The Case Situation
You’ve just joined Sportstars, Inc., a company that represents athletes who want to increase their incomes by doing commercials, making speeches and personal appearances, and endorsing products. Sportstars persuades the sponsor to hire the athlete and helps negotiate the contract. In addition, a considerable amount of hand- holding is necessary to see the client through rough times. For these services, Sportstars receives 20% of the fees paid to the athlete.
As part of your orientation, your boss points out what you know already: A well-known athlete can command much higher fees than someone who’s less well known: normally, people who win championships net much higher fees than someone who is consistentlygood but who has not caught the public eye. “The big problem,” your boss says, “is what to do about young athletes. We can’t afford to represent the also-rans. We’d go broke spending time on them. But some rookies will eventually make it big, and we want to represent them when they get to the top. We’ve evolved a foolproof way to do this. When an unknown comes to us and asks to hire us as his or her personal representative, we decline but suggest a competing firm that we know does a terrible job representing its clients. Then, when the winner emerges from the pack, we approach that person to offer to represent him or her. We know we’ll do a better job – and we can prove it. We’ve signed everyone we’ve approached this way.”
Today you have a letter from Lee Ann Bezazian, a figure skater who won a bronze medal in the US championships last year. She’s decided to join a professional skating touring show and wants a representative to negotiate endorsements for her. A bit of research shows that while she’s a very good skater, she isn’t yet a star – and may never be. Under Sportstar’s policy, you can’t grant her request.
Write a letter and a memo:
- Write a rejection letter to Lee Ann. Consider how you can do this ina kind way that opens up the opportunity to do business with her in the future.
- Write a memo to your boss at Sportstars suggesting that the company policy be modified. In your memo, be sure to (a) identify and describe the policy that the memo is about; (b) identify and describe the problem in a tactful, convincing way, and (c) present
your suggestion for modifying the policy and your rationale for that suggestion (how will the policy modification benefit your company?). Note that you can pull in hypothetical “empirical results” or information, as useful, to back up your points or arguments in this memo.
This case study illustrates a common, complex situation in business: Writers must attempt to balance multiple concerns while producing letters and memos related to ethical concerns. In this situation, the writer (you) must consider what is “fair” and “best” for everyone concerned.
LETTER TO LEE ANN
This is a “bad news” letter and should be organized and written as such. See the file about “You Approach” strategies that you could use in this letter. Also consider the following questions before you write:
- The potential future client (Lee Ann). How can you reject Lee Ann, while alsokeeping open the possibility of doing future business with her? How can you
reject her without hurting her career or her feelings?
- The boss and the company. How can you show understanding, empathy, andcompassion for Lee Ann, while also showing loyalty to the company?
- The writer. You will need to provide Lee Ann with a reason for the rejection. If you consider the boss’s reason ethical, write in an honest, but tactful/kind way.If you don’t consider the boss’s reason ethical, consider how you can act in a way that you consider ethical. Do you have to convey to Lee Ann the same reason that the boss suggests (which you might consider unethical) or can you cite another reason that is also “true” and not made up, and more ethical from your perspective? Do you need to follow the boss’s suggestion and steer Lee Ann to companies that don’t do well by their clients, or do you have other options? Approach this situation in ways that you can live with –and that will be fair and kind to Lee Ann, as well as being appropriately loyal to your company.
MEMO TO THE BOSS
Use the conventions of memo writing that we’ve covered: write the top with the “To,” “From,” “Date,” and “Subject” lines; write a purpose statement; select details carefully; format the memo extensively; and close with something nice to say.
Remember that in the memo, you, the writer, are new to the company, and yet you have to describe a current policy and point out its flaws, and then recommend a new approach and point out its virtues, all without alienating your boss. This is more difficult to accomplish than you might first think, because of these considerations:
- Potential clients. If you have some problems with the policy that the boss obviously loves (and has followed without question for years), how could you point this out to him for the sake of helping out future clients?
- The boss. How can you – with tact and sensitivity – convince the boss that his policy has one or more flaws and that another approach might be better? If you consider the current policy unethical, how can you argue against the policy on other grounds and without inferring that the boss or your company might have been “unethical” – or put another way, how can you describe the problem in a way that doesn’t make the boss think that you are accusing him of being unethical? The concept here is that it is not effective to blame, accuse, or put your boss on the defensive; bosses and other readers tend to respond much better to memos or similar correspondence that approach them with respect than they do to documents that attack them.
- The company. How can you show loyalty to the company, while also pointing out negative aspects about a current company policy? How can you convince the boss that the current policy has hurt or could hurt the company? (If you wish, you can pull in hypothetical data/information showing that the policy has hurt the company or has the potential to do so in the future.)
- The writer. How can you point out flaws about a company policy but also protect your own job/status at the firm? It’s true that you are writing to a superior from a pretty weak position (being new; being a subordinate); even so, how can you make your case persuasively, without the need to come across as weak in any way?