LONSBERRY: What I Saw On My Run

Most days at lunch time, I go running. Usually through the streets of Rochester.

               I love it. It’s good for the body, and it’s good for the mind.

               And most days I learn something. I see things or meet people or learn some new reality of which I had been ignorant.

               All you have to do is keep your eyes open.

               Like this billboard.

               Earlier in the winter, running down St. Paul, I noticed a poster in a bus shelter with a picture of a woman. A young, attractive, smiling, blonde woman. It registered, as I passed the people hiding from the wind in the shelter, that I had seen that picture before. In fact, I had seen it repeatedly.

               And I saw it later that very run.

               On a billboard downtown.

 

               The blonde woman, smiling like a giant prom picture, and the logo, “Congratulations to our Employee of the Year.” The branding logo said, “elderwood,” and the caption on the picture said, “Alicia Laible-Kenyon, executive director, Elderwood Health Plan.”

               And that didn’t make any sense.

               It struck me that that was an illogical billboard.

               First, who puts the employee of the year on a billboard, much less makes it a region wide advertising campaign? Who spends that much money on an employee recognition program, particularly given that such programs are almost always internal motivation efforts?

               Which made even less sense.

               Because you don’t make the boss employee of the year. Employee of the year is a tool used by the boss to enhance employee performance and morale. When the executive director wins the employee of the year, every real employee is going to figure that it’s cynically rigged and the impact will be to hurt morale and performance.

               As I was running down the street, it made no sense whatsoever.

               Further compounding it all was that the company – Elderwood – is apparently some sort of nursing home operation – part of the health-care segment. A segment overwhelmingly funded by our taxes and insurance premiums where you’d think dollars would be precious. But where, in this situation, a massive advertising buy was promoting not the product – nothing on the signs tells me what Elderwood is or why I should want to be its customer – but the employee.

               The signs and posters were about establishing the brand of Alicia Laible-Kenyon, not the brand of Elderwood.

               Which mystified me earlier in the winter, when I first noticed it.

               And intrigued me yesterday when I noticed it again.

               And when, eight miles later, I sat down at my computer and typed in her name.

               And found her campaign Facebook page.

               It turns out that the employee of the year is also the candidate of the day, running as a Democrat for Niagara Falls City Council. Niagara Falls, where Elderwood has a very large, high-end nursing home.

               The profile picture on her campaign page is the same picture her employer has plastered all over Western New York.

               Which is a heck of a payoff for employee of the year.

               Most of us just get a Wegmans gift card or an overnight at the casino.

               But Alicia Laible-Kenyon got what sure looks like a massive in-kind political contribution.

               Her name and her face are her brand, a brand she has chosen to make political and from which she seeks to benefit – as she is currently a candidate for office, which will bring her both power and pay.

               And this advertising campaign has created incalculable impressions for her brand and presumably done much to raise her community profile and name/face recognition.

               Which makes it political.

               So how much can a corporation – like Elderwood – give to a candidate?

               According to the state election board website, $5,000 per year. Did these billboards cost more than $5,000? You bet your ass.

               Has Elderwood ever put any other employee of the year on a billboard? I don’t know. In fact, I can’t find reference to anyone else ever being named Elderwood employee of the year – just Alicia Laible-Kenyon.

               Which is convenient.

               And suspicious.

               And that’s what you think about when you’re out on your midday run, keeping your eyes open.

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