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 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. 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 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... 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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  1. How about buying the guys website and buying him some new furniture. The positive PR would have had a lot more value to fedex than the negative pres they are getting now. They could even use him in commercials. "fed ex boxes are so strong I built furniture for my apartment with them".

    Fedex needs to learn to start thinking outside of the shipping box.

  2. I am surprised that Sandra would suggest that "We have not officially responded because no one has really contacted the media department for a response." I contacted the media department via telephone and email back on the day I first reblogged the FedEx furniture story. Perhaps I was not 'official' enough or maybe I they did not consider my call or email 'really contact'? Her suggestion that they had no time to respond? My contact was back over a month before the Wired article. They lost the email from Wired? I respect the idea that not every issue should be responded to, but in this case I think FedEx could have leveraged this story and improved their brand and image. Just my 2 cents.

  3. How did you approach it, Alex? I approached FedEx as a blogger that was interested in their side, wanted to know what was going on there.

    Did you come across as a bull in a china shop? If so, I would have ignored the call/email as well.

    Plus, yes, emails do get lost - it happens with me sometimes, where I start to reply and get sidetracked from another emergency or client issue.

  4. I find the following of this meme by a small group of people more interesting than the FedEx story.

    The basic premise of this story is something we all should have learned in Kindergarten. Share. Don't take. And I think his actions may have been deception (in the kindest description).

    Could FedEx have handled it a bit better? Maybe. But, they still have the concern that thousands of others might do the same thing - 'order 300 boxes' that they are not going to use for shipping (to mimic Jose's stunt).

    Why is that not striking a cord? Are some people trying to make a hero / underdog of Jose?

    The DMCA aspect is correct. But, have we not seen rules misapplied before? Ultimately the system worked. That attempt by FedEx was found to be flawed. But, protecting their property isn't a bad thing.

    The word 'fraud' might not be the right one, but he did get the boxes in a rather large order for one person.

    Jose claims that they were going to be for shipping, but then decied to make furniture. Right?

    I know offices that ship daily and they (we, in fact) never order that many at one time.

    Jose claims he ordered the boxes for shipping, but then used more than 300 boxes to build furniture. I'm skeptical. If he didn't need them (for shipping), why not just return the boxes? Think 'Thrift Store' for your poor man's furniture needs.

    Truth may be that he is just naive. Jose may have thought people would praise him for his creativity.

    Back to kindergarten. What happened to people acting responsibly? What happened to those lessons from kindergarten - do the right thing? Don't take (or use) people's (or a company's) stuff for purposes other than their intended purposes?

  5. Hi Jeremy, I'm Erin -- one of Robert's new students at AU. (Fresh blood!) I'm extremely new to the blogging world, as well. (Thanks for the comment, by the way. Helped break the ice. :-) I found this issue particularly interesting ... ended up spending a couple hours picking through info on the topic.

    My take is this: I can certainly understand FedEx's legal standpoint, and I grasp (and support) their need to protect their brand. However, they effectively managed to turn one of their biggest fans into a very vocal and attention-getting problem. The approach their legal department took (while technically appropriate) obviously solicited a negative, rebellious response from Avila. It's hard to imagine that a response regarding an internet-related problem was issued by FedEx without at least running the situation by a PR person. The internet is such a rapid exchange of information, you piss off the wrong person ... look what happens.

    At any rate, while I agree the situation potentially called for legal action on FedEx's part (especially regarding the "terms of use" for the packaging), they could benefit from looking at their METHOD of dealing with the situation with a constructively critical eye.

    (By the way, I found having conversations with BOTH Sandra Munoz and Jose Avila -- side by side, so to speak -- to be especially enlightening ... and somewhat entertaining.)

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  7. Jeremy,

    "Did you come across as a bull in a china shop? If so, I would have ignored the call/email as well."

    I don't recall exactly what I said when I left her a voicemail, but I do have the email. Basically, I referenced the site and asked her to comment. In both cases I wanted a response - so I did not act like a 'bull'. Perhaps she lost the email from me, but what about the voicemail?

    Lets assume it is your JOB to respond or not respond to PR issues. What if you told your boss, "I did get an email and call from several people a month before the national news (CNN, ABC, NBC, CNBC all have covered it) and the national press (Fast Company, Business 2.0, Wired all have articles coming out) went with the story but I lost the email and the voicemail?" Would you get to keep your job?

    What is more likely is that they decided not to respond, which is their right. But it really points out that this statement:

    "We have not officially responded because no one has really contacted the media department for a response."

    is completely untrue. That was my point. Do you agree that it would seem to be incorrect (unless you believe that she lost emails and voicemails from me Wired, Business 2.0 and the television stations (all of whom contacted FedEx for a statement).

  8. "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."

    I agree, this is something that will be debated for a very long time. Thanks for bringing it up with such a timely example, Jeremy. It was nice to see both sides represented in the same post.
    Kudos to you!

  9. If i were Fedex I'd hold a yearly contest and let people make sculptures out of my boxes. I'd give a prize to the winner.

    You would get a 30 to 60 second spot on practically every news station across the country. Balance the cost of the stolen boxes against the cost buying that much air time.

  10. Alex, I don't like having people called liars on my blog. I have no reason to not believe the woman when she said she had been contacted by a television station, and me, and that was it by telephone. I don't know what went on internally at FedEx because I don't work there, and am not privy to those things.

    But, in my view:

    In this world, too many PR people and journalists seem to have technology blinders on - if I'm on email, everyone else must be on email. I wonder how many emails a day the PR staff at FedEx get, and then you have to tier the responses. just sent an email - emails do get lost.

    Or, what time did you call, or the reporters called. It's a great phone trick to purposely call people when you know they aren't going to be in, to be able to say you called and got no response. The first rule in media calls for PR is to get a live person. I did that with FedEx.

    In the same Berlind post that I referenced in this post, I noted that PR tiers responses. Since you are not a press person - did you identify yourself as one, or as a blogger - I personally would have third tiered you. And, I get the whole idea of citizen journalism/consumer generated media/bloggers thinking that they are important so everyone should drop everything. I just don't overly weight it.

  11. Donna, thanks for coming by! If anyone gets what I am trying to say here, it's someone that experienced the baptism by fire herself.

    I did try to call you and get your side - I still would like to, for another time, another post.

  12. I can see the Fedex logic - they see a ghetto website, & send it to legal, thinking a C&D letter will kill off another nuisance.

    This time the little guy fights back & the web picks it up. PR, still thinking in old school big-media way, doesn't even notice or return calls from bloggers because its think - "they're not CNN, they don't matter".

    Its only when CNN does call that the PR group wakes up and says "oh we lost those blogger emails, voicemails, etc" and then answers emails & voicemails from bloggers. Or maybe just blogs with a PR of 6 or greater.

    Overall, a big ball drop by PR no matter what the legality or morality of the original activity. Look at duct tape, Lego, even Google for great examples of building on product hacks to improve image and sales.

  13. Sounds good in theory, Wayan. Slight difference is that duct tape, Legos are purchased by the people that use the products to do the hacks. The boxes were free.

    Long term, is the FedEx brand going to be hurt by a summer story? And, are bloggers journalists? I got through because I was persistent - but I doubt that many bloggers did call FedEx, that didn't have an agenda. My agenda was simple - get their story.

  14. Jeremy,

    First you indicate that I did not get a response because I was a "bull in a china shop" and then you suggest that they might have lost my email and voicemail messages. Which is it? Am I a bull in a china shop (I suspect I am sometimes - you certainly seem like one too sometimes) or did they lose everyone's emails and voicemails? Or maybe it is both.

    I certainly did not call Sandra a liar (as you suggest) I have no idea if she even receives the PR emails and PR voicemails. Maybe it is someone else who decided not to tell her that many people had been trying to contact FedEx for a month before the story broke on national news.

    The net-net is that FedEx had a PR failure - perhaps a technology glitch but a failure nonetheless. My point is that maybe FedEx should think about the 'new media' and 'citizen journalism' from a PR perspective. Bloggers broke this story very early - FedEx could have responded before the national news picked up the story - maybe even turning the story into good news for FedEx.

    Update: Jose will be on Good Morning America on Monday and Riverstone Publishing is going to put out a book with him.

  15. Congratulations on GMA and a book. If you/Weblogworks and Stanford weren't pushing the story, I wonder if it would still have legs. It makes me wonder how much proactive pitching has been going on.

    I will let the readers of the comments judge whether or not saying something is completely untrue is akin to calling someone a liar. To me, it is.

    Is this a PR failure, or the blogosphere clamoring for more attention? Is this the meme of the year, that every company needs a blog, that blogs are the most important things in the world?

    At the end of the day, will this lose FedEx corporate accounts? At the end of the day, would Jose's new company want someone using their products or services for other purposes than intended, and using their name for a URL that they seem to be monetizing?

  16. What must drive you nuts is that the FedEx story has legs without any proactive pitching (certainly not from me or Jennifer) how hard would it have been for you to get this sort of national coverage for one of your clients?

    Why do I think it drives you nuts? Perhaps because you have the 3rd most influential PR blog in the world and you cannot kill the story.

    You tried to make the story about me, or theft, or libel - anything but the real story. Something different is going on - it has been going on for sometime. The fact that we are having THIS DIALOGUE is something different.

    Oh and your strawman libelous statemtent that I called Sandra a liar - I can make an untrue statement without being a liar. Surely you understand this?

    Sandra could say, "we have never sent a FedEx box to your office" and I could report in my blog that "she is completely wrong as I have a box from FedEx on my desk." You could then claim I called her a liar - perhaps she was wrong - I never said she was a liar - she is completely wrong. Hope that clears it up for you. I expect more from the 3rd best PR blogger in the world!

    Cheers Jeremy, I have been ordered to drop this whole matter on a go forward. I still have your feed in my reader and I will enjoy reading your posts in the future.

  17. Thanks for reading, Alex. To me, this is about more than just theft, but if PR and blogs can co-exist, and why blogs don't always get both sides. It doesn't drive me nuts, but it's more like a show to watch.

    As for clients, it really depends on goals and objectives. That's why PR is more than just about blogging, but about strategy and tactics and using all the tools out there for the campaigns: blogs, podcasts, television, radio, newspapers, magazines, forums (where such dialogue has existed way before blogs), Websites (influencer sites and enthusiast sites that were around long before blogs as well).

  18. I also interviewed Jose about his project for my podcast, and I've left a message with Les Bishop, the FedEx lawyer, who hasn't returned my call, and I've also emailed FedEx corporate communications, who haven't responded to me.

    Both sides could learn from the idea of having a two-way conversation -- isn't that what PR is supposed to be about?

  19. How Fans of FedEx can build their business

  20. The thing which most people who have posted comments on this subject (on the various blogs I have read on it) seem to have missed is that this guy isn't stealing the boxes to make furniture.

    He didn't order the 300 boxes expressly to use as furniture he got them so that he had a ready supply whenever he needed to post something through Fedex.

    He put the furniture together as a temporary measure until he could afford real furniture.

    He is currently in the process of breaking up some of his furniture so that he can send parcels...

    Show me the theft in that! Show me the legal documents that state terms on what can be done with packaging material while it's waiting to be used to post stuff!

    The only problem I could see with the whole thing is that the name could be misconstrued as Fedex moving into furniture removal. Judging by Jose's continuing use of Fedex for deliveries I'd say he would have responded favourably if they'd have just asked him nicely to rename the site. Some of the blogs I've read on this have had some particularly nasty responses on them, calling Jose "Scum" and a "Stinking thief".

    Man. It's twenty to two in the morning here and I can't even remember how I got reading this subject....

    curse you, blogs! Curse you all to blazes!!!!!!!!!

  21. Boxes as sturdy as bedroom furniture? You would think that Fed Ex would be all over this kid with a marketing campaign. Not suing him. He's a genius in my book! Plus, I'll be shipping with FedEx from now on.

  22. The bottom line is fedex is worried masses are going to repeat what one guy did. This stuff about boxes being a cost to the company, uh...right. You think the company does not know how many boxes it uses each year and how many go through the system "properly"...they are a supply chain management company, and you can bet they know the "shrinkage rates" on their boxes and compensate for it in the price we all pay. This guy did something creative and inspiring with boxes (which he is USING to ship things with when he needs to ship something). How many people have used their boxes for non-creative purposes (moving, storage, even packing materials...heck, some even have turned them inside out and used them with USPS or UPS). But some idiot at fedex saw what this person was doing and over reacted. This would have been a great marketing opportunity for them, but they showed instead their short sightedness. News flash..most people are lazy and aren't going to make furniture out of boxes, they'll just rack up credit card charges and if they have no credit, they'll skip their rent or something to get what they want....but hey, no problem that the landlord has to go without rent. It's okay if the apartment complex hurts, but use a few hundred boxes that cost pennies each from an industry leader and it becomes a court case? This is ridiculous. I'm switching to USPS, UPS, or DHL if fedex has to be this petty. How about this fedex, lower your shipping rates and charge us for the boxes....I'm sure you'll have no problem marking up the cost of a box 300% in the process...and the volume they buy them, just a quick search on the web, box might cost $0.99 to $2....that's buying retail...I'm thinking fedex doesn't pay retail for their boxes and they get quite the bulk rate discount.

    As it's already been stated, he's not stealing the boxes. He's organized them into furniture until he uses them. Hello? Are we going to go into warehouses and shut them down if they don't stack boxes the way the supplier wants them to?

    I can't wait to have to sign a release form to use a box because now were going to get into issues of proper use. It's bad enough when I go to a FedEx or UPS store and they tell me they have to pack the box because I couldn't possibly know how (even though I am a mechanical engineer with 7+ years of SCM experience...the guy who bought into a franchise is suddenly an expert in packing).

    If fedex is worried about improper use and safety, then maybe it's because the boxes are not environmentally safe and they don't want the public to know this? Maybe Jose might smoke in 'bed' and accidently set one of their boxes on fire. (Ever see corrugated paperboard burn, it's hot and fast). So maybe Fedex has a point there with safety....or is it really they are concerned with the public realizing how dangerous cardboard boxes really are. Not only do they burn well, contain chemicals, etc..they are perfect for roach eggs...Maybe Fedex is worried they might have to make their boxes fire retardant and certified roach free.

    The trademark issue is really the only concern they seem to legitimately have. All that requires is changing the name of the website. I think the Orange and Blue color scheme is free reign since God, last time I checked, created complimentary colors and there are a lot of other companies using those two. ...including this website.

    Then again...I have products with logos on them that I didn't buy. As I sit in my hotel room, tomorrow morning will be a USA Today outside my door. If I build something out of it, will the publisher take me down?

    It's just petty.

  23. I'd just like to point out that it is July, 2011, and I found this article while looking for a link to the guy's website — which I remembered from reading the Wired article — for use in a casual email.

    Sure, the guy's case would be more sympathetic if he had said up-front that he would eventually be using the boxes for shipping. And he doesn't come off too well in the IM interview.

    But that's beside the point: if FedEx's goal was to quash the idea of "FedEx furniture," they failed and then some. After all, the site's down, but I still have endless links to choose from — and, of course, the memory.


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