Why Susan G. Komen Could Use a Cure for a Crisis…

The Susan G. Komen Foundation is not only the nation’s largest breast cancer charity but one of the most well-known and well-loved nonprofit organizations. So what’s got its longtime supporters quitting the race and calling them a disgrace? Read on.

On Tuesday, January 31, 2012, Planned Parenthood broke the news that the Komen Foundation would be cutting their funding to their Planned Parenthood affiliates. The $680,000 in funding being cut would have been used by Parenthood to provide breast cancer screenings for 170,000 low-income women. Komen then revealed that the new policies they were putting in place would not allow them to fund any organizations under investigation. Planned Parenthood, the country’s most prominent sexual and reproductive health care provider, is currently in the middle of an investigation by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-FL regarding government money possibly being spent on abortions.

Background Bit: Last December, rumor spread that Komen and Planned Parenthood were in talks to cut their ties, but Komen denied the reports. Hmmm…

Extra! Extra! Tweet All About It!

Within minutes the firestorm had begun. Social media networks including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, became a battle ground for pro-choice and anti-abortion activists.  Check out the numbers below (source: antseyeview.com):

  • 1.3M+ tweets referencing Susan G. Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood
  • 20 posts per minute on the corporate page of the Komen Foundation
  • The ratio of negative to positive Komen tweets immediately following the incident was averaging 80 to 1
  • 10,000 comments on the Komen Facebook page. Check out the chart below for more information on Komen’s Facebook activity.

Chart courtesy of banyanbranches.com

Longtime supporters of Komen were appalled by the decision and immediately withdrew their support for the foundation. Planned Parenthood was “shocked and disappointed” about the decision and believed Komen had succumbed to the political pressures of anti-abortion activists. That day, Parenthood sent out this fundraising email to their supporters asking for help to fill the void from the loss of funds.

Many accused Karen Handel, Komen’s VP of public policy, of using this decision to support her own beliefs. This speculation came from her interviews in April 2011, when she stated several times that she was pro-life and anti-Planned Parenthood.

Meanwhile at Komen,…*crickets* Even though their presence was missing from the ongoing conversation, several commenters claimed Komen was deleting negative posts and tweets from their social media accounts. It wouldn’t be until the next morning that Komen would actually update their own accounts. How could have Komen used social media to direct the conversations during their “golden minutes”?

Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012: Social Media – 187,248,572,852,085  Komen – Zip

Eventually, Komen made an appearance on Twitter, but it did nothing to extinguish the fire. When someone questioned their decision, they replied, “We make decisions based on what we need to do to serve women and find treatments, not on emotional, political or any other grounds,” with a link to their press release. For those who showed support for their decision, they received praise from the company. What do these types of responses tell the public? At one point, Komen tweeted a link to a blog post called Pro-Cure. Why do you think Komen wanted to direct people to this blog post?

Komen declined to do interviews with any major television networks or newspapers. Instead, they released their own *video, featuring Komen founder and CEO Nancy Brinker, in response to the increasing criticism and the “mischaracterization” of their decision. Unfortunately, it was already too late. Not only did the public attack Komen’s inactive Twitter and Facebook accounts, but they began to boycott the battery company, Energizer. Why? The last update on Komen’s Facebook page was an announcement about their new sponsors. Who were the new sponsors? You guessed it, Energizer. This crisis was not just affecting Komen’s image but the companies associated with them as well.

*In a not so transparent move, Komen removed their original response video from YouTube, so please watch this short video instead.

On the other hand, Planned Parenthood was granting interviews with everyone who asked. Compare Komen’s response to this interview with Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards.

Photo courtesy of theatlantic.com

By this time, Parenthood had already raised $650,000 from 6000 donors in only 24 hours. This was exceptional for the organization that normally only received 100 donations a day. Komen’s donations also went up, but they would not release any figures.

Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012: Bye, Bye, Bye!

As the criticism grew, it seems the Komen team was getting smaller. First, the foundation saw the departure of Komen’s top health official, Mollie Williams along with the executive director of Komen’s Los Angeles County chapter, Deb Anthony. Dr. Kathy Plesser, a Manhattan radiologist on the medical advisory board of Komen’s New York chapter, didn’t resign but threatened to if the decision was not reversed.

Around the nation, Planned Parenthood affiliates began receiving emails like the one below. What do you think was the purpose of this email?

Email courtesy of Rose Mary Bonacchi

Meanwhile on Twitter, Handel retweeted this statement from @JadeMorey. As expected she received a lot of backlash. She deleted the tweet, but by that time it had already been screen capped and put on every blog. This further fueled rumors that Handel’s beliefs were a major influence in the decision to end funding.

Friday, Feb. 3, 2012: Oh, You Thought We Were Serious?

After three days of heavy backlash, withdrawal of support and a slowly deteriorating image, Komen reversed their decision and said they would revise their policy. The new policy would only exclude funding for organizations under “criminal investigation.”  Here’s the complete statement, apology and Planned Parenthood’s response to the reverse and apology. Despite the apology and reversal, Komen never promised that Parenthood’s grant’s would be renewed, only that they could reapply.

List courtesy of yahoo.com

Within hours of this announcement, pro-life activists headed to Komen’s Twitter and Facebook and voiced their displeasure with the reversed decision.There is absolutely no doubt that the harsh push from the collective voice of social media was the reason behind Komen’s reverse decision. Just look at the top 28 hashtags used during the crisis. Should Komen have caved to the pressure? What could have been done so that the initial decision didn’t have to be reversed?

Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012: Exit, Stage Right

Photo courtesy of theblissindex.blogspot.com

Since news broke, Planned Parenthood has raised more than $3 million and Komen’s VP of Public Policy Karen Handel, has resigned. Read Handel and Komen’s statements about the resignation. Would do you think about Handel’s role in this crisis and her reason for resignation?  Was she right to resign?



So, can Komen come back from this? You’re on their PR team, what are you going to do to regain the trust of your consumers? Use the questions throughout the post and below to help formulate your answer.

Now that the divide between Komen and Parenthood supporters has been brought to the forefront, how can Komen bring the two sides back together to continue the unified fight against breast cancer?

As a nonprofit, are the stakes higher regarding the trust of consumers?

Are there any cases you can think of that are similar to this one, where the voices on social media have made a difference?

Referring to the five stages of a crisis, how does Komen measure up?

Was Komen transparent?

How do you feel about the denied rumors in December and the news later being announced by Planned Parenthood instead of Komen?

One company’s crisis is another company’s fundraiser. How do you feel about Planned Parenthood’s actions during Komen’s crisis?

Do you think the use of social media to ‘take down’ big corporations and organizations is going to become a trend?


20 thoughts on “Why Susan G. Komen Could Use a Cure for a Crisis…

  1. wow! I had no idea that this was going on. I think this trend of ongoing smashing of big corporations is just another nibble in the pie, meaning now that we have constant media access, those frustrate by a cause can broadcast how they feel and it can become a huge issue. I personally do not mind that planned parenthood is not working with Komen anymore.

    • You’re right about the nibble in the pie. While this is definitely not the first time we have seen a case like this, I have a feeling that we will start seeing them more often. People are just now realizing the limitless power they were given with social media. Once they fully realize how much of an impact they can make, we’ll really start seeing how social media can connect people from around the world to fight with one unified voice. Companies, beware!

      – Cherese

  2. That is rediculous, I do believe that their going to get their two sides back together but not anytime soon, perhaps after a year or two when everyone forgets, but with Social media playing such an important role in this crisis, two years could always turn out to be five-ten years, and two anwser your second question, I believe consumer trust is always higher when your considered a non-profit, simply because the term non-profit comes across as looking for the publics satisfaction at all times. One could only assume, if your a non-profit orginization that your only intrest is consumer intrest, so for Komen to have such a crisis, only seems worse because it’s from a non-profit.

    hhe one mistake I noticed was the fact that Komen responded in social media, which is a no-no seeing the blidgerant (Misspelled) nature of the internet, that would only lose more costumers.

    If I were on the Komen PR team the first thing to do is to perhaps do a interview with somone not sponcer-related to clear any issues with costumers, or try our hardest to get things back the way they were, but as we all know after a crisis that’s impossible. So changing Komen policies back the way they were would be the first attempt to gain costumers, why change what was working, and if that dosent work, then why not change what didn’t work. it only makes sense

    • You brought up a good point, Antonio! It seems that nonprofits are held to a higher standard when it comes to the well-being of its publics. People put their trust in the organization because they believe everything will be in their best interest. So when something like this happens, it’s almost as if the company is saying, “It was nice while it lasted, but we’re moving on to better.” The public’s trust is not something to be taken lightly.

      You said one of the mistakes you saw was Komen responding via social media. Wouldn’t it be best for them to respond on social media first since that’s where most of the uproar took place? Also, if Komen was going to respond on social media regardless, what do you think they should have done differently?

      – Cherese

      • I believe in responding to social media, but not as your first responce, responding as your first responce, I believe will cause plenty of back lash because most times a corporation will only say one thing and leave, leaving for other commenters to create their own speculation and carry on a subject that the company started, when their being viewed i a negative light to begin with. So my answer would have been to do a interview on video, rather then responding directly to the citizens who are mad at you. After the interview then the corporation should have went to social media.

  3. Addressing you last question: Social media is absolutely being used to target corporations. Sites such as reddit.com are prime examples of social sites that have targeted corporations and especially government causes. Social media sites give angry masses a tool to actually do something about what they disagree with. Before these sites, this sort of organization of the masses was difficult to plan. The protests in much of the Arab world are other examples of the power of social media. On the other side of the coin, organizations need to make sure and utilize social media in their crisis communications plans. As public fury can assemble and grow on social media sites, organizations can strategically diffuse dissent using social media as well. I personally love how social media has changed the landscape and in some ways evened the playing field between the public and the corporate world when it comes to distributing the truth. It has become increasingly difficult for companies to “buy” their way out of trouble and has forced greater transparency which can only be good for the human race.

    Sam Plymale

    • I completely agree, Sam! It has forced companies to become more transparent. With companies’ fate at the tip of the public’s fingers, the only choice they have is to be honest upfront. The truth always comes to the forefront and even more so with the speed of social media. I also think that plays into what Gina mentioned in class. With social media, companies can no longer be in front of the ball, they have to be on top of it. The time for them to tell their story is limited before it becomes the story of the dissatisfied public.

      In Komen’s case, what do you think they did right and wrong regarding their social media? Also, what could they have done to steer the conversation into a positive direction?

      – Cherese

      • I think in Komen’s case their behavior showed how guilty they were in changing of their policies, and other sudden changes. I think their “uneasy” behavior on social media websites didnt do Komen’s case any better and left even more difficulty towards a truthful explaination. Their responses across all revenues of social media showed that the Komen’s case was against all odds, and can cause their “good nature” of a foundation to turn to a “controversial disaster” of a not so good foundation that is seen to have other motives for thier foundation and the way they recieve funding. Now, people will always question Komen’s sincerity, and this comes with lack of serenity to their response to the world.

      • I completely agree with Carm88’s response! Komen’s hesitation with a response made them look very guilty (even though I think that both sides are wrong in this case). When Planned Parenthood was very open and transparent with the public and Komen was very quiet and secluded, the public saw Planned Parenthood as the reliable source of information for the crisis. Komen should have been transparent and honest with the public from the get go.

      • I agree with both of you! Those hours that Komen remained quiet allowed Planned Parenthood to move to the forefront as the reliable source. The public can only go by what they are shown, so what they saw was Planned Parenthood stepping up and Komen hiding. As carm88 said, from now on the sincerity of a once well-trusted organization will be questioned. Will this turn away all of their supporters? No, but we’ll definitely see a difference in how the public and media view the organization.

        – Cherese

  4. Also to anwser the last question, I do believe using social media to take down the big corporation is a trend, but its always been a trend to be honest. The idea of taking down a corporation has always somehow intregued america in some form or way, so this trend is nothing new. Although America has eased up overtime, the idea is still a favorite to people. But in cases like this, where a corporations decision comes across as bad to the public in anyway, then social media is the first place to go to take down the big corporation

    • I agree! Social media is the first platform that the public seems to go to when they want to cause a social sturring (whether or not it is good or bad). I think people turn to social media as this outlet because it is so easy to connect with one another (especially with others with similar views). Look at how fast news travels on Twitter. The ability to easily and quickly connect is quite a draw to any social media users.

    • You’re right, Antonio. Social media has definitely become the go to place for the public when it comes to dissatisfaction. To add in what Laura said above, social media allows people from all over to connect through their shared interests, dislikes, praises and most definitely complaints. In a way, it eliminates trying to fight the battle alone because now you have at least 100 or so followers to back you up. It’s great that we can all connect wherever and whenever, but that connection can be one heck of a weapon when it comes to challenging businesses. It can even be used to fight the government. Does SOPA ring a bell? We can even look at the current phenomenon, Stop Kony 2012. Here’s a good article that summarizes this thing they call “People Power.” http://blogs.denverpost.com/ostrow/2012/03/09/people-power-sopa-komen-rush-konysocial-media-rewrites-rules/7951/

      – Cherese

  5. First of all, you did a great job with this post, Cherese! I didn’t have a clear picture of what was going on with this crisis and your post really filled me in on it! 🙂 Honestly, I feel bad for the Komen PR team. Who knows what could have caused them to act the way they did! Was it corporate pressure, society pressure or both? From how things have been going, I do believe that it is going to be a long time before Komen has the same kind of support that it did before this crisis. I think the stakes are high for any type of business regardless of whether or not they are nonprofit or for profit (they all need money to grow and accomplish their goals). I know that we always talk about the Domino’s case but the online response of Komen could’ve been better if they looked at how Domino’s handled it. Sure it was different crises but the way Domino’s used social media to connect and communicate with their publics would’ve been beneficial to Komen. Komen was definetly not transparent! If they would’ve been transparent from the begining I think this problem wouldn’t be the crisis that it is today. People don’t want to be lied to and when Komen remained silent and then suddenly switched their views, the public saw the company as untrustworthy (could you blame them?). I think the way that Planned Parenthood acted was immature. They were acting like the only victums of this crisis but as the saying goes, it takes two to tango. They were just as big of a problem in this crisis as Komen was. The way they leaked the information out seems like they were trying to back Komen into a social-approvement corner to get their way. Unfortunately, you can see more companies being “attacked” on social media. It probably is going to become a trend (like online bullying did).

    • You’re far too kind, Laura! I’m glad the post clarified some things for you. As far as Komen’s online response is concerned, Domino’s is the perfect example. We can’t seem to escape using it as standard because it’s just that good. They set an example for years to come and it’s up to companies like Komen to take advantage of what Domino’s has contributed to the relationship between crisis PR and social media. You mentioned probably the most important part of handling a crisis, transparency. As Geoff Larcom said, “It doesn’t get any worse than the truth.” If Komen had been honest and open from the beginning, they could have steered the conversation in a more positive direction. Granted, Komen was blind sided when Planned Parenthood revealed the decision first, but reacting sooner rather than later would have made a difference. As you saw at the end of the post, I crossed out the statement about Parenthood making a fundraiser out of Komen’s crisis, even though it’s true. Do we know if Parenthood planned this from the get-go? No, but they definitely didn’t miss their opportunity to take advantage of Komen’s downfall. Lastly, I like how you related these types of situations with online bullying. I hadn’t thought of it like that before, but the basic scenarios are similar.

      – Cherese

  6. My first reaction to this is WOW, why would an organization that supports finding a cure for breast cancer pull funding which is being put toward breast cancer screenings. Their reason that new policies would not allow them to fund any organizations to me is reasonable. By giving donations to an organization, you are standing behind/with that organization. For Planned Parenthood being investigated for government money possibly being spent on abortions, that is something serious. To me, what organization would stand behind that?

    I think Komen should of reacted by finding other organizations to fund for breast cancer screenings and used social media to direct people who count on those breast screenings to find another place where they can get their exam done. I can understand why they would take down their negative tweets, what organization wouldn’t? I’ve worked at two establishments that had me monitor social media and if there was anything negative to contact the server and do what I could to attempt to get the negativity down. Komen should of focused on all the good that they do for women, which I believe they do. I didn’t even know this controversy was happening. This doesn’t at all change my opinion of Komen. It would be very interesting to be to see the statistics of those stating negativity towards Komen. It does look very bad that Karen Handel, during an interview, stated that she was pro-life and anit-Planned Parenthood.

    In my opinion, Komen can definitely come back from this. Yes, they made a mistake BUT they do more good then harm. To me, it sounds like Komen will be considering giving Planned Parenthood donations but I feel like they should also look for other establishments to donate to that help give breast examinations. What if Planned Parenthood is found to be using GOVERNMENT MONEY to spend on abortions. Don’t you think that would change how people look at them? People are either Pro-Choice, Pro-Life or simply do not care but at the end of the day Komen helps women.

    Komen shouldn’t of been such a “Flip-Flopper.” Just because people didn’t like their choice they took their decision back? To me that does make them look bad. When people make decisions, not everyone is going to like your decisions. For example, take the US Presidential elections. Not everyone likes who wins but everyone in the US has to deal with it. Komen didn’t want to support a company that’s under an investigation and everyone sends them negativity? It’s their money. They can spend it how they want.

    I feel like those “rumors” were spread by Planned Parenthood. Komen is a well-known, well-supported organization that, once again let me state HELPS FIND CURES FOR BREAST CANCER. I also feel like Planned Parenthood milked this incident for all that it’s worth. I think they used this to their advantage to gain donations. If i was Komen, I wouldn’t want to support Planned Parenthood. Look what happened to their reputation. A donation is a gift and shouldn’t be assumed.

    I definitely think that the use of social media to take down big corporations and organizations is going to become a trend. It’s the quickest way to get people on board with things. For example, I’m not sure if everyone knew about #projectM but that just showed how quickly social media travels around.

    I am a proud supporter of Susan G. Komen and I do believe they can come back from this.

    • Katie, I enjoyed reading your post especially since you are a Komen supporter. A lot of the time we don’t get to see the perspectives from both sides of the fence, so your post was helpful in balancing the views. One of the main points you brought up was the fact that donations can be perceived as standing behind/ with an organization. That’s definitely something companies have to think about. Surprisingly, this is not the first time a company has distanced themselves from Planned Parenthood and been attacked by the public. Look at what happened with AT&T when they split with Parenthood in 1990 (http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/planned-parenthood-and-komen-future-funding-remains-in-question/). Although, I think that while they can’t please everyone, they do have some responsibility to at least diplomatically address the dissatisfied consumers. An example that comes to mind is the situation between JCPenny and Ellen Degeneres.

      I also liked what you mentioned about directing people to other sources. This would have looked a lot better than pointing everyone to the press release. Plus, it would have showed that Komen still cares about the patients and consumers affected by the decision. I was surprised that Komen didn’t heavily promote the good they’ve done for women in their many years with Planned Parenthood. Looking at the numbers, there is no dobut that Komen has done a lot for women and they should have shown or should show that in the process of recovering.

      – Cherese

  7. As a non-profit the stakes are defiantly higher when it comes to the trust of consumers. People invest into an organization because of their personal feelings and beliefs in the goals and agenda of that organization. Usually these are people who want to make a difference even if it involves them donating money and personal time. If you lose those people it is difficult to try to attract a similar audience when they don’t trust you and were not really interested in the first place. As far as social networking is concerned it plays a vital role in any organization because everyone has access to it and they can get direct information on a particular subject and even spread the word to make others aware of what is going on. It can create or kill the image of a company.

  8. Pingback: Brands, What Do You Have to Say for Yourself? « how i C it

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