Category Archives: Corporate Communciations

Don’t tell me what statistics say. Show me.

Each grain of rice represents a person

There is fascinating exhibit in the foyer of the Kennedy Center which uses individual grains of rice to demonstrate the significance of statistics. Each grain of rice represents a person. The pile in the foreground  of this photo I took represents the number of people in the U.S. who commute to work between midnight and 5:59 a.m.

The reason this is such effective communication is because it shows viewers exactly what the statistics mean. Too often as communicators, we forget about the visual learners among us. We also tend to numb our audiences with numbers. Think about that the next time you put together a presentation or you write a speech. Helping your audience understand a statistic can be as simple as a grain of rice.

The exhibit, called “Of All the People in the World,” is part of “On the Fringe: Eye on Edinburgh”, a festival going on at the Kennedy Center which shows off some of the best performances from Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival.

Check it out if you find yourself in Washington, D.C.

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I’m Underwhelmed with “Undercover Boss”

After the Super Bowl, CBS launched a new reality show called Undercover Boss. In the first episode, Larry O’Donnell, the President and COO of Waste Management, pretends to be a rank-and-file employee in order to get a better idea of what the front line employees in his company have to deal with.

On the face of it, it sounds like it would be compelling television — it was that. But it didn’t make me want to work for Waste Management.

Larry O'Donnell, President & COO of Waste Management, as the "Undercover Boss".

While it’s great that Mr. O’Donnell had these intentions, I wonder why he couldn’t just be himself and get the same feedback? Shouldn’t a manager — even a C-level executive — be able to get honest feedback from employees? The best ones do. But when a manager creates an environment where he or she isn’t open to constructive criticism, all they will ever hear from employees is what they want to hear.

One scene early in the show struck me as particularly ironic. When Mr. O’Donnell, who is working undercover as a helper on a garbage truck route, notices a white pick up truck following the garbage truck he is working on, his supervisor tells him that the pickup is being driven by a Waste Management “spy” who is following them to be sure they are staying on their route and keeping on schedule.

In explaining the pick up trucks, Mr. O’Donnell tells the audience that they are driven by route managers. He says, “I don’t want our drivers to feel like they’re being spied upon — because that’s not what this is about.”

Of course, he is saying this when he is in fact, “spying on” his employees.

That said, I think Mr. O’Donnell deserves some credit — he is trying to change his company. The closing scenes where a group of Waste Management front line employees were shown a “reveal” of Mr. O’Donnell’s true identity were certainly well received and I believe showed the genuine affection that Waste Management employees have for Mr. O’Donnell.

But let’s be honest about what this is — a huge advertising and PR win for the companies who participate. For me, the whole thing was a bit too contrived.

Mary McNamara, the television critic for the Los Angeles Times said it better than me:

Now, I’m a sucker for any show that features people doing actual work (chefs, stylists and event planners don’t count) and no doubt these five souls, who come off as a genetic cross of Will Rogers, John Henry and Emma Goldman, are just as extraordinary as they seem. I’m even willing to buy the notion that they have no clue whom O’Donnell is and think they’re being filmed for a documentary about entry-level jobs.

What I’m not willing to buy is that the workers O’Donnell chose to spend time with were not the product of an extensive and exhaustive search of the company’s 45,000 employees for the most TV-ready. The trash picker with the kidney condition? The multi-tasking mom who’s about to lose her house? To which she invites O’Donnell? The sanitation worker so beloved by the families on her route that a mentally challenged woman just happens to have a letter of appreciation in her hand the very day the camera crews arrive?

The marketing and public relations teams at Waste Management are making the most of this opportunity. Not only did they create a special “Undercover Boss” section of the company’s website, (pictured above) they also placed stories in papers around the country, including The Star-Ledger, The Wall Street Journal and The San Jose Mercury-News.

My question for the internal communications and media relations folks out there: if the producers invited your company’s CEO to be an “undercover boss” would you recommend she or he do it?

Best Buy’s Best Practices

bestbuyBarry Judge, the Chief Marketing Officer for Best Buy, has a really smart idea for any communications team to consider employing.

Judge, who’s responsible for Best Buy’s marketing,  internal communication and public affairs, is hiring a “Senior Manager, Emerging Media Marketing” for his team. He’s decided to seek input from social media circles on what kind of person to hire.

But that wasn’t Judge’s initial idea. Continue reading

Washington Post Cancels “Pay-to-Play” Lobbyist Dinners

Yesterday was a tough day for the corporate communications department at The Washington Post. A little after 8:00 a.m., POLITICO reported that The Post was asking lobbyists to underwrite the costs of off-the-record “salons” at the home of Post publisher, Katharine Weymouth. The day went downhill from there.

Katharine Weymouth, Publisher of The Washington Post. Image Credit: James Thresher, The Washington Post

Katharine Weymouth, Publisher of The Washington Post. Image Credit: James Thresher, The Washington Post

Dubbed “pay-for-chat” by The New York Times, the “salons” were billed to lobbyists on Capitol Hill as an opportunity to interact with Obama administration officials and Members of Congress who would have a leading role in the upcoming debate on reform of the nation’s health care system. Lobbyists could sponsor a single event for $25,000 or they could underwrite the cost of the series of 11 events at Weymouth’s home for $250,000. Obama administration officials and Members of Congress invited to the first “salon” on July 21, denied knowing that The Post was soliciting financial support from lobbyists to finance it. Continue reading

The Lessons of Susan Boyle

American Idol fans may not realize it, but Simon Cowell, the judge they love to hate, is also a judge and producer a British TV show with a similar format called “Britain’s Got Talent.” I had never heard of this show until the YouTube video of contestant Susan Boyle showed up on my Facebook page tonight. She performed on Saturday night.

Continue reading

JetBlue Welcomes Bigwigs

JetBlue is ready to welcome bigwigs who are forced to give up their private jets.

JetBlue is ready to welcome bigwigs who are forced to give up their private jets.

Yesterday I was utterly charmed by a new web campaign launched by JetBlue. The airline created three videos which are housed at www.WelcomeBigWigs.com. The site and videos are the second part of a web campaign launched last month.

Dubbed, “The CEO’s Guide to Jetting,” the humorous concept is simple and brilliantly executed. In light of the down economy, JetBlue recognizes that the nation’s CEOs are hurting and that they might have to give up their private jets. Fortunately, JetBlue is happy to step in and offer an alternative for air travel for the country’s down-on-their-luck CEOs.

Launched coming off of the weekend when we learned that the taxpayer-owned AIG would be giving $165 million in bonuses to the very executives who caused the company to fail, JetBlue’s timing couldn’t have been better. Continue reading

Why Employees Leak to Media and What You Can Do About it

It’s been a bit of a bumpy ride at Yahoo lately. After the company rejected a $45 billion dollar offer from Microsoft last year, the company’s stock plummeted, thousands of employees were laid off. Eventually, Jerry Yang, Yahoo’s co-founder and CEO, was forced to step aside.

Carol Bartz has been named to head the company and she is in the middle of a massive reorganization. Clearly she has her work cut out for herself. There are still rumors of a deal with Microsoft, but there is no firm announcement and Yahoo is losing market share according to recent numbers. Continue reading