Dealer wanted media attention — and got it

Fear of no press made for bad press for a Maryland car dealer.

Howard Castleman, owner of Castle Toyota-Scion, Castle Ford-Mazda-Mitsubishi and a used-car outlet in the Baltimore-Washington area, revoked a donation to a local school after learning that the contribution wouldn't show up in local newspapers or on TV news programs.

Castleman, 60, had planned to present $8,400 in scholarships last month to four high school graduates. The money to fund the scholarships was to come from Castle Toyota-Scion's advertising and marketing budget.

School officials barred local media from a school ceremony where the dealer planned to do his good deed. A teacher who had worked at the school for 15 years had died four days before the May 23 ceremony. The school's principal said she wanted to avoid a media circus because students and staff were still in mourning.

'It doesn't pay'

On June 3, The Baltimore Sun published a story about the dealership's withdrawing the scholarship. Castleman told the newspaper he would "never, ever, ever give money again," adding, "It doesn't pay."

He told Automotive News that "the community and the school were turned upside down" by the published reports.

"I felt terribly wronged, and I became defensive," Castleman said of his interview with the newspaper.

He said having media at the event would have paid tribute to the teacher who had died, encouraged more people to donate to the school, and "we would've gotten some PR," The Sun reported.

After the newspaper story appeared, calls from angry customers flooded the dealership's phone lines. The day the report was published, Castleman reoffered the scholarships to Patterson High School's principal.

Principal Laura D'Anna declined the offer. The school had raised double the money the dealership originally had promised.

"I said some things that absolutely came out wrong, and for that I'm sorry," Castleman told Automotive News.

In a second published report, Castleman's wife spoke with The Sun about the scholarships. She said Toyota requires its dealers to get publicity for donations.

Toyota spokesman Wade Hoyt said Toyota has no requirement for its dealers to get publicity when making donations.

Castleman said his history of holding a Christmas party for children at his dealership and giving to other charities helped him recover from "a difficult time."

Back to business

Since the published reports in The Sun, Castleman's dealership is "back to business as usual," he said. Customer traffic in his store decreased after the reports, but he declined to say by how much.

A charitable organization will receive a check for the amount of the scholarships, Castleman said. He declined to name the organization.

"It's turned around," he said. "Not to become a positive, because nobody wins."

In a blog posting on The Sun Web site, Sara Neufeld, the reporter of both of the newspaper's published reports, wrote that she didn't plan to attend the school ceremony in the first place.

"Around this time of the year, the inbox of every education reporter in the country is filled with press releases about scholarships and awards," the posting said.

"Cover one, and we open the floodgates."

Castleman said the scholarships taught him a lesson in dealing with reporters in the future.

"I certainly will not — in haste — talk to a reporter," he said. "You try to do something right, and it didn't come out right."

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