Monday, July 07, 2014


Image and reputation mean everything in life and in business. Properly developed, and earned over time, these will lead to something even more important: Trust.

I've come to realize this during my over four decades of professional experience in PR and journalism. I know a lot of people think PR is just about getting publicity for a driver, team, sponsor, series or track. (Actually, too many of the current generation of so-called "PR" people conduct themselves such that they see their job as to carry the driver's helmet and automatically say "NO" to interview requests -- or not even bother to reply.) But there's much more to it than that. As I've occasionally revealed here, and even in my column (October 2011), sometimes the best work I've done has been to keep a client's name out of the press. Or otherwise act to protect the client's image and reputation. And help them keep the public's trust. 

(The old saying about "any publicity is good publicity" is uttered by people who don't know anything about real-world PR.)

It's no secret the public's trust in many of our national institutions -- especially government -- has been eroded. To me, it's a clear warning signal of a society trending downward. It's also no secret that social media, including Twitter and Facebook, are powerful tools that gives the average person -- not just the media elites -- a way to communicate their experiences and opinions with the potential of a virtually universal audience. Today, that means image and reputation and trust can be destroyed with a few keystrokes and clicks. Think about that. But it's surprising to me how many Big Business entities are dismissive of social media's power to do that.

(Let's also acknowledge how social media can be abused. Fake "news" is one way. The other day I read a post and, because that anonymous writer didn't like the bad news delivered by a professional journalist  -- confirmed by others -- he/she launched into a personal attack including calling the journalist a "hack." Before that came a post from someone claiming to have written the Arizona Republic's football writer (yes, FOOTBALL writer; man, does that make a lot of sense!) complaining about no racing coverage. I guess this guy hasn't picked up a paper in the last seven years! Pretty soon I'm going to be in favor of deploying drones equipped with HD cameras and using facial-recognition technology to surveil people like this and expose them to the public ridicule they so richly deserve.)

As I've considered the best way to approach this, the eighth anniversary of this blog, I've decided to write about image and reputation and trust. And I'll do so from personal experience, not because I want sympathy or to inflame anyone, but as a continuation of the mutual learning journey I've set forth as this blog's goal from the beginning of what I referred to as "The Great Adventure" back on July 10, 2006. 

Here are three telling case studies. This is the kind of stuff other people won't tell you. But I will.

Toyota's image and reputation for quality ended with me when I was sold a lemon of a Lexus that had multiple factory recalls. Many excuses followed. I no longer trust the product.

I bought that Lexus from a dealership owned by Roger Penske. (And, no, I didn't ask for or get any "deal.") For obvious reasons, I expected the highest standards of customer service. That's the very foundation of the Penske business model -- and empire. It was not the dealership's fault the car needed to be recalled so many times. But all those service visits let me see the soft underside of the operation. One time, they could not find the electronic ignition fob (they asked me if I had it -- that made sense since I was standing there waiting for the car!) and I was left waiting in summer Arizona temperatures for 30 minutes. Another time, the service rep forgot to call me to say my car was ready. Worst yet was when there was a theft of personal property from the car while in the Penske dealership's possession. (Very tellingly, when I told the cracker-jack Penske Racing PR leader this had happened, his response was to basically shrug his shoulders.) This dealership is no longer part of the Penske Automotive Group. Interestingly enough, I've observed the quality of customer service has improved. 

Most importantly for me has been the betrayal of The Mayo Clinic. I now refer to this as The Mayo Myth.

For privacy reasons, I'll skip a lot of specifics, but you'll get the point. Although I was in the Mayo system for about 15 years (and, even though Mayo services weren't covered by my insurance, I paid out-of-pocket for what I thought was the best-possible care), late last year when I called to make a routine appointment I was scheduled not with my primary care physician, but with a nurse practioner. I was given no prior notice of this change. Alarm Bell 1. When I asked about seeing my primary doctor, I was told the next available appointment was five months away. Alarm Bell 2.

The NP failed to order a test I had specifically requested -- which I noticed when I reviewed my tests results via an online portal. Alarm Bell 3.  Upon receiving Mayo's bill for these tests, I discovered they could have been done elsewhere for about 10 times less. There is no evidence Mayo did it better -- certainly not 10 times better. Alarm Bell 4. When I reviewed my medical notes via the portal, I found several factual errors. Alarm Bell 5. One of which was referring to pain as being in my left leg. Actually, it's in my right leg. Alarm Bell 6. I guess I should be thankful Mayo didn't do surgery because they might have cut on the wrong leg!

Another thing I learned was, at least in my case, if you don't act to help Mayo maximize it's own revenues, there is a secondary (and undisclosed) level of care. That's apparently what happened to me. Alarm Bell 7.  Mayo still has not communicated to me the results of a follow-up test done in March. Alarm Bell 8. When I began expressing my concern to Mayo about these various issues, well, I guess it's just coincidence, but I could no longer access my own medical records via the portal. Alarm Bell 9. Mayo claims the problem is not on their end, but with my computer, and suggested I call an IT service. As to the inaccurate medical notes, Mayo said I'd need to fill out a form to possibly get this corrected. (Don't lecture me about federal law.) In other words, Mayo expects me to use my own valuable time to fix its screw-ups. Alarm Bells 10 and 11.

By the time I finally got a call from my actual primary care doctor, it was overdue. Alarm Bell 12. I had already taken action to directly obtain my test results and promptly arrange necessary treatment outside of the Mayo system.

The person assigned to conduct Mayo's internal review conveniently skipped over the fact that that March test result was never communicated to me. This guy, who by the way is one of those who doesn't seem to understand how social media can impact image and reputation and trust, who doesn't seem to do his homework, and who doesn't know a Damn Thing about customer service (and I always tell medical people I'm a customer, not a patient), made the situation worse. Which was the worst thing he could have done. His one written communication to me came from a secretary. For the record, his name is Jon Nordrum, and in my experience he's an absolute example of the sort of arrogance that has diminished many an American institution, such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Alarm Bells 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17.

Oh, by the way, I continue to receive solicitations for financial contributions from Mayo. Alarm Bell 18.

And also, by the way, I possess documentation to verify all of the above, including printed copies of the inaccurate medical notes.

I know many others have benefitted well from treatment bought -- emphasis on bought and paid for -- from the Mayo system. I am glad for those who have had that experience.

All I can do is share my experience. And that has led me to unmask the The Mayo Myth regarding image, reputation and trust.

Sadly -- terribly -- it's a reflection of our greater society and nation. So my bottom-line message in this eighth anniversary blog is simple:

Buyer Beware.

That's the way it REALLY is. The need to look past image and reputation to determine if trust is justified has never been more real. 

[ more next week . . . ]