The Susan G. Komen Foundation did not just dip a toe into politics, it put the whole foot into a boiling pot. The foundation’s survival depends on what it does next.
Komen cut Planned Parenthood funding because it claimed its policy was to stop funding organizations that are under government investigation. Whether this move was political or not no longer matters, the perception is that it was. A furor, led by the power of social media, caused Komen to reverse its decision just days later. Many of the protesting tweets pledged to abandon Komen for ever. As one tweet stated, “I’d rather die of breast cancer than turn to Komen.”
Now what? Consider these six steps to manage the communication crisis:
1- Komen has a judgment problem that needs to be fixed
Regardless of how you feel about the issue, Komen’s leaders should have anticipated the reaction. Didn’t someone there say, ” Hey, Planned Parenthood funding is a really controversial topic.”
2- Heads need to roll
Komen needs to transfer the venom now directed at the organization to the person or persons responsible. It’s tough medicine for the people axed, but the survival of the organization is at stake.
3- Go ALL IN on Staying Out of Politics
Komen has to show how it is taking politics (or the perception of it) out of its decision-making process. It has to be careful, it would be a mistake to go “all in” on being pro-choice or pro Planned Parenthood. It has to go “all in” on staying out of politics.
4- Find Respected Advocates
It has to find people who are respected by Planned Parenthood who are willing to speak up for its survival. The quotes should be something like, “Yes, I’m angry at Komen, but the good they do should continue for the sake of women.“
5- Provide stirring examples of its success
Komen’s work has no doubt saved many lives. Some of those survivors are needed now to speak up on the value of Komen’s work and the pending impact if it no longer existed.
6- Change the debate question
Whenever you are in hot water, it is a good idea to change the question. Shift the question from “Should Komen survive because of the mistake” to “Should this one mistake end what Komen is doing for women.”
2012 is going to be a difficult year for Komen. But its ultimate survival will depend on how well it makes it case for it.
Do you think Komen will survive?
The writer is a crisis communication expert and adjunct media professor.