Not less than 4 pages.
1. Problem Identification: Identify the source of the dilemma that the focal group (i.e. the
Board, the CEO, etc.) involved in the case must address, guided by a core case question.
2. Issue Analysis: Identify and analyze the three most critical issues related to your problem in
order to develop an insightful breakthrough (e.g., Stakeholder, VRINE, SWOT, PESTLE, Value
Chain Analysis, and other analyses).
on their smartphones rather than
on more-expensive e?readers. Each
installment in the series would be
short??easy to read on a subway or
bus ride,? as Calvin had explained?
and priced at 99 cents, the cost of a
ringtone. ?It?s bringing back the serial,
an old, cherished form of writing, in
a fresh, modern way.?
The series? title character,
El?Diablo, was a gangster, and the
stories, written in the vernacular of
street-smart young people, would be
set in his world, including overflow?
ing Cristal champagne, skyscraper
cribs with wraparound views, fast
cars, and lots of beautiful women.
A book series that glamorizes thug life raises
questions for its publisher. by Gregory Fairchild
Calvin?s move from TV to paper?
back publishing, and from a mostly
black organization to one in which he
and Olivia were the only two people
of color, had been unusual. But Olivia
n her morning jogs through
company introduced several new and
had promised him lots of leeway and
Golden Gate Park, Olivia
instantly popular lines, all targeting
support to get new products off the
Torres usually tried not to
nonmainstream audiences?not just
ground. She was thrilled to be making
think about work, but today she
men in midlife crisis but also gays
good on that promise.
couldn?t help herself. As the head of
and lesbians and people of color?
marketing and new product develop?
and Chartoff grew rapidly. ?They
stopped for a drink of water and
ment at Chartoff Publishing, she had
rewrote the book on pulp fiction,?
checked her phone. A new e?mail
just proposed a line of e?books, the
a San Francisco Chronicle reporter
from Harris Chartoff had the subject
El Diablo series, to the company?s
remarked on the publisher?s 25th an?
line ?We?ve got to talk.? His note
leadership team, and everyone had
niversary. But now, with the future of
was quick and to the point: ?It?s
loved the pitch. Olivia had left the
print seeming iffy at best, Harris was
about El Diablo. Call me as soon as
meeting elated, and an end-of-day
looking for ways to save the company
you get this.?
Halfway through her run, she
e?mail from Harris Chartoff, the
from extinction. He had hired Olivia,
company?s founder and CEO??Nice
a former tech executive, to enhance
he cut right to the chase: ?We may
presentation today, Olivia. Please tell
its digital offerings.
need to rethink El Diablo.?
your team I?m impressed with their
The El Diablo series was the
work??had only excited her more.
brainchild of Olivia?s newest team
Harris had started Chartoff
Publishing in 1978, after
member, Calvin Hart, a former
When she reached him on his cell,
?Why?? Olivia asked, taken aback.
?What?s going on??
Harris explained that he?d been at
raiser the night before, and Theresa
an ad agency to
an ACLU of Northern California fund-
quitting his job at
is the E. Thayer
istration at the
School of Business.
media manager at an
cable network. Inspired
Cooper, the head of the Institute
write a series of
by data showing that
African-Americans and Latinos
for African-Americans in the Media,
IAAM, had tracked him down. ?She
use social media and mobile devices
wasn?t happy,? Harris said. Olivia had
men dropping out to join bands of
far more than whites do, he had con?
seen Theresa interviewed on CNN
motorcyclists. He was a mediocre
ceived of the series as micro e?books
and being quoted in the Chronicle
novelist but a skilled marketer, so the
that minority teens?a long-?untapped
about fighting negative images of
series became a hit. In the 1980s the
market for publishers?could read
blacks in the media.
January?February 2015?Harvard Business Review?113
?What does that have to do with
?She knows about the project,?
Tell us what
you would do
in this situation
Harris said, annoyance in his voice.
?And she thinks it?s a damaging portrayal of African-American men that
glamorizes violence, drugs, and the
mistreatment of women.?
Olivia wasn?t surprised by
Theresa?s objections. When she
can yell and scream all she wants
the future of his business and didn?t
Diablo series, but our stories will be
want to risk a misstep when the
mild compared with the video games
stakes were so high.
and apps targeting teens, especially
blacks and Latinos.?
?Right?and our product at least
has the advantage of getting them to
read,? Olivia said.
?Exactly. Yes, these books will be
and Calvin had begun working on
violent. Yes, they?ll have lots of sex.
the project concept, they?d had
But that?s nothing new to these kids.
similar worries. But they?d told
And they want stories that reflect the
themselves that once the series was
world they?re living in and give them
successfully launched and this new
a hero to look up to.?
customer group had been hooked,
?Let?s be careful not to call
they could consider inserting more-
El?Diablo a hero,? Olivia said. ?He
positive images and messages into
does kill three people in the first
?Calvin went over the risks,? she
that he was deeply concerned about
about violence and sex in the El
?Which is how many you kill in
?Let?s do that this afternoon,
after Harris has finished his call
with Theresa Cooper,? she said.
?Apparently she wanted to go over her
concerns with him in detail.?
Just an E?book
??Digital malt liquor??? Calvin repeated. ?That?s what she called it??
Harris was relating his conversation with Theresa. ?The bottom line is
that if we release this product, IAAM
is going to protest.?
?Good?let them,? Calvin snapped.
Olivia shot him a warning look, signaling that he should tone it down in
said, ?and we expect some backlash
the first 30 seconds of playing Hotline
front of Harris. As the only Latina at
from groups like IAAM. But that
Miami,? Calvin replied. As part of
the company, she felt it was impor-
doesn?t outweigh the benefits?
their research for this product,
especially the financial ones?of this
they?d looked at some of the
more violent video games
?We just need to be
available, and Olivia still
tant to project composure and professionalism at all times.
?Theresa said that this is another
attempt by a mainstream organiza-
careful here,? Harris
couldn?t erase certain
tion to make money off black males
responded. ?I trust
images from her mind.
while pretending to serve their needs,?
your judgment. But I
want you to think about
this and talk with Calvin. Now that
we?re getting some heat from outside, we might want to reconsider.?
?So you don?t have any misgivings?? she asked.
?Of course I feel a little bad,
but stories about upstanding black
accountants and doctors aren?t going to sell books. It?s not our job to
Harris continued, reading from his
?So she doesn?t care about
Latinos?? Calvin said jokingly.
?Oh, she implied that protests
were sure to come from Latino activ-
Bring on the Controversy
promote positive images of minori-
ists, too,? Harris said. ?This reminds
ties. That?s what Theresa does. We?re
me of what happened with Street
ting in Olivia?s office a few hours later.
a commercial publishing house. We
Publishers about 15 years ago.? He ex-
?This is great news,? Calvin said, sit?Let Theresa Cooper go to the press. It
will only boost sales.?
Strong sales were exactly what
Olivia needed. If Chartoff was going
need to meet with Harris again and
plained that Street, one of their main
go over the numbers. We?re looking at
competitors, had come out with a
close to $300,000 in sales in the first
book aimed at young inner-city men,
year?conservatively. And the poten-
shrink-wrapped with a CD of gangsta
to make this year?s revenue targets,
tial for expansion into other product
rap ?back when it was first on the
she had to come up with a hit product,
lines is promising. He thought it was
scene.? To help test the book, the
and all signs indicated that El Diablo
a fantastic idea yesterday.?
company had shipped 1,000 copies
could be one. A pilot story tested with
Olivia knew that Harris wasn?t
more than 200 African-American and
afraid of controversy. He?d built
Latino teens had gotten rave reviews
Chartoff by serving ?outsider? cus-
both in focus groups and in surveys.
?Plus this is an empty controversy,?
Calvin continued. ?Theresa Cooper
114 Harvard Business Review?January?February 2015
to a local prison.
?As soon as the press got word of
it,? he said, ?there were protests and
tomers, and he always took criticism
petitions, claims that the publisher
about the content of the company?s
was inciting violence.?
books in stride. But she also knew
?Did the books sell?? Calvin asked.
has me second-guessing
?Street never released
them,? Harris said. ?It
myself. I?m wonder?
caved under the media
ing whether the series
will do more harm than
Olivia broke in. ?Help
good. Maybe Chartoff
us understand, Harris. As
Publishing needs to have
Calvin has said, the public?
more of a conscience.?
?Why do you need a conscience?
ity may be a good thing. Lots of
Chartoff?s series got their start in the
What about video game producers
hot seat. What exactly are you wor?
and Hollywood? They don?t seem
to be concerned about ruining boys?
minds. You?re not the bad guys.
?I?ve always felt we were on the
side of the underdog?getting books
Besides, if you wanted to take on vio?
out there about and for people who
lent culture in the U.S., you?d have a
didn?t typically have books written
different job. You were excited about
about or for them,? he replied. ?I was
this job because you wanted to create
happy to stand behind those. But this
best-selling books and discover ways
feels different somehow.?
to keep people reading even if print
?I think it?s fair to say that we?ve all
had concerns at some point, but
?Right?but I?m not sure I?d let
I still believe in the El Diablo project,?
?Coming from a black man, that?s
son. ?And if I wouldn?t let my own
persuasive,? Harris said. ?But no one
nephew read it, should we be pro?
has ever before insinuated that one of
moting it to others??
our series was going to bring down an
entire population of minority teens.?
?This is just a series of e?books,?
?Let their aunts worry about what
they read. You worry about launch?
ing a successful product. The market
Olivia said. ?You know that?s not true.?
?Do I?? Harris asked.
research was all good, right??
?Yes. I?m confident that this series
will do well and make Chartoff some
More of a Conscience
decent money. But it?s not really
That night Olivia?s wife, Sara, brought
about whether we could sell it. It?s
home their favorite takeout, but
about whether we should.?
Olivia had no appetite.
?Bad day?? Sara asked.
Olivia told her about Theresa
Cooper?s objections to El Diablo and
the meeting with Harris.
?So he wants to pull the project??
?No, he wants me to make the call.?
?At least he trusts you,? Sara said.
?You?re not having second thoughts
now, are you? You?ve been gung ho
about this project for months.?
?That?s right,? Olivia replied. ?I had
those initial concerns about the con?
tent, but I convinced myself that this
would make inroads with the market
segment. Now stupid Theresa Cooper
Olivia should go ahead with the
series. The market is untapped
and there?s a huge opportunity for
growth and diversification into other
product lines. To handle the heat
from IAAM, Chartoff could introduce
some corporate social responsibility activities to educate minors and
guide them toward a better way
of living. That would project an
image of helping society fight evil
and simultaneously create a huge
Abhimanyu Singh, business development
Melvin read El Diablo,? Olivia said,
referring to her sister?s 13-year-old
Calvin said, calmer now.
faced by leaders
in real companies
and offer solutions
This one is based
on the HBS Case
Study ?El Diablo:
The Corner Cleaner
no. UV1924-PDFENG), by Gregory
is available at
Comments from the
Should Olivia pull
the plug on the
El Diablo series?
See the commentaries following.
This is a case of political correctness run rampant: Responsibility for
implementing effective controls and
standards is passed from consumers
back to business. Our society has
sufficient laws, rights, and regulations to protect us from inappropriate products, so if a company isn?t
breaking any laws or breaching
any rights or regulations, a social
conscience should not impact how
it meets its revenue targets.
Arthur Weiss, senior technology
manager, IT services
We sit through shows like The
Sopranos because they offer compelling dialogue and imagery between the scenes where we squint
and cringe. If Olivia wouldn?t let her
nephew read the El Diablo series
because he?s too young, she should
put an age warning on the books. If
she wouldn?t let him read it because
there?s nothing redeemable about it,
she should pull the plug.
Liesl Margolin, freelance architect
January?February 2015?Harvard Business Review?115
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