Saturday, April 12, 2008

FedEx Fast One

Chalk one up for Federal Express. FedEx has long enjoyed excellent public relations as noted by its inclusion in The Value Profit Chain: Treat Employees Like Customers and Customers Like Employees, a book written by three Harvard Business School professors . The book profiles companies who invest in employees and reap benefits from that policy in return. In FedEx’s case, those employees, especially the delivery drivers, have a constant interaction with the public, making their behavior critical to the company’s image and it would seem a no-brainer for FedEx to keep those employees happy. This past March, one of those drivers did the company a favor in return through an extraordinary act of heroism. [BLOGGERS PHOTO POSTING IS DOWN SO I HAVE TO USE LINKS]

A month later, the photo turned up in a full-length ad in newspapers across the country and on a “FedEx Stories” Flash-based website , as part of a promotional campaign commending driver Jay McMullin specifically and FedEx employees in general. However, when the campaign went public, the second man climbing from the black car was airbrushed from the scene despite the fact that many news agencies had carried the photo right after the actual event in its original. The appearance of the altered image and the orchestrated publicity wave occurred just days before a very negative story about FedEx appeared in the New York Times.

The emotional nature of the ad was in direct contrast to the New York Times business section piece describing how badly Roadway Package Systems, a FedEx Ground company, treats its employees (Greenhouse 2008) . The article detailed how FedEx Ground forces workers to act as “independent contractors,” pay for their own trucks, offers no benefits, and recently fired a ten-year employee who couldn’t keep her routes because she’d been diagnosed with cancer. The company is already facing serious IRS penalties for treating these employees as contract workers when in fact they work in the same capacity as normal staff. Not surprisingly, those drivers have little of the regular contact with the public as uniformed FedEx drivers and the heroic act of one those uniformed drivers caught by a news reporter will almost certainly overshadow the New York Times piece, especially given the alternative – a photograph of the sickened and helpless cancer victim.
Given the delay between the event and the promotional campaign, it is difficult to believe that the photo of Jay McMullin was not used a defensive measure against the impending New York Times assault. A blurb on the incident and quote from McMullin, who did little talking to the press, was placed strategically on the FedEx web-based “Newsroom” :
FedEx Express courier Jay McMullin recently made the quick decision to help a fellow motorist in need. He has made the company very proud for his courageous action. Mr. McMullin issued the following statement:

“The response to the photo of Odell Bunch’s rescue has been humbling and overwhelming. I sincerely appreciate the kind notes, email, phone calls and general interest in my well-being. While I am honored by the attention, I only did what any of my fellow FedEx co-workers would have done.”

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Acceptance of neurological differences

When I learned about what doctors like the infamous Dr. Money used to do to babies born with an extra y or x chromosome I was horrified. I agreed with movements to leave well enough alone, without trying to slice or dice one gender or another into existence. So now that a similar movement is underway by autistic individuals, I am mesmerized. And I found myself unexpectedly in a student relationship with someone who says he had been diagnosed as autistic.

First a bit of background:

And then the original video:

So I had watched this only recently and it sparked a good dinner table discussion with my husband. He pointed out, informed by the work of Ian Hacking, that autism is not unlike what was once considered possession, or schizophrenia, the idiot savant or even multiple personality. Now we have aspergers and autism to help qualify what could be considered neurological diversity. (Okay its very late on Sunday night, tax preparation has stolen my weekend, and you might argue that two glasses of wine have robbed my reason.)

In the middle of this, I was trying to organize the move and further development of our virtual Guantanamo Bay in Second Life. Annenberg has kindly donate 8 acres and we are supposedly getting a plug in Vanity Fair's online edition for the May issue which will feature a piece on Guantanamo Bay. While discussing the use of an existing structure with its builder, Matt Lee, a fellow whose Second Life name is Cinco Pizzicato overheard me say that I needed the exterior of a c17 transport plane. He offered to give it a shot. It was only later that i checked his profile to learn of his interest in autism and aspergers. He later told me that he had been diagnosed as autistic.

In the last few days he has nearly completed the exterior of the plane. He has taught me some machinima tricks. He has given me some wonderful second life tools. He has been kind and friendly. He has put me in awe on more than on occasion.

It is a journey worth exploring. I am considering whether it wouldn't make an excellent documentary film - much of it filmed in Second Life.