Friday, August 24

Needing Redemption: Glenn Renwick, Progressive

“At Progressive, we have a stated set of Core Values that we use to guide our decision making and actions,” says Glenn Renwick, president and CEO of Progressive. “One of these Values is the Golden Rule — treat others as you would like to be treated.”

Given this quote is pulled directly from an ill-advised statement after the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution broke a story about how private investigators working for Progressive tape recorded church sessions, it's hard to believe.

Why were investigators recording church members who confessed about abortions, sexual orientation issues, drug addictions and other dark secrets? It seems the company was hoping to discredit a couple who were in an ongoing lawsuit over a traffic accident. The couple has now filed a lawsuit that charges invasion of privacy, breach of confidentiality, emotional distress, fraud, and other issues.

“For the past 70 years, we've built our business by building trust,” Renwick continues. “Trust that we will do the right thing on behalf of our customers — every day, every time.”

Coincidentally, trust seems be the buzzword behind Progressive’s TripSense, which allows Minnesota drivers to get discounts if they can “prove” that they drive less. Given that simply asking for an odometer reading might work just as effectively, one has to wonder just how "progressive" the definition of trust has become.

“We make sure we always fall well within the law," said James Purgason Jr. and Paige Weeks of Merlin Investigations, the investigators who were contracted by Wisconson-based Progressive Northern Insurance Co. "How it's interpreted from there isn't up to us."

But not all private investigators feel that way. When reporter D.L. Bennett asked Glenn Christian of Coastal Investigations in Savannah, who serves as president of the Georgia Association of Private Investigators, what he thought, Christian said that some companies would never do that. He said there is a fine line between what might be legal and what is moral.

To be fair, it seems Renwick was personally unaware of what Wisconson-based Progressive Northern Insurance Co. was attempting to do to win its case and there seems little to be little doubt that he is appalled. However, he was clearly aware of the statement that now decorates the Progressive Web site. And frankly, he should be appalled that he signed off on it.

There is only one statement that may have not turned into what Collateral Damage calls one of the more obvious definitions of a public relations nightmare. It would have been the one that skips the messages about trust and company history and cuts right to the chase. Something like this...

Upon learning that Progressive Northern Insurance Co. and contracted investigators, Merlin Investigations, breached our company’s values two years ago, Progressive will be settling this case as quickly as possible. (Um, insert a line about restitution for the couple, the church, AND all those other people who were there). As a company, we are appalled and apologize to all those impacted.

To ensure this never happens again and to send a clear message to all of our divisions, we will be releasing all parties who were aware that this investigation was grossly overreaching for evidence. I only wish that the incident would have been brought to my attention two years ago so we could have acted promptly then and protected this couple from tactics that clearly cross the line of ethical and moral decency.

The end. No gratuitous 3-paragraph company cut line required.

Sure, it isn’t perfect, but even this 3-second solution reads as more genuine than the original. Or, in other words, one can only hope Progressive covers “communication ignorance” because this statement reads like a pileup. Once again, it's never the incident as much as the aftermath that gets companies in trouble.



Sweet Tea on 8/24/07, 12:31 PM said...

“We make sure we always fall well within the law," said James Purgason Jr. and Paige Weeks of Merlin Investigations, the investigators who were contracted by Wisconson-based Progressive Northern Insurance Co. "How it's interpreted from there isn't up to us."
Sounds just like CBS talking about "Kid Nation."
Thanks Rich.

Rich on 8/24/07, 12:49 PM said...

Good one JS.

That one line from Merlin Investigations is pretty versatile...

"We just stick the kids in the middle of nowhere. How it's interpreted from there isn't up to us."

It fits in nicely here too ...

We just include what Merlin Investigations said ... "How it's interpreted from there isn't up to us."

All my best,

Geoff_Livingston on 8/24/07, 2:41 PM said...

"This was wrong. Now that we are aware of it, all such activities will be terminated. Restitution will be made to any offended parties.

Progressive does not stand for this kind of activity and will take every imaginable step possible to ensure this does not happen again. Please contact us at xxx-xxx-xxxx if you have any additional questions."

Rich on 8/24/07, 3:02 PM said...

Geoff, my friend, please be careful with those "any offended parties" parts. You would be surprised who might be offended. Oh, the stories...

I like the brevity though; and it is certainly better than the original. You know, with better than 3-seconds on our parts, we might have made the company look like heroes. Instead, I think most people read about this and literary throw their hands up in the air. :|


Geoff_Livingston on 8/24/07, 6:12 PM said...

"Dear church goers of America, we offended you. And for that, we'll uh, hmm, uh, we'll blow smoke rings at you."

Rich on 8/24/07, 6:19 PM said...


Brilliant. That is very, very funny stuff.

But hey, I'm still amused about ...

"For the past 70 years, we've built our business by building trust" ... um except that one year ... and maybe the Minnesota monitoring device ... and ...

Hat tip too to Collateral Damage, who framed us up as the serious side to the story. Well, "How it's interpreted from there isn't up to us."

Best, Rich

Rich on 8/31/07, 4:37 PM said...

More words:

Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John W. Oxendine has ordered an investigation into recent allegations of invasion of privacy, fraud, and other misdeeds by Progressive Insurance Co. related to the above story. Given Renwick has already stated wrongdoing, it seems Oxendine hopes to redefine precedent set by Merlin Investigations "how it's interpreted from there isn't up to us" is NOT the standard for insurance investigations.

We never intended this post to turn into a communication case study, but it seems it may move in that direction.

Anonymous said...

Glenn Renwick has made his money on the back of injured policyholders but noone wants to hear our opinion on the matter.

Read what his employees have to say at:

Glenn Renwick CEO, Peter Lewis, Chairman of the Board. The source for this Video - Progressive Insurance Sex Lies and Drugs - and Statements presented herein are excerpts from over 950 plus Progressive Employees and Management postings on Jobvent which represent Progressive's Procedures, Policies, Management Philosophy and Corporate Culture.

More than 950 plus employees at Progressive Insurance have posted comments describing Progressive's tactics; their negative accumulated satisfaction score of minus 8,540 can't be a good sign for the firm.

Said negative information directly impacts on Corporate Growth, Profits, Customer Services, Stockholders Value, Market Share and Policyholder Retention.

Entire U.S. 07/26/2007 "Not only does Progressive lie, cheat, and rob their employees. This poor excuse of a company is now lying to their stockholders and the Wall Street Financial Community. Read Below on how they manipulated their earnings". DOW JONES NEWSWIRES -Nicholas Hatcher; 201-938-5400;

Austin Texas 08/03/2007 "If Progressive ever had a surprise drug test they would loose about 95% of their staff, but that test would never happen Thank You Peter Lewis".

Who Cares 07/18/2007 "I thought a company that didn't drug test was cool four years ago. Now I realize it's because we wouldn't have any managers left. The DEA should investigate Progressive. Forget the war on drugs".

New England 03/15/2007 "There is a cancer at Progressive, a nastiness that is tough to describe, but exists, nonetheless. It's a culture of running a business by fear and lies; it's deceitful and dishonest".

My Cube 05/03/2007 " The idea of customer retention is doomed to fail. Why? Because you cannot possibly serve your customers professionally, honestly, and promptly, when your employees are quitting faster than you complete file reviews (which is every other day...or at least appears to be). A few more points to ponder... How can I possibly look a customer in the eye, and tell them where to take their car (knowing that the same n.w. shop just did a hatchet job on my own vehicle)...How can I tell an injured party that my offer is fair, when I myself, all of casualty, litigation dept, and our own house counsel know that they will get more with an attorney?...

Norcross, Georgia 03/26/2007: .." they lie, they make you lie; they make you tell customers and claimants lies. You are constantly having to pray for forgiveness, or maybe slip your client a few words of advise under the table to let them know that their rights are being violated".

Rich on 11/16/07, 11:38 PM said...

Thank you Anon,

This is something worth looking into.

All my best,


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