Tag Archives: Planned Parenthood

May 1, 2012 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

Komen has a strategy problem, not a communications problem: 3 ways to tell the difference

It’s no surprise that the Susan G. Komen Foundation is having trouble fundraising after their giant missteps in the handling of grants to Planned Parenthood. As the former pink powerhouse struggles to regain its footing, it is comical to hear their issues described as a communications problem.

They failed to keep local Chapters in the loop. They failed to communicate the changes in their position promptly. Didn’t apologize fast enough.

That isn’t a communications problem. It’s a policy and strategy problem.

This notion that any policy, strategy, action or decision can be communicated away is at the heart of the bad reputation PR has earned. Some call it spin.

Is it better for people to hear bad news from the source? Absolutely. Prudent to communicate and explain a controversial decision, rather than just putting it out there? Of course. But sometimes a strategy or policy problem is just that….a strategy or policy problem.

How can you tell the difference?

1. Is the “disconnect” due to old facts vs. new facts?

A communications problem stems from lack of insight, understanding or recognition of a strategy, policy, issue or “truth” about your Company. Perhaps you have retooled your direction, and are still being judged by the old benchmarks. When your stakeholders understand the issue, but don’t support it – that isn’t a communications problem.

2. Does your “news” take you away from your core constituencies, without a good strategic reason?

Sometimes, companies will do something that purposefully takes them in a new direction, often in an effort to expand their customer base. Sometimes these are adjacent businesses….GAP Kids; or appealing to a different demographic…Banana Republic, GAP, Old Navy. If investors, employees, mall owners seemed resistant to that story, that might be a communications problem. Completely alienating your core…strategy problem.

3. Are you choosing not to communicate about something significant?

Hoping people don’t notice is rarely an effective communications strategy – and a pretty good indicator that perhaps this is a flawed business strategy – both for the business and from a communications perspective. You can run, but you can’t hide – at least not for long. If you don’t want to see it in the headlines, maybe you shouldn’t do it.

One of the hardest tasks for a communicator is identifying the difference between strategy issues and communications issues, and counseling their clients, whether internal or external, about the difference.

February 3, 2012 | rtauberman | Tagged ,

A Big Stumble in the Race for the Cure

Some NGOs court controversy and engage in political theater to promote their causes and fill their coffers. Until this week, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the leading breast cancer charity, was mostly known for pink ribbons, hot pink adorned athletes, their Races for the Cure across America and efforts to promote breast cancer screening and finding and battling the disease. All that changed with the announcement of the organization’s decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood. The news unleashed a torrent of opposition to Komen from cyberspace to Capitol Hill and has proved a monetary godsend for the beleaguered Planned Parenthood.

Though the drama continues to play out, it quickly damaged the reputation of Komen, with organization executives resigning in protest, women throughout the country cutting up their pink ribbons and Komenwear, calls for boycotts and politicians racing toward microphones to opine on the decision From a crisis communications aspect, an organization needs to war game the potential public reaction for any controversial announcement (and first appreciate what in fact will be controversial) and be prepared for potential reactions among all its stakeholders. This can help decide what and how to communicate. For an otherwise incredibly savvy- marketing Komen, there seems to have been a serious lack of planning here or appreciation of the impact of the news.

The initial rationale for the decision that was floated tied the defunding to new criteria which barred grants to organizations under investigation. For Planned Parenthood, this was a seemingly politically motivated investigation by a conservative Republican Congressman. Thus, Komen was catapulted into the center of an election year scrum amidst passionate politicos of all stripes. With social media already hyper-buzzing, Komen added even more fuel to the flames with a poorly scripted and stiffly delivered defense of its action on its Facebook page.

As the controversy took over the airwaves and digital media (with Planned Parenthood reaping the benefits of the media onslaught and a rush of new contributions), Komen committed perhaps an even bigger communications gaffe. It changed its story. Yesterday, Komen founder Nancy Brinker, grimly and combatively did the cable TV circuit, to offer a new rationale for the funding cut and equivocate a bit on what the decision meant to future grants for Planned Parenthood. The reason du jour was now Komen’s desire to support groups that directly provide breast health services and that Planned Parenthood only provided referrals.

Earlier today, Komen reversed course.

It apologized, asked for peace, pleaded that it did not cave to political pressure and indicated that it would fund existing grants to Planned Parenthood. What the finely crafted statement (better than anything it did previously) did not say was if Planned Parenthood would be funded in the future. Though contrite, Komen still seems to be giving itself some wiggle room down the road. This fire fight may not yet be over, but it is already offering lessons in what not to do from a crisis communications perspective. In time, we will be able to gauge the effect on Komen’s standing and the multi-millions it raises each year and whether its serious stumbles in terms of communications and issues management, from before it even made an announcement through the seeming squishiness of its apology, will cloud its future…

February 3, 2012 | cwinters | Tagged , , , ,

The Pink Scandal: Who are the winners and losers in the Komen Foundation Reputation Debacle?


Planned Parenthood – who may get some reprieve from being the poster child for abortion and re-cast for what they are – a provider of women’s health services – and one that heavily serves poor and uninsured women — a population of women who often have few options for healthcare.

Former Komen Exec Mollie Williams – who got out of dodge before things got ugly and has handled media inquiries with dignity and grace.

Mike Bloomberg who personally pledged to match donations to Planned Parenthood for Cancer screenings up to $250,000.

Serendipitous Beneficiary – The American Cancer Society – long respected for their work to combat the dreaded “C” word – they have the opportunity to “take back” breast cancer as their own, and mobilize support from the people who still want to fight cancer, but don’t want to support the Komen Foundation.


No surprises here - The Susan G. Komen Foundation, and the research that may see a decline in funding if support for their efforts dwindles. You have to question whether ceasing a $600,000 grant – a drop in the bucket for both organizations – was worth the reputational damage.

Women – Millions of uninsured and low income women who rely on Planned Parenthood for their healthcare needs, including cancer screenings.

The employees of Susan G. Komen Foundation – When the sex abuse scandals of the Catholic Church were on the front page, a priest friend told me he was ashamed to wear his collar in public for the first time in his life. I would imagine that many of the employees at the Foundation work there because they passionately believe in this cause. Overnight, they’ve gone form walking tall and proud because they work for the gold standard to defending themselves and their employer.

Collateral Damage – The color pink is no longer the new black; but the pink ribbon may be the new Scarlet Letter. Pinkwashing is the new greenwashing.

February 3, 2012 | cwinters | Tagged , ,

From a pink halo to a pink badge of shame…overnight

I often say that good communications is not an effective remedy for bad policy. When trouble hits, everyone suddenly needs “communications help.” But communications can only change perception if you’ve fixed the underlying problem. Case in point: the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

I remember when the Susan G. Komen Foundation came on the scene. It was early on in my PR career, and every client I had wanted to partner with them – almost as fervently as they wanted to be on Oprah. Soon we had pink everything – from KitchenAid mixers to diamond necklaces – all supporting breast cancer research. And the Komen Foundation became the Xerox, QTip or Kleenex of breast cancer. Heck, the NFL had a pink out. The Komen Foundation and the pink ribbon became the gold standard for every health advocacy group out there. Until today.

Unless you’ve been shut off from the world the past few days, you know that the Komen Foundation will no longer be funding mammograms and other cancer detection services through Planned Parenthood. I learned about it the same way you probably did – on Facebook. And if social media is a good indication, this one isn’t going to just pass over. The Komen Foundation has quickly become Public Enemy No. 1 for women everywhere, and put the debate over coverage of contraceptives on the back burner. Commentary ranges from statements about the power and influence of right leaning politics to suggestions that the foundation itself has lost its way in a sea of pink licensing and promotional deals.

The Komen folks point to a new policy that prohibits them from funding, but a recent story highlights the departure of a top executive as a result of that policy, and several inside sources who paint a picture of duplicity – a public Komen advocating for women, while privately scheming to cut off Planned Parenthood in a nod to conservative politics who’ve made sport of villain-izing Planned Parenthood. What inevitably follows is the question of Komen’s trustworthiness, and where the money goes. How much of the millions they raise through walks, endorsement, licensing and product sales really goes to cancer research, and with what kind of results?

The pundits will surely be lining up to talk about the importance of crisis communications. And yes, good crisis communications will be key to the very existence of the Komen Foundation. But this isn’t a communications problem – this is a policy problem. In an apparent nod to conservative politics, the Susan G. Komen foundation manufactured a new policy in order to sever ties with Planned Parenthood. The Komen Foundation seemingly forgot, or miscalculated, the priorities of its passionate advocates and supporters. Good communications, even great communications, can’t fix bad policy or bad decisions. The Susan G. Komen Foundation needs to make good decisions first, then communicate.