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.