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?