Saturday, May 6, 2017
If you’re like me, you’ve been absolutely riveted by the disaster that was Fyrefest. For anyone who somehow missed the news, the basic recap is that a destination music festival – sold as a luxury getaway in the Bahamas featuring sandy beaches, rock stars, five-star accommodations, and gourmet meals turned out to be, well –
Instead of luxury villas, guests found soggy tents, port-o-potties, and a bank of lockers (without locks). They had to hunt for their luggage in a large shipping container – with flashlights. And so forth.
There have been a number of news articles attempting to deconstruct how things went so horribly wrong, but the focus of my particular interest is – incompetence or fraud? There are already two class action lawsuits pending, so we’ll have more information soon enough, but reports so far indicate a rather stunning willful-blindness on the part of the promoter – 25-year-old Billy McFarland – coupled with the somewhat-contradictory fact that he’s still around, apologizing to disappointed ticketbuyers, and generally not, you know, running off to a country with no U.S. extradition treaty.
[More under the jump]
Friday, May 5, 2017
Carson-Newman University is a leading Christian Liberal Arts institution, recently ranked Best Undergraduate Teaching in the South by U.S. News & World Report and received the President’s Award for Community Service. Carson-Newman emphasizes academic excellence through innovative teaching, advising, mentoring of students, and service learning. The campus is located at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains and is surrounded by beautiful lakes. More information is available from the University website, www.cn.edu.
Carson-Newman University invites applicants for an Assistant, Associate, or Full Professor of Business Law, Management, and/or Finance in the Department of Business. The position is a full-time, 9-month, tenure-track position, to begin August 2017, or January 2018.
Candidates for the position must have a minimum of a Juris Doctorate or a terminal degree in a related business field with at least 18 graduate semester hours in law. Candidates with business and/or teaching experience are preferred.
Carson-Newman employs faculty and staff who are actively supportive, through a local church, of its aim as a university with a Christian commitment.
Candidates for the position of Assistant, Associate, or Full Professor will teach, advise, and mentor students, participate in the campus community through committee work, conduct appropriate research, and other work as assigned by the Department Chair or Provost.
The rank and salary will be commensurate with educational preparation and experience. Group health insurance as well as a 401K retirement plan are available on a participating basis.
How to apply
Only complete application packets will be considered. A complete application packet will include a letter of interest, a statement of Christian faith, a statement of teaching philosophy, references, and current vitae. Please send the packet electronically to:
Attn: Faculty Recruiting
Jefferson City, TN 37760
CARSON-NEWMAN UNIVERSITY IS AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY EMPLOYER
Thursday, May 4, 2017
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Every year my students have the opportunity to earn extra credit writing about business issues that they see in movies or television. This year the movies Wall Street, and The Social Network tied for the most popular subjects. One student wrote an interesting paper about the business and CSR issues in Monsters, Inc., a movie I plan to watch for the first time this weekend. Disney’s describes the movie this way:
Lovable Sulley and his wisecracking sidekick Mike Wazowski are the top scare team at Monsters, Inc., the scream-processing factory in Monstropolis. When a little girl named Boo wanders into their world, it's the monsters who are scared silly, and it's up to Sulley and Mike to keep her out of sight and get her back home.
The student who wrote the paper spent her time instead focusing on Mr. Waternoose, the villainous CEO, seen here.
Personally, I was hoping someone would write about Season 3 of HBO’s Silicon Valley, which has provided some great scenes about fiduciary duties, corporate governance, succession planning, funding, and other issues related to startups. No one did, but I was pleased to see so many students apply what they learned in class to what they have watched on screen. Some even indicated that they finally understood The Wolf of Wall Street now that they have taken the class. Let’s see if that understanding is reflected in their exams. Happy grading, everyone!
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
It's exam-grading time, so my focus is largely on that. I did do my usual peruse of the news, though, and I found a whole host of news outlets discussing President Trump's tax plan, which proposes to lower income tax rates on pass-through entities. As one of the pieces explains:
Pass-through income, for those of you who aren’t tax nerds, is business income that’s reported on a personal return. It comes from partnerships, limited-liability corporations and other closely held businesses, including Trump’s own family real estate operation.
First of all, knowing about pass-through income does not make you a tax nerd. I don't think.
Beyond that, though, limited liability corporations are not a thing. And, limited liability companies (LLCs) are generally chosen for pass-though tax status, but they don't have to be. They can chose to be taxed as C corporations at the federal level, if they wish. Furthermore, partnerships, such as MLPs, and LLCs don't have to be closely held. They can be publicly traded.
Multiple outlets got on the incorrect"limited-liability corporations" bandwagon. Even Barron's! Oh, well.. For now, I guess I will just continue to note that LLCs are still limited liability companies.
Happy grading to those in the same boat, and good thoughts to the students taking our exams. We really do want you to succeed, so please, show us what you know.
Monday, May 1, 2017
A bit more than a year ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a conference on corporate criminal liability at the Stetson University College of Law. The short papers from the conference were published in a subsequent issue of the Stetson Law Review. This was the second time that Ellen Podgor, a friend and white collar crime scholar on the Stetson Law faculty, invited me to produce a short work on corporate criminal liability for publication in a dedicated edition of the Stetson Law Review. (The first piece I published in the Stetson Law Review reflected on corporate personhood in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizen's United opinion. It has been downloaded and cited a surprising number of times. So, I welcomed the opportunity to publish with the law review a second time.)
For the 2016 conference, I chose to focus on the reckless conduct of employees and its capacity to generate corporate criminal insider trading liability for the employer. The abstract for the resulting paper, (Not) Holding Firms Criminally Responsible for the Reckless Insider Trading of their Employees (recently posted to SSRN), is as follows:
Criminal enforcement of the insider trading prohibitions under Section 10(b) and Rule 10b–5 is the root of corporate criminal liability for insider trading in the United States. In the wake of assertions that S.A.C. Capital Advisors, L.P. actively encouraged the unlawful use of material nonpublic information in the conduct of its business, the line between employer and employee criminal liability for insider trading becomes both tenuous and salient. An essential question emerges: when do we criminally prosecute the firm for the unlawful conduct of its employees?
The possibility that reckless employee conduct may result in the employer's willful violation of Section 10(b) and Rule 10b–5 (and, therefore, criminal liability for that employer firm) motivates this article. The article first reviews the basis for criminal enforcement of the insider trading prohibitions established in Section 10(b) and Rule 10b–5 and describes the basis and rationale for corporate criminal liability (a liability that derives from the activities of agents undertaken in the course of the firm’s business). Then, it reflects on that basis and rationale by identifying the potential for corporate criminal liability for the reckless insider trading violations of employees under Section 10(b) and Rule 10b–5, arguing against that liability, and suggesting ways to eliminate it.
I was not the only conference participant concerned about the criminal liability of an employer for the insider trading conduct of an employee. John Anderson, who co-led an insider trading discussion group with me at the 2017 Association of American Law Schools annual meeting back in January and also enjoys exploring criminal insider trading issues, contributed his research on the overcriminalization of insider trading at the conference. His paper, When Does Corporate Criminal Liability for Insider Trading Make Sense?, identifies the same overall problem as my article does (employer criminal liability for insider trading based on employee conduct). However, he views both the problem and the potential solutions more broadly.
Sunday, April 30, 2017
"transformation of..First Amendment from a shield for dissidents..into a sword for..corporations" 101 Minn. L. Rev. Headnotes 349 #corpgov— Stefan Padfield (@ProfPadfield) April 30, 2017
Saturday, April 29, 2017
The internet is a wonderful thing; this week, it has brought us two powerful new tools related to business law.
First, the Center for Political Accountability has aggregated the political spending disclosures of public companies in a handy, searchable website. Granted, it's a limited tool: it only includes companies in the S&P 500 (or that were in the S&P 500 as of 2015) - and unfortunately the descriptions on the site are less than clear on this point. To that extent, then, it is useful as a sample of corporate behavior, but not as useful for specific shareholder or consumer action. In that vein, I view it as something of a pilot project, demonstrating the theoretical power of the internet to harness these kinds of disclosures. There are already apps that make it easier for consumers to express their political preferences – Boycott Trump and Buycott.com, for example. This new site is another weapon – or potentially one – in the arsenal.
Marcia has expressed doubt that these kinds of campaigns work, and certainly there’s the countermobilization problem – a campaign on one side the political aisle may motivate those on the other side – but my own view is more in the behavioral vein: if you make it easier to do, it’s more likely people will do it. So, yes, there are a lot of reasons why consumers or shareholders might not vote via their dollars, but at each point where you make it easier for them to express political preferences with their spending/investing decisions, the number who do so will increase, and at some point you may see a consistent impact.
Second, we have the white collar crime heat map, which presents a zip-by-zip breakdown of areas where white collar crime proliferates. I was horrified to discover the extent of my daily jeopardy in the years in which I worked in midtown Manhattan; I feel much safer now that I live in New Orleans.
More seriously, the site is not a new joke, but it remains a relevant one: namely, as a comment on what we as a society accept as racial/class/cultural markers of criminality, even as white collar crime remains – numerically speaking – a far greater problem than street crime.
For more analysis of this problem, I leave you with Jessica Williams of The Daily Show:
Friday, April 28, 2017
We are in the middle of the final exam period, so this post will be short.
A friend of mine recently told me about a situation where he had been cheated out of a few thousand dollars. A clear contract was involved, and based on the facts I was told, the other party seems obviously in the wrong.
These situations, even if clear from the legal side, are often not worth pursuing through litigation in our current U.S. system. As most readers surely know, in the U.S. parties generally have to pay their own lawyers regardless of the outcome. In some situations, the lawyers may take the case on contingency, but most lawyers I know will not take a contingency case where the maximum recovery is a few thousand dollars. Maybe small claims court would be appropriate, but the learning and time costs involved may outweigh the potential recovery.
Perhaps this is as it should be. Perhaps we want parties to settle these smaller disputes outside the courts.
But, especially when the party in the wrong is much larger, and especially when the wrong is quite clear, it seems like we might want the courts involved to prevent this type of bad action from going without a remedy. Of course, class actions may be possible in some, though certainly not all, circumstances.
The law could make these situations more worthy of pursuit. Full expectation damages, that would put the harmed party where she would have been if the contract had been properly carried out, should consider not only legal fees but also the time and emotional energy expended to bring the claim. I do know that courts sometimes shift legal fees in egregious situations, but I think this is pretty rare, and I don't think I have ever heard of a situation where the plaintiff was reimbursed for her time and emotional energy expended in bringing the case. However, isn't that what true expectation damages would require? Without the breach, the plaintiff would not have spent time, energy, and money pursuing the claim. Recovery for this type of damage would also discourage breach, as the defendant would stand to lose significantly more than if he just carried out the contract as agreed.
That said, I do see how this could be abused by overeager attorneys, so I imagine it would have to be used somewhat sparingly and only in clear cases.
Thursday, April 27, 2017
The following comes to us from Brian Quinn:
Access to the Courts in the Transactional Setting
2018 AALS Annual Meeting
San Diego, CA
This call for papers solicits unpublished papers that analyze the question of access to the courts in a variety of transactional law settings.
From small business disputes, to mandatory consumer arbitration, to restrictions on shareholder lawsuits, it is no longer obvious that parties will have access to courts in the event of a dispute. In many cases small businesses may negotiate for alternative dispute resolution in commercial contracts as more efficient than going to courts. In others, like in the context of consumer contracting, restricting access to the courts is not typically subject of negotiation, and many consumer transactions now come with mandatory arbitration clauses. In recent years, in response to an explosion in shareholder and class action litigation, corporations also began to look to a variety of self-help remedies (often aided by state legislatures), including exclusive forum provisions and fee-shifting provisions among others, to restrict access to the courts by shareholders.
Taken together one could reasonably question whether the current trajectory in common business and consumer settings to limit parties and third parties access to the courts through a variety of transactional mechanisms is good policy or it goes too far.
The Section on Transactional Law and Skills invites submissions from any full-time faculty member of an AALS member school who has written an unpublished paper, is working on a paper, or who is interested in writing a paper on this topic to submit a 1 or 2-page proposal to the Chair of the Section by August 31, 2017. Papers accepted for publication as of August 31, 2017 that will not yet be published as of the 2018 meeting are also encouraged. The Executive Committee will review all submissions and select proposals for presentation as part of our AALS 2018 Section Meeting.
Please direct all submissions and questions to the Chair of the Section, Brian JM Quinn, section chair, at the address below:
Brian JM Quinn
Boston College Law School
885 Centre St., Newton MA 02459
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Last week, a reporter interviewed me regarding conflict minerals.The reporter specifically asked whether I believed there would be more litigation on conflict minerals and whether the SEC's lack of enforcement would cause companies to stop doing due diligence. I am not sure which, if any, of my remarks will appear in print so I am posting some of my comments below:
Just today, the GAO issued a report on conflict minerals. Dodd-Frank requires an annual report on the effectiveness of the rule "in promoting peace and security in the DRC and adjoining countries." Of note, the report explained that:
After conducting due diligence, an estimated 39 percent of the companies reported in 2016 that they were able to determine that their conflict minerals came from covered countries or from scrap or recycled sources, compared with 23 percent in 2015. Almost all of the companies that reported conducting due diligence in 2016 reported that they could not determine whether the conflict minerals financed or benefited armed groups, as in 2015 and 2014. (emphasis added).
The Trump Administration, some SEC commissioners, and many in Congress have already voiced their concerns about this legislation. I didn't have the benefit of the GAO report during my interview, but it will likely provide another nail in the coffin of the conflict minerals rule.
April 26, 2017 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Law, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)
COLLECTIVE BOOK ON LEGAL INNOVATION
Call for submissions
The program « Law & Management » developed by the European Center of Law and Economics (known as CEDE in French) of ESSEC Business School, is an innovative and pioneering research program which aims to study the use of law as a competitive factor.
In this regard, the members of the research program « Law & Management » have decided to publish a collective book focusing on legal innovation. This book, co-edited by A. Masson (ESSEC) and D. Orozco (Florida State University), will analyze, by crossing the points of view of lawyers and creative specialists, the concept and life cycle of legal innovations, techniques and services, whether they are related to legislation, legal engineering, legal services, legal strategies…, as well as the role of law as a source of creativity and interdisciplinary teamwork. All the techniques that could facilitate legal innovations from the perspective of design thinking to predictive design, through the customer experience will be analyzed.
The program Board is now opening the call for proposals. Papers proposals (consisting in a brief summary in English) of a maximum length of 1000 words, should be sent to A. Masson (email@example.com) by May 8th, 2017. A least one practical example of legal innovations on which the papers will rely on must be mentioned in the proposals.
The proposals will be reviewed and selected by a scientific committee. Authors will receive a definitive answer by June 6th, 2017. The final manuscripts will be expected by October 9th, 2017.
A conference, following the publication of the book, will be organized in Paris in 2018.
With the support of the Paris Île-de-France Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the French Corporate Counsel Association (AFJE).
More than a few legal blogs and scholars have taken note of a recent paper by Adam Bonica (Stanford University), Adam S. Chilton (University of Chicago), Kyle Rozema (Northwestern University) and Maya Sen (Harvard University), “The Legal Academy’s Ideological Uniformity.” The paper finds that those in the legal academy are more liberal than those in legal profession generally. Anecdotally, I have to say I am not surprised.
The abstract of the piece is as follows:
We find that approximately 15% of law professors are conservative and that only approximately one out of every twenty law schools have more conservative law professors than liberal ones. In addition, we find that these patterns vary, with higher-ranked schools having an even smaller presence of conservative law professors. We then compare the ideological balance of the legal academy to that of the legal profession. Compared to the 15% of law professors that are conservative, 35% of lawyers overall are conservative. Law professors are more liberal than graduates of top 14 law schools, lawyers working at the largest law firms, former federal law clerks, and federal judges. Although we find that professors are more liberal than the alumni at all but a handful of law schools, there is a strong relationship between the ideologies of professors from a law school and the ideologies of alumni from that school. However, this relationship is weaker for schools with more conservative alumni.
Jonathan Adler recently discussed the paper in a piece for The Volokh Conspiracy, How ‘ideologically uniform’ is the legal academy? Adler notes, that the paper's "findings are based upon an examination of reported political donations. While this is an admittedly imperfect measure of ideology, it does allow for comparisons across population groups." I agree on both counts.
I am particularly interested in (and a bit skeptical of) the use of political donations as the proxy for ideology. I understand why the authors used that proxy: the information is available and it does, as Adler says, provide for comparisons. My skepticism is not about their process or choice, but merely about whether it tells us very much about legal ideology. I think it tells us primarily about political party. And even there, in a primarily two-party system, it only tells us about preferences between those two parties, and if the data is primarily presidential, about those two specific candidates.
My point is that legal ideology is often different that political party choice. When choosing between two parties, we all have priorities of our views, too. For example, I am a far bigger believer in the ability of markets to solve problems than many of my colleagues. I am more skeptical of government intervention and increased regulation than many of my colleagues. But because of a few priorities that tip my balancing test, I would almost certainly come out "liberal" in using my modest contributions to political parties as the assessment of my ideology.
In assessing legal ideology, though, I would argue diversity comes more from how we view the law than particular candidates or certain social issues. Obviously, it is much harder to assess that, but I think it should matter when considering how law schools teach.
Some legal programs (like SEALS) have been seeking diversity of viewpoints, along with other measures of diversity, for panel and discussions groups. This is a good thing. It's not always easy to assess, though. Maybe we should just ask. Here's how I'd assess my own legal ideology: When it comes to economic regulation, my thinking is much more in line with former law professor and SEC Commissioner Troy A. Paredes than I am with, say, Elizabeth Warren. When it comes to business entities law, I am far more Bainbridge than Bebchuck. For environmental law, more Huffman or Adler than Parenteau. Of course, I have at various times agreed and disagreed with them all.
I, like many others, am very skeptical of an ideological litmus test or quota system. And yet I also think there is value in embracing different perspectives and viewpoints. Ultimately, I don't care how someone votes when I assess whether they are a good legal scholar, a good colleague, and a good teacher. I do care that they value diversity of all kinds (including ideological), and I care that they believe in encouraging and faciltitating productive discourse. There is little value in lockstep thinking in any arena, and that is particularly true in legal education. I'm glad this discussion is part of how we consider moving forward in legal education.
Monday, April 24, 2017
As a business lawyer in private practice, I found it very frustrating when the principals of business entity clients acted in contravention of my advice. This didn't happen too often in my 15 years of practice. But when it did, I always wondered whether I could have stopped the madness by doing something differently in my representation of the client.
Thanks to friend and Wayne State University Law School law professor Peter Henning, who often writes on insider trading and other white collar crime issues for the New York Times DealBook (see, e.g., this recent piece), I had the opportunity to revisit this issue through my research and present that research at a symposium at Wayne Law back in the fall of 2015. The law review recently published the resulting short article, which I have posted to SSRN. The abstract is set forth below.
Sometimes, business entity clients and their principals do not seek, accept, or heed the advice of their lawyers. In fact, sometimes, they expressly disregard a lawyer’s instructions on how to proceed. In certain cases, the client expressly rejects the lawyer’s advice. However, some business constituents who take action contrary to the advice of legal counsel may fall out of compliance incrementally over time or signal compliance and yet (paradoxically) act in a noncompliant manner. These seemingly ineffectual varieties of the lawyer/client relationship are frustrating to the lawyer.
This short article aims to explain why representatives of business entities who consider themselves law-abiding and ethical may nevertheless act in contravention of the business’s legal counsel and offers preliminary means of addressing the proffered reasons for these compliance failures. The article does not address willful noncompliance or even willful blindness. Rather, it makes observations about behavior that falls squarely into what the law typically recognizes as recklessness. An apocryphal lawyer-client story relating to insider trading compliance provides foundational context.
The exemplar story derives from things I witnessed in law practice. Perhaps some of you also have experienced clients or business entity client principals which/who act contrary to your advice in similar ways. Regardless, you may find this short piece of interest.
Sunday, April 23, 2017
House Dodd-Frank reform bill would sharply limit shareholder proposals https://t.co/NljrPyGmgl— Professor Bainbridge (@ProfBainbridge) April 21, 2017
Saturday, April 22, 2017
I’m sure we’ve all been riveted by the colorful activist campaign led by Elliott Management Corp challenging the board of directors at Arconic Inc. In some tellings, it’s a classic battle over whether companies should focus on immediate returns to shareholders (and whether activist pressure encourages short-term thinking), or whether companies should invest in innovation and research in hopes of a longer-term payoff.
This week, Elliott’s challenge netted it a scalp in the form of the forced resignation of the CEO, Klaus Kleinfeld, for sending a personal letter to the head of Elliott Management that vaguely threatened to reveal some apparently scandalous behavior undertaken during the 2006 World Cup. While denying that any such behavior occurred, Elliot Management demanded Kleinfeld’s ouster, and the Arconic Board complied.
But the battle rages on. Earlier this month, Arconic announced that if investors voted to seat Elliott’s board nominees, it could trigger the change-of-control provisions in Arconic’s deferred compensation and retirement plans, thus forcing Arconic to make a $500 million pay out.
Which just prompted this Section 14 lawsuit by an Arconic investor, accusing Arconic of manufacturing “fake news” because there is, in fact, no risk of a change of control. At which point, I mourn the missed opportunity for a “wolf” reference.
(The plaintiff's argument, by the way, is that a set of directors appointed earlier at Elliott’s urging do not count as part of a new controlling group, and therefore Elliott’s latest nominees constitute only a minority of the board. The case is City of Atlanta Firefighters’ Pension Fund v. Arconic et al., No. 1:17-cv-02840 (S.D.N.Y.).)
Joking aside, courts have recently looked askance at dead hand proxy puts, even if they do have shareholder value-enhancing effects in the context of loan agreements and bond offerings. The Arconic situation is a bit more unusual, however, because the obligations are to company employees rather than lenders, and I don’t know whether the same economic effects exist in that context. The fact that the trust at issue was established for “a select group of management and/or highly compensated employees and former employees” raises the specter – in future cases if not this one – of a new twist on the old golden-parachute-as-takeover-defense. I am curious to see what courts make of it.
Friday, April 21, 2017
In this semester's student mentorship group, we have been discussing personal priorities and principles. The consensus from the students seems to be that this topic is not only useful, but also more difficult than originally envisioned. A number of the students expressed a lack of clarity regarding their own priorities and life principles, but they recognized the need for deep thinking about those things.
Outlining priorities and principles could be a useful exercise for politicians and professors as well. Without a clear understanding of our priorities and principles, we often drift toward our political parties and the visible rewards dangled in front of us.
Regarding both politicians and professors, I am most inspired by those who take stands that do not benefit their party or themselves, but rather make the stand because it is the “right thing” to do. Professors, obviously, have more freedom to seek and speak the truth, but I think that professors' impact will be greater if they stick to their principles regardless of the party in power.
Of course sticking to priorities and principles does not guarantee a good or admirable outcome. One must have “good” priorities and principles. What qualifies as “good” is beyond the scope of this short blog post, but I do think priorities and principles that are selfless (or as selfless as we are capable of being) tend to be good ones.
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Ratings behemoth Bill O'Reilly is out of a job at Fox News “after thorough and careful review of the [sexual harassment] allegations” against him by several women. Fox had settled with almost half a dozen women before these allegations came to light, causing advertisers to leave in droves once the media reported on it. According to one article, social media activists played a major role in the loss of dozens of sponsors. Despite the revelations, or perhaps in a show of support, O’Reilly’s ratings actually went up even as advertisers pulled out. Fox terminated O’Reilly-- who had just signed a new contract worth $20 million per year-- the day before its parent company’s board was scheduled to meet to discuss the matter. The employment lawyer in me also wonders if the company was trying to preempt any negligent retention liability, but I digress.
An angry public also took to social media to expose United Airlines' after its ill-fated decision to have a passenger forcibly removed from his seat to make room for crew members. However, despite the estimated 3.5 million impressions on Twitter of #BoycottUnited, the airline will not likely suffer financially in the long term because of its near monopoly on some key routes. United’s stock price nosedived by $800 million right after the disturbing video surfaced, but has rebounded somewhat with EPS beating estimates. Check out Haskell Murray's recent post here for more perspective on United.
Pepsi and supermodel Kendall Jenner also suffered more embarrassment than financial loss after people around the world erupted on social media over an ad that many believed trivialized the Black Lives Matter movement. Pepsi pulled the controversial ad within 24 hours. Some believe that Pepsi may suffer in sales, but I’m not so sure. Ironically, Pepsi’s stock price went up during the scandal and went down after the company apologized.
Pepsi and United both suffered public relations nightmares, but the skeptic in me believes that consumers will ultimately focus on what’s most important to them- convenience, quality, price, and in Pepsi’s case, taste. I recently attended my 25th law school reunion, and all of my colleagues who used a ride sharing app used Uber nowithstanding its well-publicized leadership scandals and the #deleteuber campaign. Indeed, many social media campaigns actually backfire. The #grabyourwallet boycott of Ivanka Trump’s brand raised public awareness but may have actually led to its recent record sales.
Reasonable people can disagree about whether social media campaigns and threats of consumer boycotts actually cause long-standing and permanent changes in corporate culture or policy. There is no doubt, however, that CEOs and PR departments will be working more closely than ever in the age of viral videos and 24-hour worldwide Twitter feeds.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Before I became a lawyer, I had the privilege of working with a number of great people at a public relations firm in Los Angeles. That firm was founded by Al Golin, who passed away last week, and by all accounts, he will be missed. Mr. Golin was the PR person behind McDonald's, and it was a very symbiotic relationship.
I did not meet Mr. Golin, personally, but his vision was definitely part of the firm culture. Early on, his vision of good business was on display. As the New York Times reported:
Before corporate social responsibility and cause-related marketing became fashionable, Mr. Golin was instrumental in creating what he called a trust bank. He encouraged the McDonald’s Corporation to sponsor Ronald McDonald Houses for children with life-threatening illnesses, an All-American High School Marching Band, an All-American High School Basketball Game and the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon — all to build good will that could be drawn upon when the company needed public support.
I can't say Mr. Golin is the reason I believe firms can be good corporate citizens without laws requiring them to do so, but I frankly like the idea that firms can compete to be recognized as such. The baseline should be set by law, but the rest is up for the market to determine. Mr. Golin suggested companies should choose to set the bar high. I agree.
He left a great firm behind, with a lot of good people who certainly follow his advice. May he Rest In Peace.