Why Political Campaign Emails Are Successful

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With more than 20 democrats still in the 2020 presidential race, campaign emails are sounding more “desperate,” according to a Wall Street Journal article. The emails may be annoying, but they reap high rewards.

The number of candidate emails reached a high of 130 last weekend and are likely to continue. The article explains, “There is no such thing as too much. And the more cringeworthy the content, the more likely you are to click and give money.” Expect long subject lines, time-sensitive pleas, all-caps, contests, attempts at humor, and invitations to dinners and chats with candidates.

Candidates are trying to make themselves likeable and are practicing authenticity. Whether we know them any better from these emails is questionable, but the fundraising results are clear.

President Trump email source.

Discussion:

  • Have you received emails from candidates? What has been your reaction? Have you been inspired to donate to a campaign?

  • Assess President Trump’s email shown here. What principles of persuasion does his campaign use, and how effective do you find the message for fundraising?

Nike Flag Shoe Controversy

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Nike pulled shoes with flag decorations and is taking some heat for the decision. The shoes featured 13 white stars, reflecting an early version of the American flag created by Betsy Ross in 1776. But, according to a Bloomberg article, “The design recently has taken another meaning for some Americans as far-right groups have claimed it as a symbol of their cause. It has also been criticized as evocative of an era when slavery was still predominant in the U.S.“

Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who endorses Nike products, and others asked the company to remove the shoes because they are considered offensive. The company complied but is facing backlash from some groups, and the Air Max 1 USA sneakers are selling for up to $2,500 a pair. The company also issued a statement:

“We regularly make business decisions to withdraw initiatives, products and services. Nike made the decision to halt distribution of the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday.”

Sneaker image.
Colin Kaepernick and sneakers image.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of the sneaker image: offensive, patriotic, or something else?

  • How do you assess Colin Kaepernick’s role in the controversy?

  • Did Nike do the right thing in pulling the sneakers? Why or why not?

  • Assess Nike’s statement in response to the controversy. What else, if anything, should company leaders have said?

Boeing at the Paris Air Show

After two fatal plane crashes involving its 737 Max jet, Boeing is trying rebuild its image, and the company made some headway at the Paris Air Show, an international aircraft sales event.

Company leaders are coming closer to admitting mistakes more directly. CEO Dennis Muilenberg said, “We clearly had a mistake in the implementation of the alert.” Muilenberg also admitted that company communications were “inconsistent” and “unacceptable.” Kevin McAllister, the company’s head of commercial aircraft, said, “We are very sorry for the loss of lives as a result of the tragic accidents...our thoughts and our prayers are with their families," and "Our priority is doing everything to get this plane safely returned to service. It is a pivotal moment for all of us.”

At right is a video of McAllister discussing future plans.

Illustrating confidence in the plane, IAG, which owns British Airway, ordered 200 new 737 Max jets, worth about $24 billion at list price. Airbus wants a chance to bid, and we’ll see whether the request is granted.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • Based on this and other news reports, how well is Boeing recovering from its crisis? Read more about reactions to the IAG order to help inform your conclusion.

  • Analyze Kevin McAllister’s communication in the video. Compare his style and approach to Dennis Muilenberg’s. What similarities and differences do you observe?

Harvard Rescinds an Offer

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Harvard withdrew an admissions offer after discovering racist comments by the applicant online. The applicant, Kyle Kashuv, posted his version of events, including Harvard’s withdrawal and his responses before and after the final decision.

Kashuv became an activist for gun rights after he survived the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. He joined Turning Point USA, which The Chronicle describes as “a right-wing organization with chapters on many college campuses.”

Despite his explanation and apology, Harvard decided to rescind the offer. ]

Harvard College image source.

Discussion:

  • Read Kashuv’s account of what happened as well as news articles. What’s your view? Did Harvard make the right decision? Why or why not?

  • What, if anything, could Kashuv have done to prevent the withdrawal? Could he have been more persuasive in some way?

VW's New Ad

Volkswagen is still trying to rebuild its image after the emissions scandal in 2015. A new advertising campaign tackles the issue directly, beginning with audio news reports from that time. But the focus, described on YouTube, is on the future: “Every negative has a positive. Learn more about our all-electric vehicles and our plans to help make a better tomorrow at vw.com #drivefortomorrow #vw.”

With an emphasis on innovation, the ad is set to Simon and Garfunkel’s classic song, “The Sound of Silence.” Viewers can imagine company engineers during the past few years creating a new line of electric cars— while VW executives said little about the controversy.

The senior VP of marketing for VW of America acknowledged that the ad is risky but explains the rationale:

“[w]ithout mentioning the past...we would never have the credibility or authenticity to move forward with the brand. Through the last three-and-a-half years or so we kind of operated as usual in the consumers [sic] eye. We kept a very consistent message in the marketplace but didn’t really have a powerful point-of-view as a brand.”

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of VW’s new ad campaign? Did the company make the right decision by invoking the scandal?

  • Other companies facing scandals, such as Uber and Wells Fargo, placed large apology ads, but VW didn’t take this approach. Why do you think that may be the case? Compare VW’s strategy to other recent recovery campaigns.

Carnival Responds to New Charges

Again, Carnival Cruises is accused of polluting and cover-ups. In 2016, the company paid a $40 million settlement because of actions by its Princess Cruise Lines, including dumping oil-contaminated waste. Now, the company has admitted to violating the 2016 agreement and will pay an additional $20 million.

The Justice Department’s statement identifies violations of probation terms, such as falsifying training records, preparing ships before inspections, and discharging plastic into the water. The plastic discharge was from another Carnival Cruise ship, the Carnival Elation.

In response to the charges, company chairman Arnold W. Donald said, “I do take responsibility for the problems we have. I am extremely disappointed that we’ve had them. I know you have reservations about our commitment and who we are. I want you to know we are fully committed.”

The company also posted a response on its website: corrective actions, information about water treatment, and FAQs. The short press statement, at the top, includes the company’s commitment:

“Carnival Corporation remains committed to environmental excellence and protecting the environment in which we live, work, and travel. Our aspiration is to leave the places we touch even better than when we first arrived.”

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Image source.

Discussion:

  • Assess Carnival’s response. What persuasive strategies does the company use on its website? What works well, and what could be improved?

  • The chairman said, “I know you have reservations about our commitment and who we are.” Do you have reservations? Why or why not? How can the company change perception? Consider dimensions of leadership character.

Persuasive Writing

Trish Hall, author of an upcoming book, “Writing to Persuade,” offers advice in a New York Times opinion piece. Most of her suggestions follow principles taught in business communication courses:

  • Tell the truth. Hall says that emotions are usually more persuasive than facts, which is true, yet she cautions against losing trust. Her advice is backed by research on behavioral integrity—doing what we say we’re going to do.

  • Be quick about it. Hall emphasizes conciseness, a well-worn principle of business communication.

  • Banish jargon. Using simple language is another core principle of business communication.

  • Know your audience. Hall recommends listening to what your reader needs; for example, condolence notes should include something personal about the loved one. Tailoring to the audience is good advice for any message.

  • Just ask. Hall says people could ask more directly for what they want. I agree, but I’m not sure about her example, which is for “Getting someone to show up”:

    No:

    Dear Everyone,

    I’m involved with a group that gives scholarships to young people and I am hoping that some of you might be able to attend our celebration next Monday. Let me know if you can.

    Yes:

    Dear Trish,

    I’m involved with a group that gives scholarships to young people and I am hoping that you can attend our celebration next Monday. A number of people you know, including John and Jim, will be there. Can I leave your name at the door? It’s at 6 p.m. at the Historical Society Building.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What other persuasive business communication principles would you suggest for writers?

  • What’s your view of the “Yes” example above: too pushy or about right? What principles does the example follow, and what, if any, changes would you suggest?

  • I’m curious about the article title, “How to Get Every Email Returned,” which doesn’t quite match the content. What’s your view?

Uber CEO Explains Disappointing IPO

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi sent email to employees about the company’s disappointing IPO. Shares sold for $45 but dropped the next day to a low of $37.08. In his email, Khosrowshahi encourages employees to take a long-term view and compares the company to Amazon and Facebook, which he says also experienced trouble after their openings.

Team Uber:

I’m looking forward to being in front of you at the All Hands tomorrow, but I wanted to send you a quick note in the meantime.

First off, I want to thank you all for your passion for and commitment to Uber. We simply would not be here without you.

Like all periods of transition, there are ups and downs. Obviously our stock did not trade as well as we had hoped post-IPO. Today is another tough day in the market, and I expect the same as it relates to our stock.

But it is essential for us to keep our eye on the long-term value of Uber for our customers, partners, drivers and investors.

Every stock is valued based on the projected future cash flows/profits that the company is expected to generate over its lifetime. There are many versions of our future that are highly profitable and valuable, and there are of course some that are less so. During times of negative market sentiment, the pessimistic voices get louder, and the optimistic voices pull back.

We will make certain that we communicate our incredible value as a company that is changing the way the world moves, but also the value that we are building for our owners. But there is one simple way for us to succeed – focus on the work at hand and execute against our plans effectively.

Remember that the Facebook and Amazon post-IPO trading was incredibly difficult for those companies. And look at how they have delivered since.

Our road will be the same. Sentiment does not change overnight, and I expect some tough public market times over the coming months. But we have all the capital we need to demonstrate a path to improved margins and profits. As the market sees evidence, sentiment will improve, and as sentiment improves, the stock will follow. We will not be able to control timing, but we will be able to control the outcome.

We will be judged long-term on our performance, and I welcome that. It’s all in our hands.

I look forward to being there at the All Hands to answer Qs and tell you more.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • Why would Khosrowshahi write an email in advance of an employee meeting?

  • What persuasive strategies does he use to explain the IPO performance?

  • Which arguments do you find least and most convincing?

OpenTable Announces Privacy Changes

An email from OpenTable summarizes changes to the privacy policy and directs readers to the entire policy on the website. The company is using a lighthearted approach to convey what information is shared and how users will have better control over what they are willing to share.

We can view this as a positive message, although it uses some persuasive strategies. Overall, the company is trying to simplify a complex issue—and the email simplifies the far more complex policy.

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Discussion:

  • Analyze the message. Who is the primary audience, and what are the communication objectives? How would you describe the tone and writing style? What organizational strategies are used?

  • What persuasive strategies does the message use?

  • Overall, how effective is the message in meeting its communication objectives? What, if anything, could OpenTable do differently?

Facebook Announces Plans for Privacy

After several scandals and escalating criticism, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced new products and several new features to move from public posting to private conversations. The new Facebook design focuses on groups instead of the newsfeed and adds interactivity, such as posting jobs. Some of these features, of course, compete with existing social platforms, such as LinkedIn.

In a post, Facebook described the focus of its two-day conference: “how we’re building a more privacy-focused social platform — giving people spaces where they can express themselves freely and feel connected to the people and communities that matter most.” 

Communication, friends, and community are themes in the message. Zuckerberg’s keynote is titled, “The Future Is Private.”

Discussion:

  • Assess Zuckerberg’s keynote. Who are his primary and secondary audiences? What are his communication objectives? To what extent does he meet them? How would you describe his delivery skills? Does he convince you that Facebook is addressing criticism? Do you think Facebook is moving in the right direction?

  • Zuckerberg opens his keynote by saying, “Privacy gives us the freedom to be ourselves.” How does this relate to concepts of authenticity? Do you agree with his conclusion?

  • Also assess the post announcing changes for Facebook and other apps. Which features or new products most and least excite you?

Boeing's Crisis Response

At a shareholder’s meeting, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg addressed 737 Max safety concerns following two fatal crashes. He started, as predicted, with an apology and sympathy for the “loss of life,” acknowledging the “devastation.” He contrasted these losses with the many Boeing flights that run safely—”roughly every 1.5 seconds.”

Muilenberg didn’t explicitly address issues raised in the past couple of days, particularly a Wall Street Journal article the previous day accusing Boeing of failing to report the safety feature shut-off to airlines (including pilots) and the FAA.

When asked during the Q&A about accountability, Muilenberg spoke mostly about plans going forward. When asked whether he would resign, he talked about his and his employees’ commitment to safety.

At about 9:00 on the video, a reporter asks about whistle-blowers at Boeing, referring to recent reports that employees tried to alert senior management and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Muilenberg says the question is “fair” but doesn’t quite respond to the accountability issue. At about 14:15, a reporter asks, “Can you admit that the design was flawed?” This is after Muilenberg skirts the previous question, blaming a “chain of events.” Still, he would not admit to a design flaw.

And then he ends the news conference, as a reporter shouts, “Sir, 346 died. Can you answer a few questions here about that?” Earlier, another reporter noted that this was the first time they had a chance to meet with him to ask questions.

Discussion:

  • Assess Muilenberg’s delivery skills. What does he do well, and what suggestions would you have for his future news conferences?

  • How well did Muilenberg address reporters’ questions? What, if anything, could he have said differently?

  • What leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this story? How well did Muilenberg demonstrate them?

A Pie Chart Totals 128%

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A pie chart represents part of a whole, so how can numbers total more than 100%? They can’t. On Twitter, Dorsa Amir identifies additional problems.

The caption is also concerning: “High Support for Legalizing Marijuana.” Do we see evidence to prove this claim?

Note: This chart was created as a joke and posted on a sub-reddit.

Discussion:

  • What is the point of the chart?

  • What data would prove the point, and how could the designer have presented data differently?

Carlos Ghosn Responds to Charges

The former CEO of Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, who has been arrested four times on charges related to financial misconduct, responded in a video message. The key point: “I’m innocent of all the charges.” Ghosn also claims that accusations are “all biased, taken out of context, twisted.”

Ghosn was a celebrated business executive in Japan. His success in growing Nissan is “incontrovertible,” according to a New York Times podcast. He gained a reputation as a serious cost-cutter ("Le Cost Killer"), a strategy that was questioned at the time but brought about great profits for the company, placing it second in the list of Japanese automakers behind Toyota and ahead of Honda. Ghosn was CEO from 2001 - 2017, when he became chairman. He was then removed from the board in 2018, after his first arrest.

Charges against Ghosn include using company funds for multiple personal residences, hiding about half of his compensation, shifting $16.6 million in person losses to the company, and other accounting issues.

Nissan management responded to Ghosn’s video message:

“The sole cause of this chain of events is the misconduct led by Ghosn and Kelly. Aside from any criminal matters, Nissan's internal investigation has uncovered substantial evidence of blatantly unethical conduct. This resulted in a unanimous board vote to discharge Ghosn and Kelly as chairman and representative director, followed by a shareholder vote to discharge them from the board. Further discoveries related to Ghosn’s misconduct continue to emerge. The company's focus remains on addressing weaknesses in governance that failed to prevent this misconduct.”

Ghosn image source.

Discussion:

  • What persuasive communication strategies does Ghosn demonstrate in his video message?

  • What are the most and least convincing statements?

  • Assess his Ghosn’s delivery skills.

  • Which leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this situation?

Boeing's Apology Dilemma

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A Yahoo Finance article describes Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg’s decision to apologize for the 737 MAX tragedies and speculates that he may open the company up to lawsuits. However, for crisis communication, his apology is the right decision.

After a report found the planes to blame, Muilenburg admitted, “but with the release of the preliminary report of the Ethiopian Flight 302 accident investigation, it is apparent that in both flights, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, known as MCAS, activated in response to erroneous angle of attack information." He’s not telling us anything we don’t already know, and Boeing will likely get sued anyway.

He also apologized: “We at Boeing are sorry for the lives lost in the recent 737 accidents and are relentlessly focused on safety to ensure tragedies like this never happen again.” The apology is critical—and too late in my opinion. Research on apologies indicate that they often reduce lawsuits, time to agree on settlements, and settlement pay.

Discussion:

  • Do you agree with the assessment that the CEO did the right thing by apologizing?

  • How does this situation illustrate vulnerability as a positive leadership character dimension?

  • What other character dimensions are illustrated by this situation?

Southwest Faces Customer Service Criticism

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Despite trading on the NY Stock Exchange under “LUV,” Southwest is taking some heat from customers because of the Boeing 737 MAX plane groundings. According to a USA Today report, customers says Southwest didn’t handle rebookings well:

They're peeved about Southwest's handling of passenger rebookings, especially last-minute flight cancellations that leave them with few options. And they're perplexed by Southwest's uncharacteristic lack of flexibility, with affected passengers given two options: take the alternate flight, even if it's days later or to a different airport, or get a refund.

Our first clue about problems came with Southwest’s first statement about the plane groundings. Little guidance was offered for customers to rebook. The first three comments on a Southwest message posted on March 13 illustrate the problem.

A Southwest spokesman said it’s a challenging situation—like a snow storm that lasts for many weeks—and claimed that the airline did everything it could, including offering "massive flexibility'.'

Discussion:

  • Southwest could not have prevented the Boeing 737 MAX disaster, but what about its own customer service situation? What, if anything, could company leaders have done differently?

  • How should Southwest react to customers’ complaints now? I see nothing on its website or blog.

Another Boeing Plane Disaster

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The same model Boeing plane that crashed in Indonesia last month has crashed on its way to Nairobi. Although U.S. Federal Aviation Administration confirmed that the Boeing 737 MAX Jet is safe, several airlines have grounded the planes. Other groups, such as the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, have called for an investigation: “While it is important that we not draw conclusions without all of the facts, in the wake of a second accident, regulators, manufacturers and airlines must take steps to address concerns immediately.” American Airlines will continue to fly the planes. A spokesperson for the pilot union said, it is “very early, but we are watching it very, very closely.” Norweigan Air has grounded the planes based on advice from European Aviation Group, and the UK has banned the model from its airspace.

With 40% of the planes out of service, Boeing is taking a financial and public relations hit. In a message to employees, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg wrote, “We are confident in the safety of the 737 MAX and in the work of the men and women who design and build it.” He also wrote, “Since its certification and entry into service, the MAX family has completed hundreds of thousands of flights safely.”

Boeing’s website statement expresses condolences and describes plans for a software enhancement.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • How much evidence is enough to determine whether to ground planes? What is the logical fallacy to be avoided?

  • How well is Boeing handling the communication? Consider both internal and external messages. What are Muilenburg’s challenges at this point?

Equifax and Marriott CEOs Testify About Security Breaches

U.S. Senators grilled Equifax and Marriott CEOs about data breaches at the companies in the past two years. Equifax CEO Mark Begor responded to questions following a Senate subcommittee report titled, “How Equifax Neglected Cybersecurity and Suffered a Devastating Data Breach.” The report concludes an investigation of the 2017 breach of 143 million customers’ personal data and accuses the company of not prioritizing security, not following its own patching policies, failing to notify the public in a timely manner, and more.

Begor defended the company and blamed the increasing sophistication of hackers:

“These attacks are no longer just a hacker in the basement attempting to penetrate a company’s security perimeter, but instead are carried out by increasingly sophisticated criminal rings or, even more challenging, well-funded nation-state actors or military arms of nation-states.”

But Senators pointed out that credit company competitors Experian and TransUnion have managed to avoid similar attacks.

The Marriott breach affected 83 million guests of Starwood, which Marriott acquired after the breach took place. Compared to the Equifax situation, Marriott got a pass from senators, such as Tom Carper of Delaware, who said, “The data breach announced by Marriott this past November does not appear to have been caused by the same cultural indifference to cybersecurity the record indicates existed at Equifax. Rather, it looks like Marriott inherited this breach from Starwood.”

Marriott has been consistent in blaming Starwood for the issue, wanting to preserve the brand. In his testimony, CEO Arne Sorenson reinforced the company separation:

“We conducted an assessment on integrating the two systems, although this inquiry was legally and practically limited by the fact that until the merger closed, Starwood remained a direct competitor.”

Here is Sorenson interviewed on CNBC:

Discussion:

  • Watch some of the testimony. How well did each CEO handle the Senators’ questions?

  • Assess Sorenson’s appearance on CNBC. What did he do to try to rebuild the company’s image? What persuasive strategies did he use?

  • Review the subcommittee’s report on the Equifax breach. How is the report organized? How would you describe the writing style and tone? What suggestions would you have for the authors to improve readability?

  • From your perspective, what leadership character dimensions do the CEO illustrate or fail to illustrate?

Measles: Evaluating Evidence

The news about a resurgence of measles raises interesting questions about how we evaluate evidence. About a dozen years ago, a small study alarmed parents and caregivers that the measles vaccine may cause autism. Since then, several large-scale studies have debunked that theory, and the article was retracted.

But the damage was done—and it lingers. A few hold-outs still believe the vaccine may be dangerous, and so they do not have their children vaccinated.

Recently, about 100 measles cases have emerged in the U.S., and once again, the evidence is up for evaluation. How are people convinced? What makes people change their minds?

In his book Factfulness, Hans Rosling offers this advice:

[I]f you are skeptical about the measles vaccination, I ask you to do two things. First, make sure you know what it looks like when a child dies from measles. Most children who catch measles recover, but there is still no cure and even with the best modern medicine, one or two in every thousand will die of it. Second, ask yourself, “What kind of evidence would convince me to change my mind?” If the answer is “no evidence could ever change my mind about vaccination,” then you are putting yourself outside evidence-based rationality, outside the very critical thinking that first brought you to this point. In that case, to be consistent in your skepticism about science, next time you have an operation, please ask your surgeon not to bother washing her hands.

Along these lines, a Medium article, The Falsification Mindset, suggests ways for us to change our opinions. The author encourages us to consider what evidence we would need in order to change our minds. This process is particularly useful because we more typically look for reasons to continue believing what we believe—confirmation bias.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What examples can you identify of when you have experienced confirmation bias. In retrospect, could you have avoided the bias to make a better decision or to have a more accurate view?

  • What’s your view of the measles vaccination? How did you form this opinion? How has it changed over time?

  • Identify a belief. What evidence would you need to think differently?

  • How is humility relevant to this situation?

Open Letter to Amazon

After Amazon’s failed move to Long Island City, Queens, local executives, lawmakers, and others signed an open letter asking Amazon to reconsider. The letter focuses on the benefits NYC would gain from having Amazon, particularly 25,000 new jobs.

Also appearing as a full-page ad in the New York Times, the letter includes some emotional appeal about New Yorkers’ “charm” and acknowledges difficulties in getting community support for the project. Not until the last paragraph do we see a shift from New York to Amazon and how the company would benefit from building in Long Island City.

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Discussion:

  • What principles of persuasion does the letter illustrate?

  • How could the letter be improved?

  • What leadership dimensions are illustrated? Which may be lacking?

Interview with Delta CEO

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In a LinkedIn interview, Delta CEO Ed Bastian discussed the decision to revoke the National Rifle Association (NRA) discount after the Parkland, FL, shootings, one year ago. The discount was for NRA members, and only 13 took advantage. But the real loss was in $40 million in tax benefits, which Georgia Governor Cagle fought to strike after the company’s decision.

Bastian admits that the loss was significant. But he concludes, “Our brand is worth so much more, and our values are not for sale.”

Bastian refers to the NRA’s “divisive rhetoric” and says that he didn’t want “to be seen as advocates” of the organization and its views. He also describes what we might call authentic or purpose-driven leadership:

"If you know who you are, you can make those decisions. And that you can make those decisions and sleep well at night.”

Discussion:

  • What leadership character dimensions are demonstrated by this situation?

  • Do you think Bastian did the right thing for Delta? Why or why not?

  • How well does Bastian address the interviewer’s question? Overall, how do you assess his delivery?