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.”

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