We were recently discussing the events surrounding Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the furious backlash they received over their decision to not fund Planned Parenthood.Obviously, this topic has garnered much attention but being the PR sleuths we are, we had other reasons for delving into it, namely “how did this go so wrong and get out of control. It went completely viral and caused a lot of negative on the foundation. They then backpedaled but the storm is still there. Ogilvy was recently hired to handle the bad PR.
MoJo cornered our esteemed CEO Karla Jo Helms to get her insight on how it was handled and is currently being handled.
MoJo: What is your take on how this has been handled?
KJ: It was not well-thought out; it looked like they shot from hip instead of determining via their stakeholders what would be the effects of such a cut. Cutting funding is like excommunication – that is a STEEP gradient. If they did not like that Planned Parenthood only referred out for mammograms (sounds suspicious that that was the reason for the cut) then there are other methods that could be done to establish more help/support for mammograms.
MoJo: Should where a private foundation spends its funds be open to such scrutiny?
KJ: Whether it is right or not, unfortunately that is what you get when you are a company that works for the greater-good.
Why can’t they just decide what they want to do with their funding? Because people support them via donations – they expect certain things in return. People are passionate about what they support and flow their money to. If someone was paying a company to handle their business affairs for them they would expect the company to operate as their agent and do what they wanted them to do. It is no different from an organization like Komen – in fact the level of scrutiny is always going to be higher in organizations like that. Cancer is a passionate subject – it does a lot of harm. People who support the fight against cancer are likewise passionate – and their ETHNIC needs to be consulted. Think about it – they are a “Foundation dedicated to education and research about causes, treatment, and the search for a cure.” They needed to follow their own mission statement – education of their stakeholders and public that donate to them, research into the mindset of these target markets and most importantly, what was the history behind supporting Planned Parenthood in the first place – there was an obvious strategy and it did not come under scrutiny publicly until they withdrew. Komen undoubtedly knew they messed up, BUT they should have admitted it IMMEDIATELY and apologized. They waited – they were silent – and in crisis management you never wait and you never not communicate – speed is of the essence.
MoJo: What can businesses learn from this type of situation? Granted this was a non-profit but certainly all businesses can learn from this.
KJ: What can businesses learn here? Learn the ETHNIC of the populations that you serve. They have customs, they have mindsets, they have beliefs, likes, dislikes, hates and topics they are passionate about. If you KNOW this, you have Community Relations and PR down pat – you know your message, you know what people think and you can be proactive and responsive and responsible to the people that you serve as clientele or as donors. It is foolhardy to run your business without that data. That is what JoTo delivers – that is the secret sauce behind the efficacy of our campaigns – it’s part of our market research intelligence. And the companies that do it don’t do gaffes like Komen.
Komen has had a couple of big gaffes in the past. I suspect that the person/people making these decisions is myopic about their brand, what they do, what they stand for and more importantly WHO THEY SERVE.