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    Published on: December 3, 2020

    A terrific new ad for Match.comm has broken, from actor-producer Ryan Reynolds and featuring the music of Taylor Swift.  I think it does a pretty good job of summing up the dumpster fire of a year we've just had … so, enjoy.

    Published on: December 3, 2020

    From the Washington Post this morning:

    "As news of promising progress on coronavirus vaccines have filled the headlines in recent weeks, labor lawyers say employers have been pressing one question in particular: Once approved, can they require employees to take it?"

    The potential of imminent availability of a vaccine, the Post writes, has employers asking a series of questions:  "Can they require employees to take a vaccine? Should they offer incentives instead to encourage compliance? And what should they do if employees resist?"

    The story says that "it will likely be months before anyone besides health care and other essential workers have access to the vaccine. On Tuesday, an advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said health-care workers and long-term care residents and staff should get top priority for the vaccine.

    "In the meantime, employers are waiting for specific guidance from federal agencies such as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the CDC before setting corporate policies, employment lawyers say."

    The thing that makes this vaccine different from other vaccines, the Post writes, is that "covid-19 vaccines are expected to first be available under an 'emergency use authorization' rather than a full FDA licensure."  This makes the vaccine potentially more problematic.

    "Once a coronavirus vaccine receives formal government approval, employment lawyers say it’s more likely to be treated like the flu shot, which can be mandated, even if it’s currently rare outside the health care field," the Post writes.

    One suggestion from the story:  "Offering employees incentives to get the vaccine may be more effective, some experts say. David Barron, an employment lawyer with Cozen O’Connor, said clients are already looking into how they can use wellness programs to reward employees who take the coronavirus vaccine with gift cards or discounts on health insurance premiums, much as they would with getting a flu shot or following other healthy habits."

    KC's View:

    As a matter of engendering comfort among customers, I think it will be important for stores, theaters, airlines, museums, restaurants and other venues to be able to reassure them that all employees have been vaccinated … and even, in the short term, only allow in customers who have been vaccinated.

    This may mean, in terms of workers, some sort of incentive program to get some people over their trepidations.  But this is a public health crisis - one that killed close to three thousand people yesterday.

    I think that the powers that be will have to tell the story in a compelling, persuasive way.  They'll have to make the case that being vaccinated is an act of patriotism that will allow the country to regain some sense of normality in terms of the economy and the culture and our personal relationships.  This cannot be taken for granted … the story has to be shaped and then told and told again and then told again.

    Published on: December 3, 2020

    From the Wall Street Journal, a report that "United Parcel Service Inc. imposed shipping restrictions on some large retailers such as Gap Inc. and Nike Inc. this week, an early sign that the pandemic-fueled online shopping season is stretching delivery networks to their limits.

    "The delivery giant on Cyber Monday notified drivers across the U.S. to stop picking up packages at six retailers, including L.L. Bean Inc., Hot Topic Inc., Newegg Inc. and Macy’s Inc., according to an internal message viewed by the Wall Street Journal and confirmed by UPS workers in different regions.

    "'No exceptions,' the message said."

    The Journal also provides some context for the decision:

    "The move comes during a holiday season when retailers are increasingly dependent on delivery companies to move online orders, as store traffic has plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic—a dynamic that has shifted power significantly. UPS and rival FedEx Corp. have raised prices and promised to hold merchants to volume agreements.

    "The temporary limits, which some drivers say they haven’t seen during previous holiday seasons, are a sign that UPS is metering the flow of packages into its network to preserve its performance during one of the busiest shipping weeks of the year. The National Retail Federation estimated that online shopping jumped 44% over a recent five-day stretch that included Black Friday and Cyber Monday."

    KC's View:

    An MNB reader made the point - the full email is posted in "Your Views," below - that "this is the first year that I have done all my shopping on-line; I doubt I will ever go back to going to the store to hunt and peck for what I need – no crowds, no fuss, and I can do it completely at my leisure.  Talk about Peace on Earth!"

    People will go back to stores, just as they will go back to ballparks and theaters and trade shows.  But it will be up to stores and the people in charge of all those other experiences to make them compelling enough to attract customers and attendees - they can't just expect them to return.  Habits are being created that will not be easily discarded.

    Published on: December 3, 2020

    Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  In the United States, we've now had 14,314,265 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 279,867 deaths and 8,462,434 reported recoveries.

    Globally, the numbers are these:  64,948,823 confirmed coronavirus cases, 1,501,535 fatalities, and 45,043,555 reported recoveries. (Source.)

    •  NBC News reports that "the United States set three grim records on Wednesday, recording the highest number of daily deaths, new infections and hospitalizations since the pandemic began.

    "The U.S. reported 2,777 coronavirus-related deaths on Wednesday alone, according to an NBC News tally. The country registered nearly 205,000 new cases of Covid-19 on the same day, a figure that comes just a month after the U.S. single-day record topped 100,000 cases for the first time.

    "Meanwhile, more people than ever are hospitalized. The Covid Tracking Project reported that 100,000 people were hospitalized across the country."

    These numbers make we want to pose two questions to the folks who think this is just like the regular flu, and that way too much of it is being made by the media (including MNB).

    Is this freakin' serious enough for you yet?    And if not, exactly what will it take?

    •  Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said yesterday about the coming winter months, "I actually believe they're going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation."

    However, the New York Times points out that he didn't stop there.  In fact, Redfield sounded a note of hope.

    "It’s not a fait accompli," he said. "We’re not defenseless. The truth is that mitigation works. But it’s not going to work if half of us do what we need to do. Probably not even if three-quarters do."

    The Times writes that there is a significant difference between the pandemic realities of the spring and what we are experiencing today:

    "In April, the virus and the deaths were concentrated in New York and New England. Today, the pandemic’s toll is being felt across the country.

    "Still more sobering: The April peak represented the worst moment of spring. It was followed by a decline in deaths as lockdowns were imposed and many Americans altered their behavior.

    "And as staggering as it is, the death toll reported Wednesday appears likely only to worsen, experts say, as the delayed effects of Thanksgiving travel are felt. And many Americans are now weighing how to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s."

    •  The Hill reports that Moncef Slaoui, who is running the federal government's Operation Warp Speed initiative, says that he hopes that 100 million people in the US can be given the vaccine by the end of February.

    According to the story, "Slaoui said that number essentially represents all of the nation's front line health workers, the elderly and people with underlying conditions … he is basing the 100 million people estimate on the number of vaccines that could be available from Moderna and from Pfizer and BioNTech."

    "Operation Warp Speed CEO Gen. Gustave Perna said the government plans to ship out 6.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine within 24 hours of it getting the green light from the Food and Drug Administration," The Hill reports.  "Officials plan to send 12.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine in the same period. 

    "Perna noted that the initial allocations to states will be sent in separate shipments because the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses administered three weeks later, and the Moderna vaccine requires a second dose four weeks later.   Perna said giving states separate shipments will help make sure the limited storage capacity and capability isn't overwhelmed, especially with the deep-freeze requirements of the Pfizer vaccine. 

    "Both Moderna and Pfizer have requested emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration for their respective COVID-19 vaccines. The agency has scheduled a meeting for Dec. 10 to discuss Pfizer’s request for authorization and Moderna's for a week later. Authorization could occur days after the meetings. "

    •  CNN reports that "the Department of Defense released the first images of a Covid-19 vaccination record card and vaccination kits Wednesday.

    "Vaccination cards will be used as the 'simplest' way to keep track of Covid-19 shots, said Dr. Kelly Moore, associate director of the Immunization Action Coalition, which is supporting frontline workers who will administer Covid-19 vaccinations."

    "Everyone will be issued a written card that they can put in their wallet that will tell them what they had and when their next dose is due," Moore said. "Let's do the simple, easy thing first. Everyone's going to get that."

    •  As expected, the Washington Post reports, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued revised guidelines saying that "the standard 14-day coronavirus quarantines potentially can be shortened to 10 days or even seven … The move reflects the agency’s recognition that the two-week quarantine rule is onerous for many people and that most of the public health benefit from quarantining people exposed to the virus can be gained with a more flexible approach."

    The Post writes:  "The CDC acknowledges that this new guidance involves a trade-off. The existing 14-day quarantine recommendation reflects the ability of the virus to incubate for a long period before symptoms appear. But lack of compliance - for example, among people who fear that they will lose a job, or two weeks of income, if they admit to being exposed - can undermine the public health benefit from that standard."

    •  The Los Angeles Times reports that "San Francisco this week will announce more rollbacks to its reopening plan, including a possible quarantine order for travelers and reduced indoor capacity at businesses, as the coronavirus continues to pummel the state, city officials said Tuesday.

    "During an online news conference, Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco’s director of public health, said shutdowns ordered during the past few weeks have failed to stem the pace of infections and warned the city may have a shortage of hospital beds by Christmas … San Francisco has an average of 140 new cases a day, four times the number of just one month ago."

    •  Starbucks said this week that all of its stores will offer free coffee to all frontline responders for the month of December.

    The qualifying list:  “doctors, nurses, public health workers, pharmacists, dispatchers, fire fighters, paramedics, EMTs, law enforcement officers, dentists and dental hygienists, mental health workers (therapist, psychologist, social worker, counselor), hospital staff such as janitor/housekeeping/security, military on active duty, contact tracers, vaccine and pharmaceutical researchers, pilots, flight attendants, TSA, and medical researchers.”

    “It has been an extraordinarily difficult year, especially for the front-line responders who are serving our communities. We want to show our deep gratitude for those who support and protect us every day with a small gesture of kindness and a cup of coffee,” Virginia Tenpenny, Starbucks vice president of global social impact said in a statement.

    •  From the New York Times:

    "CVS has reached a deal with the federal government to give out a Covid-19 antibody treatment in patients’ homes and long-term care facilities, the pharmacy chain announced on Wednesday, providing a new way for certain high-risk patients to get a drug aimed at keeping them out of the hospital.

    "The treatment, called bamlanivimab and developed by Eli Lilly, has been administered mainly at hospitals since it received emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration less than a month ago. Since then, the federal government has distributed to state health departments nearly 170,000 doses of the treatment, though only some of those doses have been given to patients so far. The federal government has purchased 950,000 doses to last into January, including the doses that have already been distributed.

    "The three-month pilot with CVS involves just 1,000 doses, enough to treat 1,000 Covid-19 patients. It’s not clear how much impact that will have as the virus is spreading rapidly and demand for treatments is surging."

    •  From Sports Illustrated:

    "Among the changes to daily life amid the coronavirus pandemic, sports teams have seen few to no fans at games for most of 2020.

    "With several vaccine trials underway, there is hope that things will slowly return to normal in 2021. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has provided an update on when we could see full-capacity crowds return to games next year."

    Fauci said that while live sporting events attended by big crowds will be "the last thing[s] that you're gonna see … it probably will be well into the end of the summer before you can really feel comfortable [with full sports stadiums]–if a lot of people get vaccinated. I don't think we're going to be that normal in July. I think it probably would be by the end of the summer."

    Published on: December 3, 2020

    •  Bloomberg reports that FedEx is acquiring ShopRunner, described as "an e-commerce service that provides shipping for more than 100 brands."

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    According to the story, "ShopRunner will operate as a subsidiary of FedEx Services once the deal is complete … The acquisition tightens FedEx’s embrace of surging e-commerce deliveries, adding to earlier moves such as adopting seven-day service and investing in handling large residential packages. ShopRunner allows online shoppers to choose its two-day shipping and free returns service for brands including Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Under Armour."

    •  The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that Amazon is negotiating the acquisition of Wondery, the podcast startup that is said to valued at about $300 million, as Amazon "pushes further into the growing audio sector."

    According to the story, "Closely held Wondery is the last large, independent podcaster on the market—and could present the final opportunity for a major tech or media giant to buy its way into the exploding field … Amazon’s foray coincides with a growth spurt for the small but rapidly expanding podcasting industry.

    "Once the domain for super-niche fare, true-crime content and pop-culture dissections, the format has exploded in recent years as a destination for high-profile entertainment and political programming. Podcasting as a whole is attracting over 100 million monthly active listeners, according to Edison Research.

    U.S. ad revenue from podcasts, meanwhile, rose an estimated 48% to $708.1 million last year, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, and is projected to exceed $1 billion by 2021."

    •  From CNBC:

    "The company that has given Pier 1 Imports, Dressbarn and Modell’s Sporting Goods a second chance at life online is adding another embattled retailer to its empire: Stein Mart.

    "Miami-based Retail Ecommerce Ventures has emerged as the winner of a bankruptcy court auction for the intellectual property of Stein Mart, the company announced Wednesday. It will pay $6.02 million for the Stein Mart nameplate, as well as its private-label brands, domain names, social media assets and other customer data."

    The plan is to reopen Stein Mart as an online-only off-price store early next year, the story says.

    •  Axios reports that "Uber is in advanced talks to sell its Uber Elevate unit to Joby Aviation … The sale comes as Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi works to attain profitability, and follows partial sales of Uber's money-losing freight and self-driving units."

    The story notes that "Elevate had a helicopter service running in New York City, but suspended those operations during the pandemic. At last check, the unit had around 80 employees … Joby Aviation had previously partnered with Uber Elevate, and has raised over $700 million from firms like Toyota, Intel and JetBlue."

    Published on: December 3, 2020

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "California food company Eat Just Inc. won Singapore government approval to sell chicken grown from poultry cells, a step forward for a nascent technology that aims to revolutionize meat production.

    "The Singapore Food Agency, which oversees food safety and security in the country, deemed the chicken—produced using cell-culture technology—safe for human consumption at the levels Eat Just intends to use in chicken nuggets. The agency said the meat can be sold in Singapore as an ingredient in Eat Just’s nuggets product."

    •  Walgreens Boots Alliance and VillageMD yesterday announced plans "to open the next 40 new Village Medical at Walgreens full-service primary care clinics by the end of summer 2021. The first markets for expansion include areas of Houston, El Paso and Austin, Texas, Phoenix, Ariz., and Orlando, Fla. The first new locations outside of Houston will open in the Phoenix area starting Dec. 14, 2020. The expansion is part of the large-scale rollout announced earlier this year to open 500 to 700 Village Medical at Walgreens clinics in more than 30 U.S. markets in the next five years."

    •  Amazon announced the addition of five new companies - Boom Supersonic, Cabify, JetBlue, Rivian, and Uber  - to The Climate Pledge, a coalition of companies that have committed "to be net-zero carbon by 2040 - a decade ahead of the Paris Agreement’s goal of 2050."

    There now are 18 companies that have signed on.  The others are Amazon, Best Buy, Henkel, Infosys, McKinstry, Mercedes-Benz, Oak View Group, Real Betis, Reckitt Benckiser, Schneider Electric, Siemens, Signify, and Verizon.

    The Climate Pledge was co-founded by Amazon and an organization called Global Optimism.

    Published on: December 3, 2020

    •  H-E-B announced the official naming of Cathy Harm, a two-decade veteran of the company who most recently was director of operations, as regional VP in the company's Central Texas region.

    Published on: December 3, 2020

    Rafer Johnson, winner of the 1960 Olympic decathlon gold medal and one of the most acclaimed athletes of his time, has passed away.  He was 86.

    The Los Angeles Times has a wonderful piece about Johnson, noting that his life was intertwined with that of the City of Angels - he was a storied athlete at UCLA before going to the Olympics, and he was present the night in 1968 that Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated at the city's Ambassador Hotel after the California primary.  (Johnson, a Kennedy friend and fervent supporter, disarmed the assassin and later accompanied the Kennedy family to the hospital.)

    A passage from the Times obit:

    "The son of Texas farmworkers who moved to California when he was young, Johnson rose to become the World’s Greatest Athlete, the unofficial title bestowed on the winner of the Olympic decathlon at a time when track and field stars received the adulation that today is bestowed on the best of the NFL and NBA.

    "At the 1960 Rome Olympics, Johnson was the U.S. team’s flag bearer, the first Black American so honored. His decathlon battle that year with C.K. Yang — his training partner at UCLA — ranks among the classic moments of Olympics history.

    "In an eventful life, Johnson broke racial barriers, played an unexpected role in the international relations of the Cold War and immersed himself in the turbulent politics of the 1960s. To help disabled children, Johnson co-founded the California Special Olympics in 1969 and served as its president for 10 years.

    "In contrast to the anything-to-win attitudes often found in sports today, the deeply religious Johnson was always a vocal advocate for fair play and good sportsmanship. He eschewed drugs and alcohol and, in track races, refused even to try to anticipate the starter’s gun, believing that it was a form of cheating.

    "'It seems funny to say winning is not all-important — I always want to win, and no one likes to lose,' he once said. 'But when you start out on the field, everyone is equal. That is the important idea'."

    Published on: December 3, 2020

    Responding to Michael Sansolo's column yesterday about the importance of treating existing customers as well as new customers, MNB reader Joe Axford wrote:

    I couldn't agree more, and I'll give an example that really hits home in the times we are living in.

    Like many, my cell phone bill through Verizon is over $250 a month, which includes service for 4 phones. Not terrible, right? My issue is that most of us are home right now, and using WiFi, and very little Data, not even close to our limit. As a long time customer, a discount of some sort would be nice, say 10 or 15 percent, much like GEICO car insurance has done. I have contacted Verizon to no avail, maybe they'll see this email.

    MNB reader Craig Espelien wrote:

    Michael is dead on - I detest this practice! Digital Marketing makes this so much easier and is a crucial link in the experience chain. Customer Activation is how it starts - as too many companies see a sale as a transaction rather than the beginning of a new relationship.

    I always recommend a series of communications (emails typically) explaining how to maximize the experience with the product or service. Then, when does the product purchased “expire” or need to be refilled/replenished? This then creates a communication path to encourage (and reward) loyalty. This includes both inside information and user only programs/promotions.

    Not every company follows this as they intellectually understand customer Journey Maps but do not really think about customers once the transaction has been made. I could share horror stores about Satellite Radio - I have to set a reminder every year to be the “please stay” deal that is about one-third the cost of the automatic billing cost you have to sign up for to get the deal. Usually only one or two threats to cancel get the new deal - but I hate the dance…

    Regarding holiday sales and uncertainty going forward, one MNB reader wrote:

    I think the answer lies in the fact that many people (myself included) started shopping on-line weeks ago.  My Christmas shopping was basically done well before Thanksgiving.  Why?  Knowing that shipping lanes are more crowded than ever, and not wanting to stress about whether my purchases would be delivered in a timely manner.  Also, we are all in a hoarding mindset; why risk items being out of stock closer to Christmas, when I can go on-line, search what I want at a good price, and get it now?

    BTW, this is the first year that I have done all my shopping on-line; I doubt I will ever go back to going to the store to hunt and peck for what I need – no crowds, no fuss, and I can do it completely at my leisure.  Talk about Peace on Earth!

    We had a piece yesterday about bow Nasdaq is considering a new rule requiring board diversity for companies listed on its exchange, prompting one MNB reader to write:

    Our board consists of:

    4 women

    3 Asian people

    3 Black people

    2 LGBTQ people

    Some of these attributes intersect and we also have diversity in age.

    Our CEO is an LGBTQ woman in her 60’s.

    We are in one of the most segregated cities in America as well. 

    We did this without a government mandate, instead it’s something our organization has been focused on.

    It is WAY past time for this to be the norm, not the exception, in the way businesses are run. 

    I commented about this story yesterday:

    I am a big fan of the idea that companies' boards out to be diverse, and I certainly think that this is a legitimate measurement for people to use when evaluating whether to invest in a business.  If the rationale is that a more diverse board creates more vigilant corporate governance by eliminating old boys clubs, then I think this is a fine idea.

    This prompted one MNB reader to write:

    Just curious, on your site there are three people submitting articles, you, Mr. Sansolo and your wife. By my count that's two old white guys and a white woman. Are you willing to get rid of Mr. Sansolo and replace him with a person of color? You should also add an LGBTQ person on staff, so I guess your wife has to go as well.

    First of all, who are you calling old?  I think of myself as being in late middle age (though when I say this at home, it is greeted by guffaws from my kids and the inevitable pointing out that this means that I'd have to live until 120 or so … which is my plan).

    Second, I think you are making a lot of assumptions about Michael, Mrs. Content Guy, and me.  Just sayin'. (You've never seen a picture of my wife.)

    Also ... I'm not sure what site you're reading, but Mrs. Content Guy - often referred to here, and generally in the most revered terms - has never had a piece posted here in 19 years, at least not that I can remember.  So I'm not sure what that's about.

    To be clear, I believe in diversity - but it also is important to point out that MNB has a staff of exactly one.  Me.  Michael contributes weekly pieces, but he's not staff.  (I actually like this structure - after 19 years, I still feel like a startup.)

    That said, this actually is something that we talk about a lot, and one of the reasons that, whenever possible, I've asked a diverse group of young people to contribute to MNB … I want as many different opinions as possible, reflecting as many different experiences as possible.  And for the record, we actually have a fair amount of diversity in the "Your Views" section, though much of it is invisible because people are not always named.

    Inevitably, there will come a time when I'll hang up my laptop, at least in terms of five-day-a-week MNB punditry, and hopefully there will be a new Content Person.  I would hope - and will work hard to be sure - that this person is someone who is very unlike me in terms of world view and experiences.

    (If you know someone like this, and who likes the idea of writing five days a week and being publicly opinionated - and occasionally excoriated - for a living, let me know.  Never too early to start building a file…)

    Published on: December 3, 2020

    In an unusual Wednesday late afternoon NFL game - postponed three times in the past week because of Covid-19 concerns - the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Baltimore Ravens 19-14.