Bimbo Banter


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.

THE WINNER

“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 RentHop.com. 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

THE RUNNERS-UP

“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

INTERESTING EXAMPLES – LESSONS TO BE LEARNED

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.

WRONG THING TO SAY

“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

GOOD EXAMPLE

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.



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