PROFILE: Doorley is selling CEOs on the value of reputation

John Doorley bridged the chasm between Merck and AIDS activists, so it's little wonder that Rutgers students and CEOs alike are paying attention to his ideas on reputation management.

John Doorley bridged the chasm between Merck and AIDS activists, so it's little wonder that Rutgers students and CEOs alike are paying attention to his ideas on reputation management.

John Doorley doesn't want his students calling him "professor." It's "Mr. Doorley," he insists, because unlike his Rutgers University colleagues, Doorley doesn't have a PhD. "People work so hard for that title," he says. But Doorley has worked every bit as hard. After a brief stint as a social worker, he moved into pharmaceutical sales, and later worked his way up the ranks at Hoffman-LaRoche, ultimately becoming the CEO's top speechwriter. It was only a happy accident that landed him at Merck, as he happened to be sitting on a plane next to Merck's then head of public affairs. Doorley left Merck as head of corporate communications at the end of 1999 to teach in Rutgers' communications program and begin work on a book about reputation management. Merck was named the most admired company in America by Fortune seven of the 12 years he was there. "The company just couldn't seem to do anything wrong," he says. But while Doorley's not the type to take all the credit, his contributions are hard to overlook. Not only did he help make Merck a leading voice on healthcare reform during his tenure, he pushed to make it the first pharma company to work closely with AIDS activists. At the time, the only drug available for AIDS patients was AZT, which had limited success and profound side effects. Many AIDS activists therefore thought that the pharma industry was not working hard enough on the problem, but they didn't understand how a drug is researched and developed, not to mention the costs and extensive clinical trials involved. And no drug companies had taken the initiative to explain the process. But Doorley did. He set up a meeting with AIDS activists, including Jules Levin, founder of the National AIDS Treatment Advocacy Project. "In that first meeting, they were very angry because they wanted the medicines yesterday," Doorley recalls. "But within months, we built a really great relationship with them. I think it was because we not only met with them, but because we listened to them. We built a relationship based on mutual trust." "John was extremely helpful to the community in understanding Merck, and helping the process of communication between Merck and the community," recalls Levin. In particular, Doorley helped push Merck to provide expanded access to the protease inhibitor Crixivan, which was awaiting FDA approval. "It initiated and maintained a relatively good relationship between Merck and the activist community," adds Levin. "John played an important role in the history of AIDS activism." So it really shouldn't come as any surprise that corporate reputation is as important to Doorley as it is. And now, alongside teaching, it's a big part of his life's work. Not that it wasn't before. Recently, Doorley brought his ideas on comprehensive reputation management to a friend, who said, according to Doorley, "John, I remember you working on reputation management 20 years ago." But now, along with some of his colleagues at Rutgers, Doorley's trying to show corporate America the value of reputation management. (Merck likely understood it, as the company presented Doorley with the company's rarely bestowed chairman's award). "If you ask most CEOs if they think reputation has a value, they'd say certainly," he explains. "But if you ask each one what exactly theirs is worth, most would say, 'Gee, I don't know.' "Some researchers say it's the difference between market capitalization and the book value of the company. In the case of a big corporation, that amount is tens of billions of dollars. And yet, most CEOs don't actually measure it, monitor it, or manage it," he adds. His idea, essentially, is to help corporations do just that by looking at the major areas of a company, and uncover the reputational issues that might affect them. "For example, finance people might start thinking of accounting disputes. Manufacturing people might start thinking about the environment as an issue that could loom large on the reputation front. You go into a company, look at all these different areas, and you work with the management of the different areas to put together a reputation-management plan," he explains, all with the intent of going back and looking at how the reputation in each of those areas is being managed on a semiannual or annual basis. So far, Doorley's idea has met with a warm response. Two of the three CEOs of major corporations to whom he's brought his preliminary proposal have been interested, and he received a positive response upon presenting his ideas at a recent meeting of the PRSA in New Jersey. But the idea won't end there, or with publishing a journal article. Doorley and his Rutgers colleagues have developed a course called Organizational Reputation Management, and they're now in their second year of teaching it. (Doorley also co-directs NYU's annual Public Relations Summer Institute, now in its 15th year.) "I tell my students that if you work in PR at a big corporation," says Doorley, "you're at the center of all the good and bad things that happen in any organization. And it gets harder all the time." Words that both Doorley's students and America's CEOs would be wise to embrace. ------------ John Doorley 1966 Graduates from St. Vincent's College and takes job as a social worker 1970-1981 Moves into marketing comms at Sterling Drug, and then to corporate comms in 1978 1980 Earns master's in journalism from NYU 1981-1987 Manages publicity for several medicines at Hoffman-LaRoche. Becomes the CEO's top speechwriter 1987-2000 Heads corporate comms at Merck 2000-present Full faculty member in Rutgers University's comms department

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