What Komen Forgot In Failing Its Brand

By Scott M. Davis

You can run, but you can’t hide. Especially in a social world.

It’s one of the stark realities that hit home last week with the uproar sparked when the Susan G. Komen Foundation yanked, then reinstated, its funding to Planned Parenthood.

In today’s networked era, social media is only gaining power and giving a loud and immediate voice to anyone who cares to use it. In this environment, good luck thinking you’re in control when it comes to your actions, how you spin them and how they’re perceived. You’re not.

At best, you can hope to influence perceptions. That takes a deep understanding of today’s milieu and how your brand holds up against the increasingly critical guideposts of openness, transparency, authenticity.

Komen failed on all three fronts, according to insider reports of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering to take the spotlight off abortion politics as the ultimate reason for the initial defunding.

But it also fell down in protecting its core reputation and brand on the most basic fronts:

  1. Don’t compromise your mission. As Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams expressed it in one of her pieces on the furor: “Women’s healthcare is not about lace-trimmed scarves and bottles of perfume [or] ‘infantilizing Pepto-ed advocacy’ [or] even about abortion. It’s about screening. It’s about treatment. It’s just that simple. The further away an organization gets from that mission, the more women suffer. It’s just that simple too. And you don’t make good on a “promise” to your dead sister by selling out women who need you most.”
  2. Don’t abuse the trust. Many comments in the tsunami of flooding articles, Facebook and Twitter were along the lines of this woman’s: “As a long-standing supporter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, I am horrified at the Foundation’s behavior in regard to Planned Parenthood. I will probably find it difficult to contribute as I have for many years. When trust goes, so goes the support in a different direction.”
  3. Never underestimate the passion that cements your community’s connection with your brand. People invest their relationship to a cause like Komen’s with huge passion. There’s an intensely personal and emotional relationship that results – given the many who have donated or volunteered to honor those in their lives who have struggled with cancer. That can be a force for good. Komen’s success over the years can attest to that. But look out for the backlash when betrayed. Especially in a social world, where the Komen action aroused equal passion and disappointment from men as women. As one said: “Thanks Komen for the Cure for reminding me of the value of Planned Parenthood. Health services without politics. Just donated to them directly.”

So now the foundation is in reputation repair mode. It began the process with apologies and the resignation as senior vice president for public policy of Karen Handel, who once ran for Georgia governor calling for Planned Parenthood’s defunding and was reportedly behind Komen’s action.

What remains to be seen is the extent to which the organization’s stakeholders over time link their thumbs-down on its action to a folding up of their wallets. And how it can convincingly galvanize its network around believing that at the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the priority really is the Cure.

comments powered by Disqus

The fine print: All comments are reviewed before they are published, so your comment may not show up right away. We reserve the right to edit and remove comments at any time for any reason. Unprofessional language and spam will be rejected.