Last week a bizarre decision by the prestigious Mayo Clinic had my college class rumbling with outrage.

One of the most popular class exercises I use to demonstrate the importance of blogging and content strategy is dividing the class up to dissect and discuss various corporate blogs. Since the pharmaceutical and health care industries are so prominent in New Jersey, I often use the Mayo Clinic’s blog as a case study.

The Mayo Clinic generally does a good job using its blog to establish a voice of authority for its principle core disciplines of stress management, cancer treatment and other health categories. They have doctors providing regular columns on these subjects and they attract a lot of comments (although they generally do not respond to the comments, probably for legal reasons). I like using this blog as an example because in an industry that is so gun-shy about using social media, this prominent clinic seemed to be moving forward in a powerful way.

A strategy gone horribly wrong

Last year I noticed they started taking paid advertising on their blog, mostly from drug companies. I thought this was a strange decision.  Clearly the goal of the blog was to establish community contact and voice of authority. Why cheapen the outstanding reputation of the clinic through annoying advertising that pushed drugs on people?

The strategy completely blew up on the medical center last week when my class discovered that right next to a blog post about the grief of pregnancy loss, the clinic was displaying ads for cute children’s clothing.  Look carefully at the picture at the top of the blog post.  Utterly tasteless.  Incomprehensible.

Of course I don’t think anybody mindfully placed this exact ad in this exact place. I’m sure they had a deal with this advertiser to automatically rotate ads for cute clothes on a column about pregnancy, never thinking it could backfire like this. Only problem is, the mothers reading the blog don’t know that.  They trust Mayo Clinic. Why wouldn’t they?

Here is a word I rarely use on my my blog: Stupid.  But I think it is an unavoidable description when an organization sells the soul of their brand for a few advertising dollars with a mindless strategy of advertising children’s clothes to women who have just lost their child.

Lessons learned?

Here is the lesson to take out of this disaster. Everything you do, and everything you don’t do, communicates about your brand.  Once you have your brand strategy set, protect it fiercely and stick to it relentlessly.  Never, ever take your eye off of what you do and why you exist.

In this case, somebody in the Mayo Clinic PR Department got some very bad advice. Maybe they were wide-eyed about the prospect of turning their customer-facing communications into a profit center. But what they really did was turn the clinic’s stellar reputation as a premier international healthcare center into a shuckster ready turn to tricks in any tasteless manner for a few bucks.  Instead of passionately and sensitively helping people who are suffering, they are shilling baby clothes and drugs to them,  This proud institution totally lost their vision of why they exist.

Think about what you’re doing with your marketing strategy. Is every activity lined up in a way that relentlessly communicates your core values and brand promise?

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