth right up front.)

Politico, “Alleged leaker Reality Winner said she stuffed NSA report in her pantyhose,” Sept. 27, 2017

“I will not be bought off,” is what Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, supposedly said when asked by a constituent about her opposition to the Graham-Cassidy bill to partially repeal and replace Obamacare. (Maybe we should bring back earmarks…)

Twitter, September 25, 2017

Fired. That’s what happened to Barry Lynn, the founder of Open Markets, a left-liberal project that issued a press release supporting the European Union’s anti-trust regulator’s record $2.7 billion fine against Google. His project was housed within the even-more-left New America Foundation, which is heavily financed by – guess who—Google! The communication lesson, however, isn’t the firing, but the clumsy lengths NAF went to trying to deny that Google had pressured them to ditch Lynn. NAF’s president, Anne-Marie Slaughter, who makes $500,000 annually, told Lynn he was “imperiling the institution as a whole,” but insisted that the decision was “in no way based on the content of your work.” A spokesperson for NAF insisted that the Foundation’s financial backers “have no influence or control over the research design, methodology, analysis or findings” of its scholarly work. Lynn’s press release was removed from NAF’s website then restored citing “an unintentional internal issue.” Eric Schmidt, Google’s non-executive chairman reportedly stepped down as chairman to protest the support for the EU anti-trust initiative. What should NAF have said? Nothing if their goal is to maintain the illusion that they are a real academic think tank, but then, there aren’t any. Purity is an illusion. They should have said that they are pleased to be funded by people who share their vision for what technology can bring to individual lives and countries. Remember, in a pinch, always tell the truth. You can remember it. For a more in depth examination of what happened with Open Markets and the NAF, see The Weekly Standard article, which is a sobering examination of how Google and other large companies use so-called think tanks as an unregistered and untraceable lobbying tool.)

The New York Times, “Google Critic Ousted From Think Tank Funded by the Tech Giant,” Aug. 31, 2017

“We aren’t out here to destroy man,” said IBM CEO, Ginni Rometty, in a lengthy article about Artificial Intelligence. (She explains the difference between AI and old-fashioned computing by saying that in the future, there will be no computer programming. “Machines will look at data, understand, reason over it and they continue to learn.” We don’t presume to know enough to comment on the technology. This lesson just points out that her whole argument is that AI allows machines to “work with man.” The negative inversion was unnecessary and she’s lucky it didn’t become the title.)

Bloomberg Businessweek, “Debrief: Ginni Rometty, CEO, IBM,” Sept. 25, 2017

“This is not for violating Fourth Amendment rights or for spying,” said West Salem, Wisconsin’s police chief, next to a picture of a very imposing drone hovering above. (This excellent article is enough to scare the pajamas off you. While it’s a very erudite history of the Fourth Amendment, most lay readers will focus only – as we did – on the exploding use of drones, which may indeed have wonderful uses, but are clearly extremely useful for watching all of us all the time.)

The Weekly Standard, “Protecting Privacy,” Sept. 4, 2017

“This issue is not an insurer bailout,” said Julie Mix McPeak, Tennessee’s insurance commissioner, about the debate over whether President Trump should continue the euphemistically titled “cost sharing” whereby the federal government gives taxpayer money to insurance companies so they can avoid raiding deductibles or out-of-pocket costs for low income people. (A rose by any other name? Of course it’s a bailout. Everyone knows the history of Obamacare: the insurance companies were bullied into supporting it with the promise that millions of new, young, healthy customers would sign up for the now-commoditized plans and would compensate for the cost of a host of new requirements. But the healthy young people didn’t want to sign up, and because insurance companies couldn’t decline or charge more for people with pre-existing conditions, many lost tens and hundreds of millions of dollars. Given Congress’ inability to rope in its self-promoting members to pass a partial repeal, the insurance companies are likely to feel more pain.

The New York Times, “Work Toward Bipartisan Fix for Health Markets Begins in Senate,” Sept. 6, 2017

“You’re not being an outcast. You’re not being a fringe member of Congress,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders , I-Vt. (The context was the Senator’s announcement of a plan calling for free health and medical care for all Americans, dubbed “Medicaid for all,” noting that what was once a far-left impossible dream had become mainstream for progressives and Democrats. Listen to him. He’s right.  This shows how economically illiterate the public is and illustrates the self-defeating nature of the three Republican senators who refused to accept the Graham-Cassidy approach to providing an alternative.)

The New York Times, “How Single-Payer Health Care Could Trip Up Democrats,” Sept. 11, 2107

“It’s not pie in the sky,” said Jason Flores-Williams, a Denver lawyer who is trying to file a suit establishing the Colorado River as a person, which will allow it to have rights and sue the government, nearby landowners, pipeline developers and just about anyone else. (We doubt this is what composer, Jerome Kern, had in mind when he wrote, “Ole Man River,” but the group, Deep Green Resistance, is dead serious and with the number of activist federal judges, who knows how far they’ll get? This story is so preposterous that even The New York Times referred to the group as “a far left environmental group.” The paper routinely characterizes “far right” groups but to our knowledge, this is the first time we’ve seen a “far left” description. What’s next? Mountains? They’ll want to sue skiers for the pain of ski trails. Certainly barrier islands that can finally go after the brutalization they’ve experienced at the hands of vacation home builders.)

The New York Times, “Corporations Have Rights. Why Shouldn’t Rivers?” Sept. 26, 2017

“I’m not doing a weekly podcast to throw bombs,” said Preet Bharara. Until recently he was the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York until President Trump fired him when he refused to resign. (Bharara has a new podcast where he is doing – guess what – throwing bombs at – guess who – President Trump. Although new presidents always appoint their own US Attorneys and almost all tender their resignations as a matter of principle, Bharara did not.)

USA Today, “EXCLUSIVE: Preet Bharara’s new podcast to take on justice issues, Trump. Nothing’s ‘off limits,’” Sept. 18, 2017

“We’re not heartless,” said Nicole McQuarry, regional manager for City Gate Property Group. (This is a cautionary lesson in why every company’s staff needs media training. The story is about an elderly woman with health problems living on tiny monthly income. She occasionally falls behind on her rent, triggering late fees that pile up and almost end up with her evicted. Part of the problem is her and her family’s lack of awareness of how to deal with problems and of additional sources of income. Part of it was her reluctance to tell her family she needed help and part of it was the property company’s refusal to take a humane approach. When her story hit the press, City Gate immediately did the right thing and worked with her. The “heartless” quote, followed by “We’re just doing our jobs and trying to make sure everyone pays their rents,” was just the wrong one. They should have said, “When Mrs. Rooter’s situation was brought to our attention, we worked with her and will continue to do so.”)   

The Dallas Morning News, “Late fees compounded tenant’s woes,” Sept. 17, 2017

There is “no link between gaming machines in betting shops and problem gambling,” claimed the Association for British Bookmakers in a story about the growing number of addicted gamblers and a machine that allows people to place £100 bets every 20 seconds. (The debate is over a machine, the “fixed odds betting terminal,” which is also heavily concentrated in low-income neighborhoods. This is another eye rolling moment. We believe in legal gambling, but we’re also advocates of recognizing the damage of addictive behavior and how policies and geographic availability can aggravate it.)

The New York Times, “42 Minutes, £2,600 Lost: The U.K.’s Growing Gambling Problem,” Sept. 23, 2017


“Are you on drugs?” wrote White House Special Counsel, Ty Cobb, to a reporter when she pressed him about a letter President Trump supposedly composed to fire FBI Director, James Comey, but never sent. (The reporter, Natasha Bertrand of Business Insider, posted the email to Twitter the next day, which should have been expected. An inflammatory question with the word “drugs” is going to get passed on, and in today’s social media landscape that can mean it gets passed on to lots of people. Notice the phrase made the headline.)

Huffington Post, “Trump lawyer Asks Journalist If She’s On Drugs After James Comey Question,” Sept. 3, 2017


Golden State Warriors star, Kevin Durant, found out the hard way that Twitter can backfire. This is an example of bad choices and a good recovery. Durant decided – inexplicably – to post critical comments of his former team, the Oklahoma Thunder, and coach. He did so through a fake account and when he posted again, but forgot to switch back from his verified official account, he was outed. The presumable outrage ensued. That’s the bad choice. The positive recovery is that he admitted his behavior was wrong and sat for an abject “mea culpa” interview with sports columnist, Sam Amick, where he appeared genuinely remorseful and upset with himself. No defense. No canned language. It’s a good read.

USA Today, “Remorseful Kevin Durant feels terrible about Twitter incident: ‘Disappointed in myself,” Sept. 19, 2017

Last month Louise Linton caused a snafu calling an Instagram user “adorably out of touch.” Read our full break down in last month’s BIMBO. If the story ended there, it would be another typical example of inexplicably bad behavior. But after a week hunkered down, Linton sat for a long interview with a Washington Life Magazine reporter. She came across as genuinely remorseful, as does Durant, and – like Durant – puzzled that she could have exhibited such bad judgment. Again, it’s a good read.

Washington Life Magazine, “Exclusive Interview: Louise Linton Gets Real,” Sept. 5, 2017


If you’ve been through our courses, you know that statistics can drive memory, but also that they can be confusing and irrelevant. We urge clients to make them “verbally visual.” That is, if you have a number you have to use, try to relate it to something to create a visual. Here’s an example: in an article on hummingbirds, the photographer had to shoot 500 frames per second to catch the movement which allows the bird to hover and to fly. How much is 500 frames? “At the typical frames-per-second rate of a theatrical movie—let’s say the 1939 classic ‘Gone with the Wind’—500 frames is roughly what it took for Scarlett O’Hara to run down the staircase and tearfully plead, ‘Rhett, Rhett! If you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?’” That’s a lot to pack into one second of hummingbird wing movement. Of course, the only problem with this wonderful example – have millennials seen “Gone with the Wind”?  Maybe we need to find an example from “Wonder Woman.”

National Geographic, “Unlocking the Secrets Behind the Hummingbird’s Frenzy,” July 2017 Issue

Dr. Behar Ehdale, a surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering, was puzzled. He was telling patients who had prostate cancer that they didn’t need surgery, just monitoring. And they were going ahead and opting for the surgery anyway. What was going on? He consulted with a Harvard professor who taught him to apply negotiating techniques – but they didn’t call them that. Rather, they restructure the verbal advice to take into account how the patient heard the advice. Initially, physicians generally reviewed options with surgery as the first choice and active surveillance as the last. They flipped the order, so they started surveillance, then radiation and lastly surgery. Next, rather than saying “I’ll see you in six months,” which caused the patient to worry how much cancer could spread in six months, he would say that the cancer was growing very slowly and would normally be safe to be checked in five years, but that he would see them in six months. Further, he told the patient that they will get a rigorous program of MRIs, tests and biopsies.  They tested the approach and found the percentage of men who chose active surveillance rose 30%, which decreases the amount of surgery and the adverse side effects.  

The Wall Street Journal, “Bargaining With Cancer Patients About Treatment,” Sep. 2, 2017

There was a lot of discussion following killer hurricanes, Harvey and Irma, about what worked to encourage residents to evacuate. This is worth reading. The design firm, Ideo, worked with a New York City nonprofit to re-do a website that helps residents envision what could happen with flooding in their neighborhood. The critical finding, “fear based messages didn’t really work.” What did? Among other techniques, virtual reality goggles that allowed participants in the experiment to experience and envision what a flooded neighborhood would look like and experiment with how to re-do and protect their local environs.

Bloomberg Businessweek, “Giving New Yorkers a Real Feel For Flooding,” Sept. 25, 2017

Netflix Finds Humor in the Upside Down

  • Wildcard
  • September 22, 2017
  • by Laura Barnett

Stranger things

BIMBO Nominees for September 2017

  • Bimbo
  • September 8, 2017
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image a

Another month of rich examples! We have BIMBOs from the self-described co-founder of the Satanic Temple, a Berkley administrator, Houston pastor Joel Osteen, a creepy London businessman and a county official from the Rio Grande Valley with an example of when an official pronouncement intended to encourage calm created a panic. More mind-boggling examples of the Wrong Thing to Say from the wife of the Treasury Secretary and from the organizer of the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally. Many stupid and dangerous comments emerged from the firing of Google engineer James Damore. We have a great example from Outback Steakhouse on how to utilize humor. Finally, if a picture is worth a thousand words, check out what some Norwegians mistook a series of bus seats for. 


We thought we would choose a lighthearted winner this month. In this cartoon, which we first spotted in the Dallas Morning News, the mom comes up to the front porch, as one of her young children rushes to meet her, saying, “Before you come in, Billy told me to tell you there’s no reason to panic.” (Conclusion? Time to panic!) 

Bill Keane, “Family Circus,” Aug. 19, 2017


“This wasn’t about offending anyone… No politically correct efforts,” said ESPN in a long statement, trying to defend one of the most hilarious politically-correct stumbles of the year. In the wake of the violent protests in Charlottesville and the controversy at the University of Virginia with the decision to remove the statue of confederate general Robert E. Lee, ESPN pulled announcer Robert Lee, who is Asian-American, from covering the UVA game against William and Mary. ESPN president, John Skipper, then tried to defend the decision and attacked the Fox Sports announcer who reported the story, charging he had “hijacked” ESPN’s “good intentions.” (What to do when you mess up like this? First, try not to mess up. PR 101 would have told ESPN no one would have noticed that “Robert Lee” was calling a college game. Second, once foot is in mouth, do not swallow ankle up to knee. Fess up. “We overreacted, and Robert will be right where he belongs.”)

Townhall, “ESPN’s Robert Lee Belly-Flop,” Aug. 25, 2017

“I hope people acknowledge that being a party to the alternative right does not make me an evil Nazi,” said student Peter Cvjetanovic, who participated in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville that was met by a large counter protest. (Cvjetanovic admitted to marching with Neo-Nazis and Klansmen and was photographed with them in a picture that has become synonymous with the protest, his face contorted with rage. Cvjetanovic strikes us as more clueless than dangerous, but my mother used to say you’re known by the company you keep. He compounded the situation by insisting “Being pro-white doesn’t mean I’m anti-anyone else.” Well, yes, it does. Assignment: go read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech about judging people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. However, a good example came from Cvjetanovic’s school, the University of Nevada, Reno. The school’s president, Marc Johnson, issued a statement that they were not expelling the student; while they did not agree with him, he had a First Amendment rights.)

KNTV, “UNR Student Talks After Marching in Charlottesville White National Rally,” Aug. 14, 2017

“I’m a founder of the Satanic Temple. Don’t blame Satan for white supremacy,” stated the headline of a piece written by Lucien Greaves. (His gripe is that a number of politicians and evangelicals responded to the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville by identifying it as evil and attributing the cause to Satan. “As the co-founder of and spokesman for the Satanic Temple, I am naturally irritated by such comments.” Greaves said he believes in the kind of Satan the poet Milton wrote about. The scary thing is that the guy makes sense, but I still don’t think this is going to be a big seller.)

The Washington Post, “I’m a founder of the Satanic Temple. Don’t blame Satan for white supremacy,” Aug. 23, 2017

“We’re not looking for excuses to block anyone,” said Dan Mogulof, assistant vice chancellor for public affairs at Berkley after riots broke out to protest a planned speech by ultra-conservative writer, Milo Yiannopoulos (who is frequently described as a “provocateur”). Berkley’s idea of a welcome is to require eight weeks’ notice before a speaker appears. While it’s true that many lectures book months in advance, this rule is patently designed to discourage speakers who focus on the news of the day. Mogulof went on to say, “The exact opposite is true. We want to make sure that we have at our disposal every opportunity to ensure these events are safely and successfully held.” He should have stuck to that and skipped the BIMBO.)

The New York Times, “After Charlottesville Violence, Colleges Brace for More Clashes,” Aug. 16, 2017

As controversy continues with commentators calling President Trump a racist, Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, tweeted, “As the son of a holocaust survivor, I have no tolerance for #racism. Just because I support @POTUS @realdonaldtrump doesn’t make me a racist.” (In a bizarre attempt to bolster his point, he included several pictures of himself with African-Americans in his tweet. Face, meet palm. The word “racist” is being thrown around too much and it has lessened its definition and impact). 

Twitter, Aug. 16, 2017

“We have never closed our doors,” said Houston pastor, Joel Osteen. (Another example of overreaction: as Hurricane Harvey roared into Houston, Osteen’s Lakewood megachurch was collecting donations, but announced it was “inaccessible due to severe flooding.” While I’ve never been a fan of his “prosperity gospel,” we’re disappointed that people immediately started piling on charges that the church was shirking its duty because it wasn’t acting as a shelter. A critic took pictures allegedly showing the church was dry, but another blogger confirmed that part of the complex had taken on water. What should the pastor have said? “Our outreach and service efforts have always been open and they are the door to our Christian mission.” Notice the denial becomes the headline.)

PR Daily, “Houston pastor responds to Harvey criticism: ‘We have never closed our doors,’” Aug. 31, 2017

“I haven’t committed a crime here,” wrote a London businessman who had been approached though a Facebook page for London startups and entrepreneurs by an 18-year-old entrepreneur looking for recommendations for a mentor. (He responded by asking how old she was, if she was single and if she was open about her sexuality. A sign of how times have changed, she let him have it. She posted all his messages, which, naturally, generated a raft of criticism. Lesson? Nothing is private and anything you write can and most-likely will be posted on a public site.)

Shareably, “Woman Shares Creepy Screenshots of Businessman Hitting on Her When She Came To Him For Advice,” Aug. 17, 2017

“There is no gas shortage in the RGV,” tweeted Hidalgo County. Wrong thing to announce. Thousands of people rushed to gas stations to fill up, causing very long lines and – you guessed it – a gas shortage. Hundreds of stations ran out of gas. (What should they have announced? “The gas supply is sufficient. We call on Texans to think that it’s “business as usual.” If we all behave like this, we’ll be fine.” By claiming “no gas shortage,” it made everyone think of a gas shortage. To be fair, a QuikTrip spokesperson didn’t fare much better, calling into NBC DFW with the reassuring message of “Don’t panic.”), “No, the Rio Grande Valley is not running out of gasoline,” Aug. 28, 2017      


“We strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves,” wrote CEO Sundar Pichal. By now, Memo readers know about the Google engineer who attended a diversity training class and was so disillusioned that he wrote a 9000-word memo expressing his concern that Google was approaching the goal of diversity in a self-defeating way. The internal memo was naturally immediately leaked and generated howls from the left, women’s groups and from the company’s diversity officer. The engineer, James Damore, was fired. We’re writing about this, not to point out Damore’s comments, “I am not a sexist,” but to encourage readers to read The New York Times column by David Brooks on the subject. Brooks quotes The Atlantic writer, Conor Friedersdorf, “I cannot remember the last time so many outlets and observers mischaracterized so many aspects of a text everyone possessed.” Pronouncing judgment, Brooks says, “Various reporters and critics apparently decided that Damore opposes all things Enlightened People believe and therefore they don’t have to afford him the basic standards of intellectual fairness.” Back to CEO Pichal: Googlers can express themselves – IF they agree with the prevailing dogma. Otherwise, pack your bags. Brooks got it right.)

The Wall Street Journal, “Google Cancels Meeting on Diversity, Citing Safety Concerns for Employees,” Aug. 10, 2017

During the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville to protest the decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, a chaotic melee ensued where one of the alt-right attendees drove a car into a group of people, killing a young woman, Heather Heyer. Jason Kessler, the organizer of the rally, who is currently in hiding due to death threats, tweeted, “Heather Heyer was a fat, disgusting Communist. Communists have killed 94 million. Looks like it was payback time.” Before officially dropping off the map, Kessler seemed to reference that he did not send the tweet saying, “I repudiate the heinous tweet that was sent from my account last night.” In another twist, an anonymous hacker claimed to have sent the tweet, although it has not been verified. Regardless, it was truly terrible. (Not surprisingly, it generated a storm of outrage not just from the counter protestors but from the leaders of the self-styled alt-right groups. Our opinion is that if the media would stop paying attention to the few hundred people across the country, a far different picture would emerge. The American public is disgusted by the hateful and rejected speech of the Nazi and Klansmen movement.)

The Washington Post, “The man who organized the Charlottesville rally is in hiding—and too toxic for the alt-right,” Aug. 22, 2017

“Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? Either as an individual earner in taxes OR in self-sacrifice to your country?... Pretty sure that the amount we sacrifice per year is a lot more than you’d be willing to sacrifice if the choice was yours,” wrote Louise Linton, wife of Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, in response to a comment on her Instagram. (Linton was lashing out at criticism of a photo of herself that she had posted where she noted the designer of every expensive part of her outfit. Linton was accompanying her husband at an event where he was promoting tax reform, one plank of which is lower tax rates for high earners. Okay. What should she have said? First, it was total tone deafness to behave as if she were Princess Di; next, given the criticism of the Administration for having too many rich people, the wife’s role is to humanize her husband, not behave in a braggadocious manner.)

The Washington Post, “Louise Linton just spelled out her value system for you common folk,” Aug. 22, 2017


A Twitter user got creative and drew a series of pentagrams connecting Outback Steakhouses located around various cities with the caption “Wtf is Outback Steakhouse planning.” Naturally, the pictures went viral and other users joined in. Outback tweeted a picture of one of its signature Bloomin’ Onions on a map, adding “plot twist.” Another user joined in, tweeting “We’re on to you devil restaurant.” Outback replied, “If the Bloomin’ Onion is evil, then we don’t want to be nice.” The supportive user asked for $25 gift card and Outback obliged. Lesson: humor is an important business tool.

Inc., “Outback Steakhouse Kills Satanism Meme With a Single – and Hilarious – Tweet,” July 31, 2017   

“I’m not going to answer questions about a vacancy in the United States Senate, which presumes the finding of guilt by a jury, before anyone has heard one stitch of evidence. It’s not appropriate. I won’t engage in it,” said New Jersey Governor Chris Christie being asked about the upcoming trial of Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., for alleged federal corruption charges. (Christie, frequently not known for reticence, was being pressed to express an opinion after Dr. Salomon Melgen, Menendez’s friend and political patron, was found guilty on 67 counts of bribery and corruption. A very good example of how to say “no comment” with a comment.)

The New York Times, “At Senator Menendez’s Trial, Stakes Are High for Democrats,” Aug. 17, 2017

Hilarious is all we can say about a Norwegian right wing newsletter, “Fatherland First,” bemoaning what it supposed was a group of burka-wearing women. It was actually a row of empty bus seats. Rune Berglund Steen, from Norwegian Centre Against Racism, sagely observed, “People see what they want to see and what they want to see are dangerous Muslims. In a way it’s an interesting test of how quickly people can find confirmation of their own delusions.”

Middle East Eye, “‘Muslim terrorists’: Far right Norwegians mistake bus seats for burkas,” Aug. 2, 2017 

BIMBO Nominees for August 2017

  • Bimbo
  • August 2, 2017
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image d

We’re living in a target rich environment, and this month the BIMBOs keep coming. We dive into the power of a negative word with examples from Silicon Valley venture capitalist Dave McClure, New York City Council candidate Thomas Lopez-Pierre, the CEO of Qatar Airways, online boutique BelleChic and Walmart. More examples of The Wrong Thing to Say from Ann Coulter and an ill-advised promotional campaign from Silver Airlines based on OJ Simpson’s parole. New Hampshire hastily rewrote a piece of legislation that unwittingly legalized murder for pregnant women. Fortunately, we get a break at the end with a good example from Toyota. 


“No one within the Trump campaign colluded,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. With apologies to our friends in the White House, this is an example of how a word – “collude” – became the foundation for several stories surrounding the president’s son Donald Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner. The word permeated the stories and the headlines. (“I did not collude,” was The New York Times headline the day of Kushner’s appearance before a senate committee, and it was echoed by the Associated Press, “No Russia collusion, Trump son-in-law Kushner tells Congress.” This illustrates the power of a negative word to drive a story. Note the word kept the story alive for two weeks. What should they have said? “All of my actions were appropriate and above board.”)

USA Today, “Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russian lawyer draws scrutiny of Congress,” July 10, 2017


“I’m not Steve Bannon,” said now-fired White House Communications Director, Anthony Scaramucci. This was the only comment we can respectfully reprint in the Memo. In a long rant, Scaramucci unloaded a profanity-laced series of comments. He later defended himself saying he made a mistake by trusting the reporter and that he was using “colorful language.” (No; I speak as the former Director of Media Relations for President Reagan and part of the communications team, and these were out-of-bounds comments. Scaramucci obscured the administration’s policy discussions during a week where healthcare was in a sink-or-swim situation on Capitol Hill. Plus, what did he think The New Yorker reporter would do? Write admiring comments about Trump? This is communications 101. Lastly, note that deadlines and traditional publishing schedules are gone. The New Yorker writer published his story of the Scaramucci phone call the same night. The winners? Headline writers who got a reason to publish normally out-of-bounds curse words – albeit with dashes.)

The New Yorker, “Anthony Scaramucci Called Me To Unload About White House Leaker, Reince Priebus And Steve Bannon,” July 27, 2017

“I’m not here about some cockamamie legacy that people talk about,” said California Governor Jerry Brown, announcing legislation extending the state’s cap-and-trade program and increasing penalties. (This is the third place winner because Brown also proclaimed to the senate committee that it “is the most important vote of your life” and if lawmakers don’t act it will be “a threat to organized human existence.” Normally, we like bold claims, but this was beyond believability.)

Los Angeles Times, “Gov.  Jerry Brown says the existence of humanity rests on his climate change deal,” July 13, 2017

“I am not a member of the deep state. I am not big government,” wrote a former employee of the Interior Department, Joel Clement, claiming he had been reassigned from his position as director of the Office of Policy Analysis at the U.S. Interior Department to senior adviser at the department’s Office of Natural Resources and Revenue as retribution for claiming that global warming is threatening coastal Alaskan Native American villages. (This is a window on the issues of free speech and job protection and the ability of an administration to have staff that supports their agenda. We agree with Clements who wrote, “Removing a civil servant from his area of expertise and putting him in a job where he’s not needed and his experience is not relevant is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars.”

The Washington Post, “I’m a scientist. I’m blowing the whistle on the Trump administration,” July 19, 2017

“I will not be resigning,” said Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, reacting to protestors who took over a press conference announcing the resignation of Minneapolis police chief, Janee Harteau, after a police officer shot and killed a woman, Justine Damond, who had called 911 to report a potential attack or rape in the alley behind her house. Mayor Hodges has long been criticized in the past for her handling of police issues. Protestors took over Mayor Hodges’ press conference, making national news and calling for the Mayor’s resignation. She should have said, “I will serve my term and the citizens of Minneapolis.”

The New York Times, “Minneapolis Police Chief Forced Out After Fatal Shooting of Australian Woman,” July 21, 2017


“I’m a creep,” said Dave McClure, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist who resigned after reports became public that he had propositioned a woman applying for a position at his firm. (This guy needs some serious self-awareness, writing on his company website that he had “Not assaulted anyone (that I’m aware of.)”  A partner at McClure’s firm, Elizabeth Yin, also resigned after it came out the company had covered up a separate instance of harassment by McClure. Another woman posted a comment that she had been propositioned by McClure and that “If someone uses their power as a VC to make repeated sexual, physical advances on women in a professional context, that goes way beyond being a creep.” We agree. We wonder if these guys get it yet.)

The New York Times, “A Backlash Builds Against Sexual Harassment in Silicon Valley,” July 3, 2017

“After discussion with my Jewish supporters, I have agreed to NO longer use the words ‘Greedy Jewish Landlords,’” tweeted New York City Council candidate Thomas Lopez-Pierre just a few weeks ago. He continues to unearth his own bad words. (In April, he first used the phrase “greedy Jewish landlord,” asserting they were using money from Israel to conduct an “ethnic cleansing” of black and Latino residents in Harlem. It’s clear he doesn’t care who he offends. When asked about the response of the Jewish community he said “Too bad. I don’t care…Only now am I realizing that Jewish people can’t seem to separate themselves from each other. An attack on greedy Jewish landlords is perceived to be an attack on all Jews. And you know what? Too bad.” We really have no advice for this guy. We’re amazed he has any Jewish supporters.

Haaretz, “This NYC Politician Says Blasting ‘Greedy Jewish Landlords’ Doesn’t Make Him an anti-Semite,” April 30, 2017 

“So there is no need for you to travel on these crap American carriers from Ireland. You know you will always be served by grandmothers on American airlines,” said Qatar Airways CEO, Akbar Al Baker, at an industry conference. (Al Baker’s comments made national news. So what did he expect? He insulted American companies, flight attendants and customers. Besides the sexist nature of the comments, Qatar Airways is trying to buy 10 percent of American Airlines. These comments guarantee thousands of letters to the regulators urging them to veto the purchase. So, it’s stupid business. Al Baker did apologize the next day, but it was so mealy-mouthed we won’t bother quoting it here. Jill Surdek, vice president of flight service at American, used the opportunity to do a great job getting American’s message out, saying “Our flight attendants are hired for their professionalism, dedication to safety and commitment to our customers. The result is that we have the absolute best trained, most dedicated and friendliest flight attendants in the business.” Thumbs up, American. Thumbs down, Qatar.)

Dallas Business Journal, “American Airlines blasts Qatar Airways CEO’s granny comments as ‘sexist and ageist,’” July 11, 2017

When does “glitter” turn into “Hitler?” When you choose the wrong font for your shopping bag. See the pictures for yourself. (The shopping bag says “My favorite color is glitter,” but it reads “My favorite color it Hitler” because of the font. Mistakes happen, but the problem is that the store, BelleChic, hasn’t acknowledged the problem, only changed the font of the bag after several days and isn’t responding to tweets.)

Mashable, “Poorly designed tote bag shows exactly why fonts are EXTREMELY important,” July 25, 2017

“Don’t lose your chance to escape your prison-like day-to-day routine with our liberating deals,” said Silver Airlines, launching a promotion to coincide with OJ Simpson’s parole hearing and release from jail. They added “The only bars you might see are the kinds serving frozen margaritas and piña-coladas.” More problematic were the lines, “With deals so hot, you’ll need to wear gloves to nab them,” and that they were going “to slash” prices, references to the main themes in OJ’s murder trial. (So, is this outrageous? Or brilliant marketing? Response seemed to be split. Some people loved it, and some hated it. We’re in the latter group, but since marketing is supposed to separate you from the competition, the real test is, did it work? It certainly got Silver noticed.)

USA Today, “Silver Airways offers ‘Bust out the OJ’ deal after OJ Simpson granted parole,” July 22, 2017

Showing the power of a word, at least in legislation, New Hampshire lawmakers passed a bill that would allow pregnant mothers to take legal action if their fetus was killed in an auto accident or other incident, but by exempting women from “any act” they unwittingly legalized murder. (The legislature’s House minority leader responded with a BIMBO, saying “No one advocated for anyone to murder anyone.” He should have said “We’re fixing a technical glitch to create a safe harbor for pregnant women.”)

The Hill, “New Hampshire fixes law that accidentally allowed pregnant women to commit murder,” June 23, 2017


When conservative provocateur Ann Coulter was summarily moved from the airline seat she had reserved, she took to Twitter to attack Delta as “the worst airline in America,” and called flight attendants “Nurse Ratchets,” referencing the drill sergeant-like nurse in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Delta responded in kind, criticizing Coulter and defending its own: “Each of our employees is charged with treating each other as well as our customers with dignity and respect, and we hold each other accountable when that does not happen. Delta expects mutual civility throughout the entire travel experience.” Our take? Again, what’s the goal and who’s the audience? Coulter tweeted a picture of the woman put in her seat – and we think that’s beyond the pale. There’s no indication that the woman passenger had any role in moving Coulter. So, first take? This was a disaster, but as one of the experts commenting on the debate noted, Coulter wants attention. That’s her stock in trade, and by that measure, she got it.

Fortune, “Here’s why Delta’s Response to Ann Coulter Was Perfect According to PR Experts,” July 17, 2017

Walmart took heat when a third party posted an ad for a wig on its marketplace and listed the color as “n---- brown.” We experience this issue with a number of industries, particularly construction. A sub-contractor can cause an accident or reportable incident, but the general contractor’s name is on the construction site, so the media reports always name the main contractor. Walmart handled the criticism as well as possible. They reacted quickly, apologized – even though it wasn’t their fault at all, expressed emotion by declaring themselves “appalled” and promised to investigate and report back.

The Washington Post, “Walmart blasted after an online ad includes the n-word,” July 18, 2017


Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota North America, hosted the grand opening of Toyota’s brand new, two million square foot campus in Plano (North Dallas). He talked about the need to be “one Toyota” noting, “I think any time you have a sales culture and a manufacturing culture, they are very different.” But what really caught our attention was his articulation that they needed to be a more nimble, mobility focused company rather than just an automaker. “How we define success is how well we take care of our customers, how quickly we can make decisions, and how quickly we can come to market with new ideas.” Amen! Some years ago, we worked with Easton Bell Sports and their CEO preached that they needed to be an “innovation” company rather than a manufacturer of sporting equipment. Great interview! And great strategic positioning!

The Dallas Morning News, “See Toyota’s new huge Plano campus, from climbing wall to convenience store,” July 6, 2017 

BIMBO Nominees for July 2017

  • Bimbo
  • July 7, 2017
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image b

This month we have BIMBOs from a trucking association, Deputy Attorney General Ron Rosenstein, an executive for a Korean manufacturing company, Republican congressional candidate Karen Handel, and former Irving (Texas) Mayor Herb Gears. Uber and Lyft also make the cut. More examples from HBO host Bill Maher and students at Washington’s Evergreen State College. Several examples of how a name determines what we think (Shakespeare was wrong), and of the danger of saying one thing externally and another internally. And we close with a charming note from the magnificent Halekulani Hotel in Honolulu.


“I don’t think I’m an a—hole,” said now-departed Uber CEO Travis Kalanick in a long cover story in Fortune. (Kalanick dug his own grave. First he mentioned, the “meme that founder-CEOs have to be a—holes to be successful,” then stating “I think there’s a question out there, is he an a—hole? You’ve spent time with me and one of the big questions you’re going to get is ‘Is he an a—hole?’ …Or am I an a—hole? I’d love to know.” Answer: yes. With all the people who could have given him good advice, he should have understood that you build a great company by engaging people, not antagonizing them.)

Fortune, “Riding Shotgun With Uber CEO Travis Kalanick,” May 18, 2017  


“I am not stonewalling,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a Congressional hearing. (This is a classic BIMBO. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., baited Sessions, saying “The American people have had it with stonewalling.” While Sessions declined to answer specific questions about on-going investigations, he took the bait and repeated the word back. He followed up with, “I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice.” This situation was tailor-made for our trademarked technique of acknowledging the question. Sessions could have responded to the charge of stonewalling with “On the contrary,” and then picked up his point that DOJ does not comment on ongoing investigations. Unfortunately, he fell into the trap of denying the negative word—note that the word Sen. Wyden introduced became the headline.)

The Washington Post, “Sessions to Wyden in testy exchange: ‘I am not stonewalling,’” June 13, 2017

“We are in Texas, but we’re not rednecks,” said Todd DeGidio about his Ox Ranch where people can drive M4 Sherman tanks and fire live ammunition, the only such site in the country. (DeGidio, a former Green Beret, retired Houston Police pilot and founder of, said the idea is to “have fun.” As a participant in the 1989 Joint Chiefs Orientation trip where we got to drive Bradley Fighting vehicles, I have to agree he’s right. If only his quote had stopped there.)

The Dallas Morning News, “Tourists are flocking to ranch to ride a Leopard,” June 12, 2017

“We’re not trying to wash our hands of this issue,” said John Taylor for LG Electronics. (The issue was a front page article on short-term drivers who are a forgotten and allegedly exploited link in today’s global supply chain. The article tracked what sounds like egregious exploitation techniques, such as renting trucks to drivers but repossessing the truck and keeping all its value if a driver falls behind in payments. Industry representatives were astonishingly honest: Weston LeBar, executive director of the Harbor Trucking Association, said, “I’m not going to say there were no violations out there,” but he insisted they were “unintentional.” Ouch. Hey guys, time to get intentional and address the issues raised in the media.)

USA Today, “Rigged,” June 16, 2017

“There is no secret plan,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about rumors that he might fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller or that President Trump might order him to do so. (This is another example where it’s best to stick to positive messages and resist the temptation to express them in the negative. Rosenstein said, “I am not going to follow any order unless it’s a lawful order,” which he could have expressed, “I will follow lawful orders.” His important comment, “I appointed him, I stand by that decision and I will defend the integrity of that investigation,” should have been the headline.)

USA Today, “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein says there’s no cause to fire Mueller,” June 13, 2017

“We’re not this evil, Korean company in the shadows battling against the U.S. company,” said Jason Kuhn, vice president of Nautilus Hyosung America, an ATM manufacturer. (Great example of using the media as part of a business dispute. Nautilus Hyosung and Diebold Nixdorf are battling each other through the International Trade Commission over a patent dispute. Diebold had enlisted local, North Carolina congressmen to write to the ITC and release the letters to the media. Their strategy is to characterize Nautilus as foreign, Asian and sinister—and, Nautilus fell right into their trap. Of course, Nautilus should have promoted its own job creation and the value of competition. Plus, although the company is based in Korea, they have been in the U.S. since 1998 and operate a plant in Irving, Texas. As a DFW company, there would have been plenty of people to step forward to defend them. Note the quote became the headline.)

Greensboro News & Record, “‘We’re not evil,’ ATM maker asserts,” June 9, 2017

“I do not support a livable wage,” said Republican congressional candidate Karen Handel in a debate against Democrat Jon Ossoff. (This was the marquee special election this summer for the seat that had been held by now-Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Handel pulled it off – no thanks to her communications. Ossoff set up the exchange saying, “The minimum wage should be a living wage,” which is a reasonable sounding name created by progressives. Handel rightly noted that this was a “fundamental difference between a liberal and a conservative,” but she then parroted their language. She did say she supported a competitive economy, lower taxes, less regulation and that small businesses would be hurt by higher mandates but the BIMBO became the headline.)

East Cobb Patch, “‘I Do Not Support A Livable Wage,’ Handel Says In Georgia’s 6th District Debate,” June 8, 2017

“We are not dying,” said J. Herbert Nelson II, clerk of the Presbyterian Church USA. (I’m one of the frozen chosen, and Nelson needs to read up on communication techniques. He did claim, “We are reforming,” but it’s crowded out by the “dying” comment. He went on to say, “despite cries proclaiming the death of the Presbyterian Church, we remain a viable interfaith and ecumenical partner in any local communities while proclaiming a prophetic witness throughout the world.” Too defensive, and also, not true. The article pointed out that the denomination has lost a third of its active membership since 2005. Why? A stress on social issues rather than local, person-to-person mission work. Once again, the BIMBO comment became the headline.)

Juicy Ecumenism, “As Losses Mount, Presbyterian Official Declares: ‘We are not dying, we are Reforming,’” May 24 2017

“I’m not ashamed one bit of that political mailing,” said former Irving (Texas) Mayor Herbert Gears. His literature depicted one of his opponents as a drug addict, a thief and someone who had been evicted from a foreclosed house. None of those charges was true. (I cannot think of what the former mayor should have said. When caught putting out false allegations, the current political thinking seems to welcome being outed.)

The Dallas Morning News, “Former mayor of Irving admits he’s behind a terrible anonymous mailer,” June 22, 2017

“This is not a joke,” said Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty Executive Vice President Pete Ryan about a house featured on HGTV’s wildly-popular show “Fixer Upper” selling for $950,000. Big deal? It’s a one bedroom, one bath house in Waco, Texas. (Adding insults, he continued, “This is not just a house that’s 1,000 square feet that’s stuck down in the middle of nowhere.” Oh my! He should have said, “This is a serious price,” and “It’s in a prime, one-of-a-kind location.” Please, someone, tell them to call us.)

The Dallas Morning News, “Yes, a 1-bedroom house in Waco is selling for $950,000, and it’s all about ‘Fixer Upper,’” June 22, 2017      

“This isn’t a time to gloat,” wrote the founders of Lyft in a company-wide email. (The company was reacting to Uber’s problems, including the CEO’s resignation. The sentiment is understandable but they should have written, “This is a time to focus on our business and continue to build relationships with our customers.” Note the comment became the headline.)

The Wall Street Journal, “Lyft’s Goal: Gain From Uber’s Stumbles Without Gloating,” June 22, 2017


“Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house n----,” said HBO host Bill Maher in a discussion with Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska (Sasse was on the show to plug his new book, “The Vanishing Adult,” and Maher offered how adults in California still dress up for Halloween. Sasse said that didn’t happen in Nebraska and invited Maher to Nebraska saying, “You’re welcome [to come]. We’d love to have you work in the fields with us.” Maher replied with the above comment, generating outcry across the political spectrum. One alt-right commentator and activist, Jack Posobiec, criticized the senator for allegedly endorsing the use of the n-word. However, Sasse was clearly not making a reference to slavery. Maher did apologize the next day – decently so, in our opinion. But what should the senator have done? He probably was so shocked that he didn’t know how to react. When someone uses a wildly inappropriate word or comment, what’s the right thing to do? We don’t want to appear prudish or as if we are lecturing, but we also don’t want to appear to agree. The appropriate thing is to shake your head ruefully and say, “I can’t approve the use of that word/comment, and I’ll bet you don’t really mean it anyway,” then move on. Senator Sasse did later address the incident via Twitter, “I’m a 1st Amendment absolutist. Comedians get latitude to cross hard lines. But free speech comes with a responsibility to speak up when folks use that word. Me cringing last night wasn’t good enough. The history of the n-word is an attack on universal human dignity. It’s therefore an attack on the American Creed. Don’t use it.”)

The New York Times, “Bill Maher Apologizes for Use of Racial Slur on ‘Real Time,’” June 3, 2017

“What it shows is, it’s much more likely there’ll be more talking,” said Uber board member and billionaire David Bonderman during an employee meeting about claims of harassment and discrimination toward women at the company. Fellow board member Arianna Huffington was pitching the benefits of adding another woman to the board. His response came after her comment, “There’s a lot of data that shows when there’s one woman on the board, it’s much more likely that there will be a second woman on the board.” (Bonderman was forced to resign and apologize. This falls into the genre of stupid comments. The whole meeting was to publically address complaints from women at the company. Bonderman should have commented that he looked forward to seeing Huffington’s recommendations.)

The Washington Post, “David Bonderman resigns from Uber board after making joke about women at company event on sexual harassment,” June 13, 2017

Minority students at Evergreen State College in Washington protested and yelled profanities about Professor Bret Weinstein who questioned the school’s request to have white people leave campus to illustrate diversity. In the past, many African-American students left campus for A Day of Absence to hold discussion groups and rallies. We can’t reprint the students’ language because there are so many swear words. Another lesson from this is that multiple videos trickled out illustrating the students’ comments and showing the school’s president caving to students’ demands to be let out of homework – so they can continue rampaging. (This incident is one of many documented over the past year. The administrator or president who civilly but emphatically says, “Enough, you’re here to study. Expression is welcome but profanities and intimidation are not tolerated,” will be a hero.)

CNN, “Classes at Washington college cancelled again amid threats,” June 5, 2017


Remember the “pink slime” case? That was what ABC called what the beef industry labels “lean finely textured beef,” the results of new technology to extract morsels of beef from beef trimmings that would have previously been wasted. ABC ran a story on the product, claiming it was “sprayed with ammonia,” a wild overstatement. They just reached a settlement. The real issue here for us is that ABC didn’t reveal that the “pink slime” nomenclature came from a food activist hoping to put the company out of business. It did cause cancellation of orders and the layoff of 700 workers. ABC may well prevail but it’s an illustration of how the media can produce a story with a very damaging, highly-polarized point of view.

The Wall Street Journal, “‘Pink Slime’ Food-Libel Defamation Trial Set to Begin,” June 4, 2017

Illustrating the importance of a name, Britain tried to reform entitlements by providing greater subsidies for the elderly, but required that wealthier beneficiaries apply some of the value of their homes to their cost of care. You’d think this would be a no-brainer for the Left but they promptly dubbed this a “dementia tax” and it was doomed. (Similarly, the so-called “bathroom bills” in a number of state legislatures should be viewed as an issue for young teenagers and locker rooms. Naming them bathroom bills lost public support because people had a mental picture of the rows of stalls in public bathrooms.)

The Wall Street Journal, “How Theresa May Led the Tories Astray,” June 6, 2017


Mylan makes EpiPens, the must-have treatment for life threatening allergic reactions, and the company has been criticized for raising the price from a few dollars to over six hundred. Stories trickled out about the company’s executives using the f-word and similar gestures to respond to internal warnings that the huge price increases could bring regulators’ ire and negative public opinion. This reaction is totally at odds with language on the company’s website, “We put people and patients first, trusting that profits will follow.” If/when Congress removes the prohibition for the federal government to negotiate drug prices, EpiPen will be Exhibit A justifying congressional action.

The New York Times, “Outcry Over EpiPen Prices Hasn’t Made Them Lower,” June 4, 2017

Investor and Sears Chairman Edward Lampert maintained that the venerable retailer can stay in business and prosper and that it is moving forward with its strategic plan, but in a March filing with the SEC the company said there was “substantial doubt” about whether it can survive.

The Washington Post, “The Big Missteps That Brought An American Retailer icon To The Edge Of Collapse,” June 5, 2017

Is the opposite of discombobulated–as Elvis would say, “I’m all shook up”–recombobulated? The TSA seems to think so. We caught wind of this through a recent tweet, but apparently this sign has been in the Mitchell airport for some time. They have posted signs for “recombobulation area” instead of the redressing area. We guess they don’t like to be reminded that they’re stripping people down. 

OnMilwaukee, “Mitchell airport boasts world’s only 'recombobulation area' signs," May 21, 2017


Recently, we were at the Halekulani Hotel in Honolulu for a wonderful experience. Besides the service, accommodations and great stories, Halekulani has a very nice tradition of enclosing notes of nice sentiment with a meal, or on paper just to say hello. I brought one home to put on my desk: “‘We do not remember days, we remember moments,’ Cesare Pavese, May your Halekulani moments bring you back to our house befitting heaven.” 

First it was Interviews via Skype, now Emojis

  • Trends
  • June 23, 2017
  • by Merrie Spaeth


We started training people for job interviews as a lesser known, but core specialty, years ago. The techniques are remarkably similar to interviews with media.

Our efforts started in the mid-90s, when one of our clients, now the CEO of a very large company, called and asked us to work with a manager who had a great operational track record but had blown four successive interviews for internal advancement. Fast forward a few more years and we started training people to interview direct-to-camera. Right behind those needs, came opportunities to interview via Skype, Google Hangout and other channels. And of course we know employers are scouring Facebook and other social media to determine a candidate’s worthiness.

What’s next? According to The Wall Street Journal, interviewing by text! Employers are using messaging apps like Canvas for text-based job interviews. The apps ask such penetrating questions like “What motivates you?” and then the software analyzes responses, presumably via algorithms, and produces a pictorial thumbs up or thumbs down.

While we admit to being dubious about this newest development, we guess it’s onward and upward, and most importantly, to always be prepared for the latest trends. What’s problematic? Emojis. One applicant included a smiley face, which promptly ended the exchange.     

The Worst Jobs in 2017 (Spoiler Alert: An Opportunity for Public Relations)

  • Trends
  • June 14, 2017
  • by Merrie Spaeth

Old-timey journalist

It’s official, at least according to HR Magazine, the monthly publication from the highly influential Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM.)  The No. 1 “worst job” is newspaper reporter, followed by broadcaster. 

The first reaction of many of us in the public relations field is to chortle and think, “serves them right,” but that would be a mistake and result in a missed opportunity.

First, the reasons behind the ranking: CareerCast used a broad range of criteria: income, job growth outlook, working environment and stress to measure which jobs were “most appealing” and those that were “unappealing.” (The headline writer obligingly supplied the “best” and “worst” summary.) Those of us who rub up against the media regularly and are obsessive followers of media trends have no trouble figuring it out.  All of us know highly talented broadcasters from prestigious journalism programs and universities working for $25,000 a year – or less - in “starter” markets from which they might never emerge given criteria number two, job growth outlook. Our estimate is that the last decade has seen a reduction of approximately 50 percent in reporting and producing jobs in news media. Everybody knows where they’ve gone: websites, blogs, social media and a fake news diaspora. All these trends are stressful indeed. Every week brings news of more layoffs or downsizings in the media. While there has always been heavy emphasis on getting a story rather than just facts—and getting it first—we think the trend has intensified over the last decade.

Although the survey separated newspaper reporter and broadcaster, we know that the line between the two media is blurred and all-but-disappearing. Reporters for my local paper, the Dallas Morning News, are expected to do a 90-second iPhone interview and post pictures that support their story. Venerable print publications like The Wall Street Journal carry as many videos as they can. An interview on Fortune TV is considered as important as a full profile in the magazine – and a lot less time consuming for the interviewer and executive.

PR professionals should use the news to further our mission. Let’s reach out to industry or beat reporters (who are also disappearing as quickly as rain puddles in a Texas summer) to commiserate and assure them that we value their role and mission and volunteer to supply industry or company news, scan trade publications and share newsletters (highlighted for key points).

PR staff members are also highly likely to follow analyst calls, industry conferences and other frequently neglected sources of information. We can convert ourselves into the eyes and ears of our associates in the media and spot what they no longer have time to research.

We are also much more likely to pour over news reports and spot incorrect facts or conclusions. If we resist the temptation to sound superior and maintain an attitude that conveys we empathize with a topic’s complexity, we can pass along fact-checking nuggets. Years ago, when I was Director of Public Affairs for one of the main Washington regulatory agencies, The New York Times reporter used to check regularly to make sure he understood the implications of a case or ruling.

We confess to some reservations about this list. The other three “worst” jobs are logger, enlisted military personnel and pest control worker. We understand there may not be a rush to any of those fields, but the No. 1 “best” job was statistician. As a Columbia Business School graduate, I can assure you that the personnel pool in this rating was heavily skewed to finance and the definition of working environment in the list of criteria should be re-examined. Other “best” jobs were medical services manager, operations research analyst, information security analyst and data scientist.

Years ago, Texas Monthly, the highly-regarded, Austin-based monthly magazine whose articles and writers have won every award in the field, had a “best” and “worst” article. One of the worst jobs was chicken de-sexer (and I admit that I’ve forgotten the details of the job) and another was “living in Wichita Falls.” A successful businessman in Wichita Falls was outraged and hired us. We arranged a speech to a business group in Austin and invited the Texas Monthly staff. The speech gave us new challenges in using humor, but our client pulled it off. The magazine ran a nice piece about citizen enthusiasm and can-do spirit in Wichita Falls.

We’re sharing this poll in hopes of reaching out to our colleagues in the media since, in the end, we’re all in the communication business.   

The Definition of a Friend

  • Crisis
  • June 14, 2017
  • by Merrie Spaeth

Christopher ruddy

Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of NewsMax, appeared on PBS Monday night and was described as a “friend” of President Trump’s. He dropped the bombshell that the president was considering firing Robert Mueller, the just-appointed Special Counsel, charged with investigating a widening array of allegations that started with whether the Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Headlines resulted with the key words “friend” and “firing” propagating themselves like mosquitos in humid weather.

The White House was reported to be “taken by surprise.” We bet they were. What’s really going on here? Even The New York Times made it clear that Ruddy didn’t know what he was talking about. The hints are in the rest of the news reports. Political and news celebrities like former-Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh have grown concerned that Mueller’s friendship with dismissed FBI Chief James Comey, whom Mueller preceded at the Bureau, and the legal team Mueller was assembling were pre-ordained to find President Trump guilty of – well, something. Anything!

It is true that the president threw fuel on the debate with his ill-considered comment about “hoping there aren’t tapes.” 1-800-call-Watergate. No answer? Mention firing the Special Counsel. Ruddy is trying to signal to the president that if he does recommend and obtain the dismissal of the Special Counsel, voices will be there to defend him. Except things like this never stand still, the president can be expected to continue to react to every little thing via Twitter. Let’s urge the news reports to identify Christopher Ruddy as a “former friend.”

Calling Out What’s Fake

  • Trends
  • June 13, 2017
  • by Spaeth Communications


Check out Merrie’s take on the subject featured in the Daily Signal ("This Altercation in Texas Exposes the Heart of Fake News") as she breaks down the actual events surrounding recent “news” about a physical fracas on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives, which reported that Republican Rep. Matt Rinaldi confronted a Democrat and engaged in aggressive verbal back-and-forth. Lessons abound for all regardless of your political affiliation making this a must-read for those seeking the truth beyond the headlines.

BIMBO Nominees for June 2017

  • Bimbo
  • June 6, 2017
  • by Spaeth Communications

Bimbo blog image h

This month our top two BIMBOs are international, demonstrating the global temptation to repeat and deny negatives. Additional BIMBOs from a Preakness trainer, a Harvard graduate and an Arizona sheriff. A BIMBO plus a great prop from West Virginia’s governor and more examples from Stephen Colbert, a Yale college dean, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and a former Clinton campaign staffer.


“I do not want the public to feel unduly alarmed,” said U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May in the aftermath of an ISIS attack where a suicide bomber detonated an explosive as an Ariana Grande concert was letting out in Manchester, England. (This is a classic BIMBO where the speaker wanted to reassure the public but achieved the opposite. Like the nurse who says, “This won’t hurt,” you know it will. In the same remarks, the prime minister also said, “It is a possibility we cannot ignore that there is a wider group of individuals linked to this attack.” So there are more people out there ready to do even more harm? She should have stuck to comments assuring the public that the government and law enforcement were determined to bring the perpetrators to justice.)

The New York Times, “Terror Alert in Britain Is Raised to Maximum as ISIS Claims Manchester Attack,” May 23, 2017


“I did not buy anyone’s silence,” said Brazilian President Michael Temer responding to transcripts published in the newspaper O Globo that appeared to show Temer encouraging a corporate executive to continue making payments to another politician implicated in the corruption and bribery scandals engulfing the country. (To compound the impact of the denial, the president repeated it, adding, “I will not resign. I did not buy anyone’s silence.” The minute someone says that, you know resignation is in the offing, and that the charges have some validity. He should have changed the subject and said, “My total focus is on restoring the country’s economy and piloting us through this difficult time.”)

The Wall Street Journal, “Brazilian Graft Probe Targets President, Markets Drop Amid Impeachment Talk,” May 19, 2017

“I don’t feel our numbers are any worse than anyone else’s, not at all,” said Liane Hornsey, Uber’s new human resources chief executive, in reference to the just-released diversity statistics for the company. (Ouch. Given the bad publicity about the lack of diversity, particularly in the executive ranks of  Silicon Valley companies, that’s not a great claim. Particularly disturbing is that Hornsey as the new top HR officer presumably should understand how to communicate with various audiences. She did go on to praise CEO Travis Kalanick, calling him “more open to diversity,” noting “We have drivers who have become employees” and that “They don’t just hire from the most elite schools.” Even these comments were unclear, raising the issue of  anecdotes. Does the speaker point to Mary So-and-So as an example or does that look like tokenism? This seems like a good opportunity to launch an employee engagement initiative – but those have to be truly voluntary and transparent or they backfire.)

USA Today, “Uber got off to a slow start on driving diversity. Can it catch up?” May 25, 2017

“This is not a protest, this is not a demonstration,” said Kevin Livingston, the president of 100 Suits for 100 Men, a nonprofit that outfits parolees to prepare them for job interviews. The “not a protest” took place on Park Avenue in Manhattan across from the NFL offices in support of Colin Kaepernick. (Of course it was a protest and demonstration. Why has Kaepernick not been signed to a team? This article by Jay Maxson quoting columnist Christine Brennen sheds light on it. Kaepernick’s decision to “take a knee” is far less damaging than the accusations of violence and assault, but his friends have elevated him to be the “next race hustler,” and team owners have watched what groups like Black Lives Matter can do and how they take offense at any deviation from their own agenda. As for Kaepernick, he’s doing everything right. He’s participating in non-profits like 100 Suits—which is what sparked Livingston’s support for him, he’s visiting school children. He’s giving inspirational speeches where he doesn’t mention the “knee.”  The columnists who have advised his “friends” to back off and let Kaepernick keep doing his thing – without them – are right. Sometimes you can love something to death.)

USA Today, “Colin Kaepernick supporters gather in New York for ‘show of solidarity,’” May 24, 2017

“It’s not a two horse race,” said trainer of Preakness contender Classic Empire the day before the race about speculation of the match-up with Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming. The media jumped in writing, “Anytime a trainer of one of the favorites says it’s not a two horse race, you can bet it’s probably a two horse race.” (Who was it who said, “Never make predictions, especially about the future?” Cloud Computing – the horse, not a division of Oracle – won.)

USA Today, “Always Dreaming, Classic Empire could make Preakness a two-horse race,” May 18, 2017

“This is not about segregation,” said Harvard graduate student Michael Huggins about the university’s first all-black graduation ceremony. (Huggins went on to say, “It’s about fellowship and building a community.” So far, OK. It’s not clear whether participating students were skipping or boycotting the traditional graduation, but then another student, Courtney Woods, explained, “Harvard’s institutional foundation is in direct conflict with the needs of black students. There is a legacy of slavery, epistemic racism and colonization at Harvard which was an institution founded to train rising imperialist leaders.” Woods sounds woefully ignorant of the history of her own university, which was founded to educate clergy. Unfortunately she also missed the opportunity to highlight what she felt were the positive aspects of an all-black graduation ceremony building upon Huggins' second positive quote.)

The Washington Times, “Harvard to host first all-black graduation: ‘This is not about segregation,’” May 9, 2017

“I know my people did nothing wrong. I did not,” whined legendary sheriff Joe Arpaio. He lost a re-election campaign last fall and is awaiting trial on charges that he defied a federal judge’s order not to single out Latinos for traffic stops. (There is a lesson here. Sheriff Arpaio began to believe his own press releases and became a media star. His successor, Paul Penzone, a former Phoenix police sergeant, is keeping a low profile while he re-invents the sheriff’s office and mission. As for doing “nothing wrong,” Sheriff Arpaio capitalized on the frustration that many Americans feel about people entering the country without documentation but he failed to watch the environment changing around him, and paid the price.)

The New York Times, “Since Ouster, Sheriff Arpaio Has Lots of Time, but Not for Regrets,” May 23, 2017


“We need to be able to not strangle our state into just oblivion,” said West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, a Democrat, in vetoing the budget presented by Republican lawmakers. As he did so, the governor lifted the lid off a silver platter piled high with fresh manure spread across the budget. (Great theater and great prop. The governor, a successful businessman with no political background, won with multiple references to his friend Donald Trump, an unusual campaign tactic, and reversed his campaign rhetoric by proposing sweeping new sales and business taxes. We have a number of issues with the governor’s policies and rhetoric – not the least that his comment about strangling the state is close to incomprehensible, but we cannot tolerate his description of the Republican State Senate Majority Leader, Ryan Ferns, as “a poodle.” This vilification of a noble breed must stop. Poodles are smart, have a good sense of humor, are quick learners and—unlike most politicians—they don’t shed.)

The New York Times, “West Virginia’s Governor, an ‘Unusual Democrat,’ Fights a G.O.P Tide,” May 1, 2017


“White Trash” and “low class folks” were descriptions June Chu, Yale University Dean of Pierson College, used in reviews of local New Haven businesses on Yelp. She also described employees at one establishment as “barely educated morons,” and wrote, “seriously I don’t care if you would ‘lose your job’ (I am sure McDonalds will hire you).” Dean Chu’s views were outed by the Yale Daily News (nice to see a student newspaper doing truly balanced reporting). Recall that this is the same university that forced out Erika Christakis, whose crime was urging people to be tolerant of Halloween customs they didn’t like. Three days later, Pierson College Head Stephen Davis was back on email informing students that Chu had opined on far more than the two posts she owned up to. She had “multiple reprehensible posts, enough to represent a more widespread pattern.” She’s not only an arrogant academic and a bigot but a liar. To make this the perfect story of hypocrisy, Yale is giving awards to two of the students who were videotaped screaming in the face of Christakis.

The Wall Street Journal, “Yelping at Yale,” May 15, 2017

“Frankly” is a word we don’t recommend using because it implies you weren’t honest before. Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has a habit of using the word. “Frankly, it’s getting absurd.” “Frankly, it’s time to focus on things the American people care about.” This also goes for “to be frank,” “to be honest” and “candidly.”

Business Insider, “White House spokeswoman: ‘It’s time to move on’ from Trump-Russia investigation,” May 10, 2017

Pundits are wondering how Montana Republican Greg Gianforte could possibly have defeated Democrat Rob Quist after body-slamming a reporter from The Guardian and breaking his glasses the day before the election. Quist was hardly a strong candidate, with problems with unpaid taxes. He also was quoted telling climate-change skeptics, “I challenge you to go into your car in your garage, start your car and see what happens there.” In other words, go commit suicide. Clearly the Wrong Thing to Say.

Breitbart, “Montana Democrat Rob Quist Encourages Climate Skeptics to Consider Suicide,” May 1, 2017

“I know a guy who wears a tutu and goes to bars on Friday night and is always surprised that he gets in fights. Well, he kind of asks for it,” said Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., generating an outcry that he was opposed to LGBTQ rights. Sen. Enzi was referencing Sissy Goodwin, a man who does wear tutus and dresses in daily life. Many came to Goodwin’s defense, including Upworthy, which noted that “Wearing dresses and tutus is just part of who Goodwin is. He’s not harming anybody, and he’s certainly not ‘asking for it.’” We agree. Apparently so do the independent-minded Wyomingites because hundreds of them showed up at bars dressed in – you guessed it, tutus. (Wyoming is supposed to be the “Equality State,” and Sen. Enzi should be up front about his beliefs but conservatives need to avoid articulating them in ways that invite ridicule.)

Upworthy, “A senator’s victim-blaming comments sparked a tutu-powered protest in Wyoming,” May 1, 2017

“There was this inference that we were a bunch of mercenaries working for a soulless, distant candidate for whom we felt no genuine affection. That assertion – that we could not and did not like her – did more to doom us than any internal dissent ever did,” said Jess McIntosh, director of communications outreach for the Clinton campaign. This lengthy article included a number of interesting quotes and assertions. The article claimed Clinton would not point the finger at her own staff in her loss due to her affection for them. “I will never say anything other than positive things about my campaign,” said Clinton, implying that her team was not responsible for her loss. The article continued to blame sexism and other factors – anything but the failings of the candidate and her platform.

New York Magazine, “Hillary Clinton is Furious. And Resigned. And Funny. And Worried.” May 26, 2017

If anyone knows Sean Spicer, please tell him we’re very sympathetic. The latest slam at the embattled press secretary was for meeting with his staff on the front lawn of the White House “hiding in or among bushes.” He was trying to explain the president’s decision to fire FBI Director Comey. As the former director of media for the White House, I can tell you that the White House isn’t very big, and we frequently placed spokespersons on the lawn in front of certain trees, bushes or patches of grass. The big difference today? Social media, of course. Pictures and memes sprang up across the internet and the story blossomed with pictures of Spicer in gardens and hedges as far away as New Zealand thanks in large part to Lisa Kadonaga, a professor at the University of Victoria. She created a cut-out from Spicer’s headshot, put it in her bushes and shared the photo on social media. She received requests from others who wanted to do the same, so she uploaded the file on Dropbox and generated so much traffic the site had to temporarily shut down her account.  Kadonaga thinks the growing forest of garden Spicer shots came out of sympathy for the press secretary, noting people remember times when they’ve been asked to do a job without all the rights tools or information. “I think it really struck a chord with people realizing, ‘Gee, that could be me up there.’” We agree, and we’ve been there.

The Washington Post, “Sean Spicer cutouts are popping up in bushes worldwide, thanks to this Canadian professor,” May 16, 2017

Scary. Facebook admitted it knows and can track when teens feel insecure and has been collecting data. Facebook explained “It fields requests from advertisers to conduct research on its users.” We bet they do. The report also noted “Sentiment analysis is commonplace on the internet… This kind of analysis can be used to gauge how people feel about a political candidate or about particular company or product.” Jeffrey Jester, director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a self-described watchdog group in Washington, D.C., wants the company to provide more insight into their data collection and what they do with it. We heartily endorse his efforts.

USA Today, “Facebook can tell with teens feel insecure,” May 1, 2017

No good deed goes unpunished. That’s what Purdue University’s President, Mitch Daniels, discovered. Purdue bought for-profit Kaplan University. Purdue pointed out that one quarter of graduate students are getting their degrees exclusively online and almost 30 percent of undergraduates are taking a course online. Purdue explained its decision with the analysis that it would take years to build an online capability requiring significant capital and academic political will. Given that the Purdue faculty immediately went ballistic, this was undoubtedly a correct assessment. More clear-eyed reports quoted Harvard Professor Clay Christensen’s groundbreaking book, “The Innovators Dilemma,”  that analyzed how leaders focus on current stakeholders at the expense of the future that  require rethinking and in some cases, abandoning an established business model.

The Wall Street Journal, “The Innovator’s Dilemma Hits Higher Ed,” May 15, 2017

The Comedian Who Cried Trump

  • Crisis
  • June 6, 2017
  • by Merrie Spaeth


“He broke me,” sobbed so-called comedian Kathy Griffin reacting to the virtually universal condemnation of her stunt of holding up a severed bloodied (plastic) head of President Donald Trump. In the resulting outcry, CNN announced Griffin would not be hosting their 2017 New Year’s Eve Comedy Special. Other comedy shows cancelled her participation as well. She also revealed that the Secret Service had contacted her and charged they were “trying to ruin my rights forever.” At the press conference, Griffin's lawyer Lisa Bloom insisted Griffin had the right to make fun of the president.

Several lessons: First, Griffin did this to herself. Second, progressives were quick to condemn Montana Congressional candidate Greg Gianforte for slamming a reporter from The Guardian to the ground and insisted that his actions and tone incited others to violence. What did Griffin’s actions do? The images of the bloody head were picked up by hundreds of media outlets and tens of thousands of individual tweets and social media posts. This crosses the line beyond making fun of the president.

Finally, she was the one who publicized that the Secret Service had contacted her. The mission of the Service is to protect the life of the president. They would be delinquent if they hadn’t tried to interview her to get a first person view of her intentions.

Notice that instead of her apology, the headlines all contained the inflammatory “broke me” quote. And about that apology: a classic example of not being sorry for what she did but being incredibly sorry that she got caught. 

Top 3 Social Media Crimes

  • Trends
  • May 17, 2017
  • by Sally Ann Rivera