The Profoundly Pathetic PR Showcased by the Susan G. Komen Foundation

If you haven’t been paying attention to the latest PR Typhoon raging on Twitter, it was brought to us by the PR naive (to put it politely) board of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. In December the Foundation decided to cease funding Planned Parenthood to the tune of $680,000. When that decision was made public on Tuesday, social networks EXPLODED with a wave of anger and very, very little support for Komen. Scanning their Facebook Page and Twitter feed, one was hard pressed to find ANY support.

The Foundation attempted to dampen the outrage claiming that the decision was not political and that they withdrew support because Planned Parenthood was under ‘investigation’ after Republican congressman Cliff Stearns of Florida launched an inquiry to see if Planned Parenthood was using public funds to provide abortions. Despite their claims the decision came across to the public as purely political.

A few hours ago The Susan G. Komen Foundation announced that it was reversing its decision. So far the Twitterverse does not appear very forgiving, and whomever is managing their account must be exhausted, frantically cutting and pasting the “Please read our latest statement” with a link to their website.

What baffles me as a PR Professional is why a foundation that is so successful would be so profoundly unprepared for the backlash that erupted. They made many pronouncements about the apolitical nature of their decision, but charities more than any other type of organization, have to understand that public perception is what drives their business. If your entire modus operendi is to get people to open their pockets and hand over their hard earned money to support your cause, doing ANYTHING that alienates or angers a majority of people is completely taboo. To take such a risk without understanding what may come means that you are devoid of any PR savvy whatsoever.

The moral of the story? Big changes in company policy must be analyzed, prior to them being made, not solely for what will happen to gross revenue, but for what PR impact they will have on your business. Watching Komen flounder for what very well may be years to recover their once pristine reputation should be a learning lesson to business and organizations of all sizes. Not having your finger on the pulse of your audience and blatantly offending many of them is simply terrible for business.

  • well said Amy. My thinking now after reading of the ‘reversal’ brings up two aspects. (1) How much of the reversal was based on money flow vs. women’s health and (2) Vision – what is there vision? What is there mission? How did there decision(s) play into their choice.

    As a long-time supporter of Komen both in contributions and in fundraising efforts, I am going to find it hard to trust any type of spin they attempt to put on what has happened.

    Komen has a tough PR road a head

    • Amy

      Yes Jolie, there are A LOT of women in your shoes… I think they totally miscalculated where the vast majority of women stand on these issues… that usually happens when you live in a bubble where everyone thinks like you.

  • I had no issue with Komen pulling grants from Planned Parenthood. They are a privatly funded non profit and should have full control over that “choice.” The grants were to a handful of Planned Parenthood locations and were intended to enable them to provide breast exams. The issue from what I understand is that many of them were not equipt to perform the intended exams.

    The disaster in PR is bowing to the Pro-Abortion machine which is unfortunate on many levels. 1) Komen failed to explain its decision in detail which left many to assume it was because of an anti-abortion stance; 2) Cancer knows no party line, no pro-abortion/anti-abortion debate…Cancer attacks and kills anyone of us. Sad that Komen is being deomized and that many women and men are letting it happen. They are a wonderful organization; 3) They bowed to pressure which makes them look weak and without true purpose.

    At the end of the day Komen should not be used as a pawn in the Pro-Abortion/Anti-Abortion debate because true supporters are simply Anti-Cancer and Pro-Cure!

    • Amy

      I don’t disagree John, IF they truly pulled the funds because PP was unable to perform the exams… PP did perform preliminary exams and then referred women to have screenings down. The PR idiocy is this: 1) They stated that they were pulling the funds because PP was being ‘investigated;’ the investigation is obviously partisan. 2) If they were changing their policy they should do it with a broad stroke; PP should have been one of at least a few, 3) With the furor that surrounds PP due to the abortion issue, WHY would they not expect the backlash and be PREPARED with their own story and AHEAD of the backlash.

      Any PR Pro knows the drill; have the message, and patiently and continually stay on message and communicate it as many times as possible. Apparently emails have been discovered by the Huffington Post that show that this was all politically motivated. I don’t know if they’ll recover from this totally. The American Cancer Society is there doing a spectacular job… they could suck up all of those ‘liberal’ donations.

  • 1) Agree but again that is their “choice” as was to give grants in the first place.

    2) Agree but perhaps the PP was just the first impacted which may just be unlucky for Komen since PP comes with many supporters fixed only on the Pro-Abortion services of PP and equates any funding cuts as an assault on abortion services. Fact is PP at its best provides preventative education, disease testing services, etc to people who would otherwise be locked out. I fear though that PP is being taken away from full services to a myopic abortion first approach which is sad for everyone.

    3) Agree. Both are high profile organizations related to highly charged social issues. Komen should have spelled it out and been certain of the changes they were making. What is it about organizations that begin with “K” like Komen and Klout that have such a hard time with PR?

    They will recover. They are a great organization doing great things. If we crucify Komen for a basic PR mistep then Congress and the Executive Branch need to go as well.

  • Amy

    Well Congress needs to go anyway you slice it:)

    And I don’t agree that it’s “their money;” It’s donor’s money… and if you are going to alienate a huge percentage of your donor’s they won’t be giving YOU their money.

    To me the PR Debate is not about the Abortion issue… the reality is that PP is the ONLY source of healthcare for women in some poor communities… it’s about an organization making such a move with no preparation for the backlash.

    I’m not crucifying them… and they don’t need to worry about little old marketer me… it’s their former supporters are crucifying them, and THAT is their worry.