Gini Dietrich

Komen In PR Mess Because of Planned Parenthood Decision

By: Gini Dietrich | February 2, 2012 | 

I was thinking I wasn’t going to jump on the bandwagon and talk about this, but it’s so disgusting to me, it has to be said.

What the heck is wrong with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure?

On one side is the charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which says it has raised $1.9 billion worldwide for breast cancer since it was created 30 years ago. Nancy Brinker started the foundation after Susan Komen, her sister, died of breast cancer.

On the other is Planned Parenthood, the 90-year-old organization that operates nearly 800 health centers nationwide. It bills itself as “America’s most trusted provider of reproductive health care.” Among its many services are breast cancer screening, contraceptives, and abortions.

Planned Parenthood says it performed 750,000 breast exams and breast care procedures in 2010, the latest year for which information is available. The organization says it has done four million breast exams in the past five years — 170,000 of them funded by Komen.

Not About Politics

The decision was “not about politics,” a Komen statement insisted.

The truth is Komen founder Nancy Brinker has strong Republican ties and Cecile Richards, who leads Planned Parenthood, is daughter of late Texas Gov. Ann Richards and has longtime Democratic Party ties. Also worth noting: This is an election year.

But it’s not about politics.

So Why the Cutoff?

Komen says it was forced to make the move by a new policy that prevents it from giving grant money to groups that are under investigation. In this case, the focus is a congressional inquiry launched last fall by Florida Republican Cliff Stearns, who is looking into whether Planned Parenthood is using federal money to fund abortions.

Planned Parenthood and its allies say Komen is simply bowing to the demands of anti-abortion-rights activists.

What Does this Have to Do with PR?

Just like the PR crisis Komen got themselves into when they partnered with KFC (yes, the fried chicken fast food restaurant) for breast cancer awareness, they’ve put themselves in the middle of another scandal with this move.

Even if it’s true they don’t give funds to organizations under investigation, and not because they’re “bowing to the demands of anti-abortion-rights activists,” they clearly did not think this one through.

Since this decision was made on Tuesday, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and even LinkedIn have been on fire with friends, colleagues, peers, and acquaintances saying they’re going to put their money somewhere else this year.

Komen has faced a massive social media backlash, with angry people flocking to its message boards and Facebook wall to announce that they will no longer donate to the breast cancer charity.

Many commenters on Facebook have complained Komen is scrubbing some of the more negative comments from its wall so they’re headed to Nancy Brinker’s wall instead.

In fact, a friend of mine posted a comment on her wall and took a screen grab of it, wondering aloud how long it would stay on the wall.

Turns out, not very long. It’s not there today.

The PR Lesson

We’re all going to screw up. We’re all going to have to make unpopular decisions. We may even make a very large number of people upset.

But deleting comments from your social media networks is not the way to build positive sentiment and rebuild trust.

You no longer are in control of your message or your brand. Truth be told, you never were in control; you just had the perception of being so because you couldn’t hear what your customers were telling others.

But now you can. And it’s time to not only monitor, but listen.

And not just listen, but really pay attention to what people are saying.

Perhaps there is a real and valid reason Komen has pulled their funding from Planned Parenthood. It really shouldn’t matter if it’s politicially driven or not.

What matters is they’re sticking their heads in the sand and pretending no one is upset by the decision by deleting the negative comments from their Facebook wall.

People are going to have a voice. Now they’ll start their own Facebook groups and blogs and discussion boards and Komen won’t have the opportunity to have a voice in the matter.

Wouldn’t you rather them have their say on your wall than somewhere else?

Only time will tell if it hurts the Komen funding (Planned Parenthood says they’ve had a spike in donations). For now, their days are totally screwed up because of the PR storm they created for themselves.

Thanks, Jeff Esposito, for convincing me to change the image.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

Sara F. Hawkins
Sara F. Hawkins

Thanks for stepping into the discussion GIni. What annoys me even further is that now SGK Foundation is trying to spin it so that it was a choice not to fund PP because they don't directly provide mammograms. So, if that was the case, why all the talk about investigations? I think they're grasping at straws, trying to make it 'not so bad'.

Or could it be that SGK doesn't want to lose 3 top directors?

Whatever the reason SGK wants to believe, the fact will always remain that it started out as a political statement.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

Komen reverses; restores funding to Planning Parenthood...breaking news and a culmination of the most amazing national circle jerk I've ever seen play out in two days.

Latest blog post: Whoops! 404 Error!


Gini, good article. Although, it does matter that it is politically driven. I believe it was one congressman, Cliff Stearns (R-FL) that launched an investigation into Planned Parenthood. This representative is a religious ideologue who has given cover to Komen to pull their support from Planned Parenthood. Charity and politics, especially dirty politics, don't mix.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

Late by a day and look what I missed. Kudos to you for taking this head on. I wasn't going to stick my neck out, as you, because I'm so pissed off and disgusted by the entire debacle, as well.

At the end of the day, who loses? Women. Both organizations have done a spectacular job of helping women with whatever type of healthcare service they require (it's none of our business what they seek when they walk through the doors).

When you have two powerful women's groups with equally powerful brands dividing down the aisle it speaks of rotten. Komen has now created the perfect storm to divide Republican, Democratic, Catholic, Libertarian, Agnostic, and BlahBlahBlah WITH their common threads of the affects of cancer. Since when does disease cross a party or religious line? Bullshit.

Latest blog post: Whoops! 404 Error!


There's the other problem in that they think their former supporters must be very dumb... As Komen continues to fund an organization at Penn State (under investigation) and receive sponsorship from Bank of America (also under investigation). It's amazing to me that they thought they could do this quietly after PP gained so many supporters this summer... Cecile's original e-mail must have hit at least a hundred thousand.


Gini, at what point does "analysis" cross into opportunism, and become an excuse to get more blog readers, Twitter followers & Facebook likes? I'm not trying to imply that's what's going on here, but after reading all the marketing & PR blog posts in the past year about Penn State, Exxon, Netflix, Rep. Weiner, BofA, News Corp, etc., it leaves me pondering that question.


The long-term impacts of this are not going to go away.

Unless there is a public repudiation of this decision and, honestly, the resignation of the pro-life, anti-gay, right-wing VP they hired, Karen Handel, the entire permanent public image of Susan G. Komen will be irrevocably shifted. They are politicizing themselves, clearly claiming the mantel of "right-wing breast cancer foundation." Pro-choice folks and the LGBT community need not apply. (Just Google for what Handel has said - she opposes gay adoption and calling LGBT relationships "not what God intended.")

If that's where SGK wants to go, that's fine, that's their choice. But they will reap the whirlwind - SGK will become anathema to a large spectrum of potential donors. Doesn't matter how they try and spin it, cutting off Planned Parenthood is a transparently political move with significant consequences.


Hi Gini,

jumped on Twitter 3 seconds after watching the CEO of Komen lying on her interview with Andrea Mitchell this afternoon on MSNBC.

She's full of crap; it's all about politics---which ends up being about religion-which ends up having absolutely nothing to do with Breast Cancer.

These people...the rich ones who get to be on TV and dish out their BS must think that the average guys (like me) are freaking clueless.

Her non-profit just become non-credible.

Just because she has a new board member that's Pro-Life.

Our country is screwed. We're all screwed.



[Comment deleted]Just kidding!!! haha. It's really bad to go deleting comments from others. It's one thing to retracts your own statements, It's another to silence the voices of others. Anyone who thinks they can get away with that is considerably disillusioned.


@miss_melinda09 Appears tough now but I'm interested in response and long-term reputation management. Not everyone is against the decision.


@Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing Girl, this is a great way to put it. Women lose out. It's typically poor women (and men!) who seek out PP services - but don't get me started, I don't discuss this stuff too publicly. Because Facebook is private.

That said, great lesson, Gini.


@BexAllen Do you have any citations for the Penn State/BofA items? That's very interesting to me. If that's true, then I think they are in a world of trouble for not evenly applying this new "rule."

ginidietrich moderator

@jono.smith There certainly is some of that goes on. Some are accused of link baiting and the like in order to increase their social shares. I'm pretty cognizant of it, which is why it took me three days to write about this. I actually wasn't going to, but the PR mess kept getting bigger and bigger. Our vision for the blog is to be the professional development for PR and marketing pros. If I feel like I can provide a professional lesson in something that's happening in the news, I do it. There are plenty of case studies I don't write about (Carnival Cruise is one sitting in my drafts, but I don't think that's a PR issue so much as an operations mess).

ginidietrich moderator

@FranchiseKing LOL! Now, now Franchise King. Let's talk about the PR and social media implications of all of this. Did SGK become non-credible because they deleted social media comments? Or did that just add fuel to the fire?

ginidietrich moderator

@jennwhinnem@Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing I have a blog post in my drafts folder about what they should have done. Had they brought their crisis counsel in a year ago (instead of this week), they would have gone through all of these scenarios. They would have been prepared with the right messaging and Brinker would have been confident in answering the hard questions. They wouldn't have even had to reverse their decision. It's too bad.


@BexAllen Fascinating. Thanks. It occurred to me that the way the rule is worded, anything from a state or federal tax audit, to an employee whistleblower suit, to any number of other things would be valid reasons to cut off funding. If they aren't going to apply the rule evenly, I expect their PR problems will mount. They might end up spending a great deal of time notifying organizations of suspended funding, then putting it back in place, etc. This is the Law of Unintended Consequences at work.


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