Hot Air: Branding & Brandishing

We’ll have good public relations positioning if we have to get it at the point of a gun.

Eeee-yep. The IU Health corporate behemoth last June hired a brand-spanking new chief of its quasi-military arm. Betcha didn’t know IU Health — the entity you heretofore thought was a place of healing and tender loving care — has its own police force. That’s right. A uniformed, badged, armed cohort authorized to clunk you on the head or slap the bracelets on you.

Not that a hospital doesn’t have the right or duty to employ bouncers to protect its patient from random hooligans who may be substance-addled or psychologically damaged. Nor, for that matter, should we forget that there are plenty of drugs in a hospital that just might provide an all-too irresistible temptation for those with an unslakable thirst for same.

But add that police force to the many already prowling our streets, all packing heat, all authorized to visit mayhem upon you at their discretion, and — again — brandishing the power to throw you in the slammer. How many such forces do we need?

Well, IU Health believes the answer is one more. Theirs.

What’s weird about this is the way IU Health’s flack department portrayed the hiring of the above-pictured commandant. Note the headline doesn’t say We’ve Hired a New Guy to Keep You Safe or Chief Promises to Keep a Lid on Medical-Grade Dope. Nuh-uh. The new guy basically is in his seat of power as simply another facet of the medical center/school’s positive image campaign. Why, he’s an advertisement for us!

“Protecting IU Health’s Brand.” I’ll try to move past my gut-level revulsion for that now-ubiquitous term, brand. Everybody and everything has a brand now, from nations to corps. to pop stars to just plain folks looking for a job on LinkedIn. You are your brand and brands can be massaged, tweaked, and outright manipulated to provide the best possible face for whatever you do. Truth? What’s that? Image, my friends, is the thing.

You can create your own image no matter what sins you’ve committed or lies you’ve uttered in the past. Hell, there  are services that can wash the internet and social media clean of any negative references to a company poisoning the watershed or employing Third World slave labor. For pity’s sake, restaurants that have been responsible for a spate of food-borne illnesses can make references to them disappear in the click of a key.

It’s always puzzled me why a hospital needs to advertise in the first place. When you shatter your femur falling off your bicycle do you tell the ambulance driver to hold on for a moment while you re-check the ads for all the nearby emergency rooms? Same with ads for prescription medications with unpronounceable names for maladies that really aren’t even specified in the ads themselves. Everything and anything is a brand to be touted.

Hell, the author of the above-linked piece calls himself a journalist even though he’s working for the PR department of IU Health. That journalism brand imparts authority and even-handedness to him despite the fact that his raison d’être is to paint the prettiest picture possible of his employer. Let’s go a step further: Indiana University a few years ago folded its journalism school into something now dubbed The Media School, a family of educational disciplines that today trains students to become reporters, TV anchors, advertising creative directors, interactive designers, social media managers and, yes, public relations specialists. Journalists in a day not terribly long ago would stand on their heads not to be lumped in with advertising and public relations people. Sure, often journalists, sick of the daily grind and the modest (I mean really modest) pay, might chuck it all and go into the more lucrative advertising or PR rackets. But they wouldn’t try to snow you that they were still journalists.

This little screed was inspired by the unceremonious ejection from IU Health Bloomington Hospital yesterday of a man who’d been treated for the COVID-19 virus. What’s known thus far is he was discharged and told to isolate himself. Apparently he has no place to go to follow that order and refused to leave the place. One thing led to another and a slew of IU Health’s private cops muscled him out of the place. There may be much more to the story than is known thus far but, golly, I would have figured the IU Health brand is When You’re Sick, We’re the Place for You. And even if it’s the wisest practice to get COVID-19 patients away from the rest of the hospital staff and patients, it seems incumbent upon the institution to help someone who has no home find a safe place.

In any case, IU Health PR suffered a mighty hit yesterday, regardless of whether or not they have their cops to enforce their brand.

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