Thursday, August 18, 2005

FedEx Speaks

The most interesting thing about blogs and bloggers is that they want to have their cake and eat it too. As we learned in high school - okay, it took me that long for someone to explain that once you eat your cake, you cannot have it anymore because it's gone - well, that just does not work.

Are bloggers citizen journalists, and as such is there a responsibility to fact check and get both sides of the story? David Berlind's post brought up the fact checking issue, and it's an issue that will be more and more explosive as time goes by.

Or, are bloggers just bloggers, with no journalistic background, and no need to vet information, just go with the meme of the week, this one being FedEx versus FedExFurniture, and not get both sides of the story?

So, FedEx speaks. I spoke with Sandra Munoz from corporate communications, to get their side of the story, and what will be happening next. Geez, that was so hard it took me all of 15 minutes!

From the conversation:
In response to a comment on your last post, the boxes are not sold, but are given free to our business customers. Mr. Avila ordered the boxes to ship [noted on his blog], but used the boxes instead for furniture. The boxes are a cost to us - we test the boxes for sturdiness, we have them manufactured, we send them to customers. Those are costs that add up, but are a cost of doing business.

We have not officially responded because no one has really contacted the media department for a response. Those people that have called, like a TV station, we do respond to. We did miss the Wired.com request.

Right now, it's about media coverage. Right now, maybe this has run its course with the traditional media, it was the flavor of the week. That's what it is about with public relations - you look at the situation, weigh the damage, and make decisions. You do make your decisions on what you do and do not respond to. And, that's not just FedEx, but that's likely all corporations that are weighing the upside and downside in responding to media and citizen media. You can't always respond to everything, because of timing. Wired.com is a perfect example - the request came in over email, and got lost in the shuffle.

I believe that the first contact with Jose Avila - the official contact - was through the attorney. If we go online and see a company using the FedEx name, it goes to legal. That's not unusual. It's a legal issue.

We're just asking him to respect our rights. Thousands of our employees have built the company to what it is today. All we're asking him to do is respect our name and materials, and stop using them for his Website and his endeavors. That's all it comes down to.

Do we want others to follow in his footsteps? No. Our boxes are for shipping. That is pretty obvious, since we are a shipping company, not a furniture building company. He has proven that the boxes are durable. That is great.
I also spoke with Jose Avila via Yahoo! Messenger to get his views - excuse typos from both him and me.
jeremy_pepper: how many boxes did you use?

Jose Avila: Im not really sure overall... Each piece of furniture on the website has its number of boxes it took me to build the piece... Those numbers have drastically decreased... being that I’m still shipping stuff fedex, my couch is missing approx 5 pieces, my bed is missing 2 and my desk is missing 1. (I ran out of spare boxes, and so I’m not wasting stuff I grab one off of my furniture to ship with) It’s kinda like playing Jenga.

jeremy_pepper: what are you shipping?

Jose Avila: I ship a bunch of varying items... everything from financial documents, rent payments, samples of software I have written to friends in ca to test. and occasionally other items.

jeremy_pepper: BTW, you used about 370 boxes and materials

Jose Avila: before when I shipped stuff i would have to walk down to the fedex store package it there etc. I noticed at the fedex store (actually a mom & pop fedex shop out here that does ups, fedex etc shipping) they were charging for boxes and it was inconvenient to package it at their location, so i ordered a bunch of boxes to make life easier... I dont have a car so carying what i wanted to ship to the shipping center was a pain.

Jose Avila: it was easier to bring a pre packaged box

jeremy_pepper: were they charging for fedex boxes?

Jose Avila: no they were the regular boxes. (plain no markings)

jeremy_pepper: where's the furniture from your last apartment?

Jose Avila: well, I had a lamp

Jose Avila: from staples

Jose Avila: I was living with some friends (older)

Jose Avila: and well they had a bunch of kitchenware living room stuff etc

Jose Avila: and i borrowed their airbed

Jose Avila: so there was never a need for me to buy furniture.

jeremy_pepper: but you still have to pay rent to them?

Jose Avila: Well i could have pulled out of the lease and screwed them over. The whole reason i moved into the place with them at the time was my brother did not have anywhere to live. (I was sleeping on someone's floor before i moved in) So we got the place in ventura together. My brother was living there for a while with me, I then moved to az. My bro stayed there. When my bro moved out (about a month ago) My roomates started looking for another roommate to take over my room; however, they have turned out fruitless. One thing i value more than anything is my friendship an being a trustworthy person. I was not going to tell my friends that trusted me, that i was going to screw them over

jeremy_pepper: so, why didnt you go the CL route and find a roomie with furniture?

Jose Avila: CL?

jeremy_pepper: craigslist

Jose Avila: ah... well i didnt even know about craigslist up until about a month ago. I did search roomates.com for a while (in fact i may even still have an account there) However i really dont feel comfortable living with people i dont know. And being that I spend alot of time working at home, I could not room with someone that was partying all the time etc.

Jose Avila: When looking for a place i figured i would get by for a while until the rent in CA was over then i could buy furniture. My main thing was to find an apt close to work so it would be cheap to commute to.

jeremy_pepper: so, what's going to be the end result - fedex wants you to stop using their name

jeremy_pepper: what are you going to do?

Jose Avila: what do you mean by fedex just wants you to stop using their name

Jose Avila: are you saying they just want me to change the URL?

jeremy_pepper: "All we're asking him to do is respect our name and materials, and stop using them for his Website and his endeavors. That's all it comes down to."

Jose Avila: Ive never got that from fedex

Jose Avila: they have never stated things in that nature to me

Jose Avila: did that come from a lawyer or a PR person? we have only heard from lawyers

jeremy_pepper: PR

Jose Avila: The real issue here is that PR was never involved in the beginning....

Jose Avila: had they said something like change the domain name...

Jose Avila: change the colors...

Jose Avila: etc...

Jose Avila: on day 1

Jose Avila: i would have probably bent over backwards to do such things

Jose Avila: Instead being that i felt threatened, I started asking people for advice.

Jose Avila: which lead to stanford law contacting me

jeremy_pepper: so, instead, you're going to just continue?

Jose Avila: I am not ready to make a statement right now about what im going to do... though one is being written and will come shortly.

Jose Avila: but one thing i think is important here is the steps that fedex took... http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/archives/2005_07.shtml#003190 That for example

jeremy_pepper: they took steps to protect their brand

Jose Avila: ok... but are there limitations on what steps you can take to "protect your brand"? can you go bomb someones house to "protect your brand". How far can you legally take it?

jeremy_pepper: that's a little mailer-esque

Jose Avila: what do you mean please rephrase

jeremy_pepper: mailer-esque. over the top statements.

jeremy_pepper: bombing someone's house to protect your brand

Jose Avila: my statement is how far does it go? ... thats just an extreme farther out on the line... where do you place the breaking point

jeremy_pepper: flip side - should a person be using free materials to build things for his own fun and purpose?

Jose Avila: when is it not ok to do something to "protect your brand"

jeremy_pepper: that's up to each company

Jose Avila: so each company can decide if they can bomb a house

Jose Avila: where is the absolute cut off

jeremy_pepper: who bombs houses to protect a brand?

Jose Avila: I am not going to answer that question. I will say that my purpose of doing this is not to go out and say to people "hey go do this" Its to get out there and say hey... its ok to be ghetto... when you are in a bind and feeling down you do not have to be depressed but rather you can be creative and get by. I hopped that someone may see my site and think to themselves "hey... at least im not that guy..." also in my case I have every intention of using the boxes for shipping they have not been converted solely for the purpose of furniture.

Jose Avila: should one be allowed to "improperly use" a law that does not relate to "protect their brand"

jeremy_pepper: should one be allowed to "improperly use" products that do not relate to their "intended purpose"?

Jose Avila: nor am i... hence why i have a lawyer
Blogs are information + opinions. And, absent editors (or journalistic values/discipline/integrity) are they really to be trusted? This is an example of getting both sides of the story, and letting the readers make up their own mind - I blog, you decide.

Thankfully, this story's legs are pretty much exhausted - a few sheep stragglers in the mainstream press - and it will end and the blogosphere will glom onto the latest non-story to be harped on for a week.

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