Susan G. Komen PR Disaster: Lessons Learned

c77c8  rbc6 14 small Susan G. Komen PR Disaster: Lessons LearnedWow. It’s been nearly two weeks since my last blog post. Sorry about that. I was out sick. And wow, what a crazy time to sit on the sidelines…

Facebook IPO. Hello!  More on that in a future post.

Susan G. Komen vs. Planned Parenthood.  Sheesh! Let’s talk about that!

(Caveat:  I am a Blue State progressive; whose mother died of breast cancer; who marched on Washington as a college student in support of women’s rights; and whose dear-departed grandmother spoke with horror of the days prior to Roe v. Wade. Got all that?  You’ve been warned.)

Just as I started writing this post, the news broke that the Susan G. Komen Foundation – which had spurred a massive protest movement by severing grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings (for what turned out to be a spurious rationale) – was reversing its decision. Oy!

Shall we count the ways in which this situation got screwed up (from a Public Relations perspective)?

They apparently made this decision back in December, and it led a top exec or two to quit in protest. And when they made the announcement, the Komen Board members were caught short by Planned Parenthood’s immediate (and compelling) response.  Yet the two organizations had been in talks for weeks beforehand!  In other words, there were plenty of red flags raised along the way to know things could get touchy.  Lesson: have a crisis plan ready; this could get ugly.

The decision to de-fund Planned Parenthood would result in thousands of underserved women in minority communities losing access to breast cancer screenings.  Imagine how much grief the Komen folks could have spared c77c8  komen2 adp1 small1 Susan G. Komen PR Disaster: Lessons Learnedthemselves if they’d tethered their PP announcement to news of their plans to ensure those communities still got care?  Instead it looked (and smelled, badly) like a cynical politicization of women’s healthcare, that left poor women in the cold…

… And this all occurred during the same week that the GOP’s presumptive nominee was caught up in his “I don’t care about the poor” slip-up… which led to “revelations” of the Komen Foundation founder’s deep ties to the GOP.  Can you say, “down the rabbit hole?”  Lesson: don’t lose sight of your mission.

To make matters worse, not only was the Komen Foundation slow to respond to the hubbub, but they even (allegedly) started deleting negative comments on their Facebook page.  For the record, that’s a no-no.  I brought this up on Twitter and got the following responses in quick succession:

Whether they deleted posts or not … the perception was that they were doing so. A more active response policy on their Facebook page would have gone a long way.  Even those who disagreed with them might have given ‘em props for responsiveness in the firestorm.  Lesson: community management principles of messaging, transparency and speed are paramount in a crisis situation.

Could it get any worse?  It did.

The good news is that both Planned Parenthood and the Susan G. Komen Foundation got a spurt of donations, from the left and right sides of the spectrum, respectively.  But, this only made crystal clear what was fairly obvious all along: this had been a political decision, and the ramifications for under-served women were thus made all the more stark.  In other words, the mission had been violated.  Which led to the reversal today.  Which led to sniffs of “too little, too late” from the Left and justifiable rage from the the thousands of newly-minted pro-life Komen donors on the Right. A classic no-win situation!  Lesson: “caving” is not always the right solution; Komen could have found alternate ways to serve poor women’s needs, i.e., through different advocacy organizations, and gotten enough credit to walk away bloody but unbowed.

All of this put the Komen Foundation’s many corporate sponsors in a bind.  Many of the sponsors’ own Facebook pages lit up with boycott calls and “for-shame’s.”  Facebook’s thumb’s-up became a wagging forefinger (or a proudly thrust middle one)!

The single best response from a sponsor came from the team at Yoplait Yogurt.  They created a separate tab on the Yoplait Facebook Page, dedicated to letting their fans vent about the situation (and in the bargain, wisely taking the political screeds off their main Wall):

f7f5f  yoplait small1 Susan G. Komen PR Disaster: Lessons Learned

Lesson: an oldie but goodie – “embrace and extend.”  Yoplait knew they couldn’t easily dodge the issue (their Pink Lids campaign was pretty huge), so they embraced that fact and extended it to a dedicated forum.  And, importantly, the Yoplait team didn’t just throw up this tab and ignore it. They continue to engage (rather non-commitally, but that is to be expected from a large corporation … at least they are present and listening).

By the way, there’s a great write-up on all this (if you’re game for even more on this issue) at Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog.

Do you have any further thoughts on the Komen v. PP imbroglio?  I’m still kind of under the weather, but that likely means I’m more likely than usual to get it on with ya in the comments!  Have at it!

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