Komen Foundation Injures Own Credibility

Last week, Planned Parenthood distributed an e-mail from Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, with an intriguing subject line, ‘Disappointing news from a friend’. Once I read the e-mail, I knew that the Susan G Komen For The Cure Foundation had a serious PR crisis on their hands. The e-mail said that the Susan G Komen Foundation, a former partner of Planned Parenthood, announced it would stop supporting breast cancer screening for low-income and under-served women at Planned Parenthood health centers. The Susan G Komen Foundation, according to its mission, is a non-profit organization dedicated to education and research about causes, treatment, and the search for a breast cancer cure.

This created a buzz among mainstream media and social media. ‘Susan G’, ‘Komen’ and ‘Planned Parenthood’ were all trending topics on Twitter Tuesday. The story made headlines in the Los Angeles Times, ABC News, The Washington Post, Forbes and The Huffington Post among other major media outlets. The Komen Foundation received heavy backlash for their decision to cut funding while Planned Parenthood thanked its community for their ongoing support. On Thursday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg released a statement announcing his pledge to match Planned Parenthood donations:

Politics has no place in health care. Breast cancer screening saves lives and hundreds of thousands of women rely on Planned Parenthood for access to care. We should be helping women access that care, not placing barriers in their way. This is why I will match every donation to the Planned Parenthood Breast Health Fund dollar-for-dollar up to $250,000.

Experts estimate that there are 225,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year. Nearly three million men, women, and teens visit Planned Parenthood health centers each year. Planned Parenthood health centers provide nearly 750,000 clinical breast exams each year.

The fund will give more women access to lifesaving care — this is what it means for women and men to stand with Planned Parenthood health centers and those they serve. Every dollar you donate now will go twice as far to help Planned Parenthood health centers provide breast health education, screenings, and referrals for mammograms to women who very often have nowhere else to turn.

Thank you for standing with me to support Planned Parenthood,

Mayor Mike Bloomberg

By Friday, this was a top story in the news and there was still plenty of social media buzz surrounding the issue. The Komen Foundation issued a statement apologizing to the American public for changing the criteria they were implementing- that criteria being any 501(c)(3) under investigation was ineligible to receive any funding. This resulted in Planned Parenthood not receiving funding, and a public distrust of The Komen Foundation’s mission of saving women’s lives. The Komen Foundation then asserted that they were eliminating that restriction moving forward so that Planned Parenthood could apply for funds in the future.

Following the Komen Foundation’s move, Planned Parenthood sent out a press release once again thanking its community for the ongoing support, and sharing its gratefulness that the Komen Foundation reversed its decision.

By Friday night, the story was not as prominently placed in the headlines as it had been. Was this because the public was happy with The Komen Foundation’s decision to reinstate funding? Is this where the story ends? I don’t think so. I do think that The Komen Foundation has to re-earn trust from the public and much of that will lie in the hands of its PR team. The Washington Post reported, “Now Komen executives are faced with the task of restoring credibility to one of the strongest brands in the nonprofit world.”

Do you think The Komen Foundation lost credibility? What do you think its next PR move should be? Should social media receive credit for the Komen Foundation’s change of mind?

Update: On Tuesday, Karen Handel, vice president for public policy for Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation resigned.



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3 Responses to Komen Foundation Injures Own Credibility

  1. Jessica Von Schell says:

    Susan G. Komen Foundation aside for a moment, what a brilliant public relations play by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg! Bloomberg viewed the Komen announcement as a personal opportunity to try and fill the new funding gap, which was sure to impact Planned Parenthood. As a public relations practitioner and counselor to individuals like Bloomberg, it is our job to monitor the daily news and find similar opportunities for our clients/organizations.

    Now, as for the Komen Foundation . . . I think one of the central issues that really outraged the public was due to the fact that the Foundation’s public policy and funding decisions didn’t seem to strategically align with the organization’s mission and vision. It was inconsistent. How can an organization that purports its dedication to breast cancer research cut funding to an organization that provides a vital public breast screening service?

    You are right. The Komen PR team has a lot of work to do to re-assert the organization’s brand and earn back the public’s trust.

  2. slbenne2 says:

    I think that yes, The Komen Foundation lost credibility. They are an extremely well-known nonprofit that supports education and screening for breast cancer and what did they do? Took away screenings of breast cancer. In the eyes of the publicsl this makes The Komen Foundation look like they are picking and choosing who can get breast cancer screenings and that low-income women do not fit that criteria.

    From the PR side, I think the team acted in a positive light. They responded quickly, took back their withdrawal from Planned Parenthood and sent out press releases. They obviously had to do more than that to gain some of their trust back and they turned to Karen Handel, the vice president of public affairs for Susan G Komen Foundation. Handel was clearly behind the decision and with her resignation, I believe that the trust will slowly work its way back into the Komen Foundation.

  3. crose3 says:

    Stacy- I agree with you that the Komen Foundation’s PR team acted in a positive light. They didn’t make excuses or try to explain what they did. Instead, they
    You are right. The Komen PR team has a lot of work to do to re-assert the organization’s brand and earn back the public’s trust.

    Jessica- That was a brilliant PR move by Mayor Bloomberg!! Thank you for pointing out that it is the responsibility of PR practitioners to counsel individuals like Bloomberg and to monitor the daily news and find similar opportunities for our clients/organizations. I also like that you pointed out that much of the public outcry was because the Komen Foundation’s public policy and funding decisions didn’t seem to strategically align with PP’s mission and vision. I think this is where their credibility fell short.

    Adam- Excellent analogy! It seems very silly in hindsight! The logic just seems to be missing…

    Marshall- I agree with your point that the Komen Foundation has lost credibility in the eyes of certain demographics within our society. I think you are absolutely right. I think that while many women with low incomes would feel personally effected by this move while other women with higher incomes may not. I also agree with you that the Komen Foundation’s change of heart allows them to change their message and truly present the purpose of their foundation, to help support breast cancer research. I also think it would be interesting to see if other politicians felt similarly to the way Mayor Bloomberg did.

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