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Gini Dietrich

Komen Provides Excellent Crisis Management Case Study

By: Gini Dietrich | February 6, 2012 | 
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So Susan G. Komen caved to pressure and reversed the decision to not fund Planned Parenthood.

Fantastic!

Or is it?

Did they cave because of the outcry, both online and off?

Or did they cave because they were caught not applying their “we don’t fund organizations under investigation” rule across the board (Penn State receives funding and Bank of America is a major sponsor – both under investigation)?

It doesn’t matter how you feel about the entire situation. If this were a political blog, it would matter. But it’s not. So we’ll talk communication instead.

What does matter on Spin Sucks is the incredible PR crisis management case study it’s providing.

During my research for this blog post, I discovered a few things:

  1. Susan G. Komen has a consumer PR agency.
  2. Susan G. Komen has a crisis management agency.
  3. The crisis management agency for Susan G. Komen and Planned Parenthood are one and the same.

Let’s put aside the third thing for now (talk about a situation that became a huge conflict of interest last week!) and focus on the fact that Komen hired their crisis management firm last summer.

They were hired to “monitor media, support speaker programs, and provide issues counsel around controversial topics that could affect the organization, such as Komen’s position on embryonic-stem-cell research.”

So, then, let’s assume because the decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood is policy and not an “issue,” they likely weren’t asked to create scenarios in which things could go very wrong.

Until last Tuesday, when things went very wrong.

The Atlantic spoke with John Hammarley, who until recently served as Komen’s senior communications adviser and who was charged with managing the public-relations aspects of Komen’s Planned Parenthood grant.

“About a year ago, a small group of people got together inside the organization to talk about what the options were, what would be the ramifications of staying the course, or of telling our affiliates they can’t fund Planned Parenthood, or something in between.” He went on, “As we looked at the ramifications of ceasing all funding, we felt it would be worse from a practical standpoint, from a public-relations standpoint, and from a mission standpoint. The mission standpoint is, ‘How could we abandon our commitment to the screening work done by Planned Parenthood?'” But the Komen board made the decision despite the recommendation of the organization’s professional staff to keep funding Planned Parenthood.

They’ve been thinking about this decision for a year.

The PR firm they hired to “monitor media, support speaker programs, and provide issues counsel” is very experienced.

Had they been asked, when they were hired, to provide counsel on what could happen if they decided to defund Planned Parenthood, they would have held several meetings in which they would play out every, single consequence that could be created by a decision like this. They would advise on several different options (perhaps slowly taking away the funding?). And they would have experience with the social web and knowing what would trigger an uproar. A year is plenty of time to manage the messaging and hold a crisis at bay.

People make mistakes. We’re all human beings. But looping in you PR counsel after hundreds, if not thousands, of people are commenting on your Facebook wall and YouTube channel (which you’re deleting) and every major news outlet is writing about you is a very, very bad idea.

In fact, if they’d brought in their PR counsel on this policy change, they would have had a strategy around their decision, they would have had their messaging set (instead of changing it at least three times in three days), and they would not have had to reverse the plan because of public outcry.

This was all completely avoidable.

Good PR counsel and a crisis management plan is like insurance…you have to have it.

In the past, a decision like this would have created some protests, but Susan G. Komen would have been able to control it. Today, that’s not an option. The social web provides people a bullhorn and they use it.

You can no longer pretend you won’t be affected by upset stakeholders. You are no longer in control. Your customers control everything, from your brand to who buys from you.

Be prepared. Get yourself crisis insurance with an experienced PR firm or professional.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

111 comments
maragarettate
maragarettate

Loved the post. Social media has really made it so easy to raise an opinion. And before these organizations realize, their insensible statements will be adding to their mistake.

nativiris
nativiris

@lahomar Lo leí. Muy bueno. Una crisis que pudo manejarse. Con los medios sociales es un deber estar preparados.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

There is also a case study for the PR Agencies. As the crisis agency you would think they would ask straight up is this political (it was and was outed on Huff Post yesterday). Second you ask is there any email proof of this being political (also outed by Huff Post).

Not sure if I knew this was political and email proof existed I would do anything that advised lying about the situation. And Komen did lie. What are your thoughts Miss Gini?

Elaine_Fogel
Elaine_Fogel

Gini, I'm so glad I saw this post today. As a specialist in nonprofit marketing and communications, I've been following the story closely. But, this new information about Komen's board making the decision against the advice of its senior management team is very disturbing.

Nonprofit boards of director are here today and gone tomorrow. They usually serve finite terms, volunteering their time. Some meet monthly; some quarterly, but it is the senior management team that must manage operations on a daily basis.

Even though the board had the right to make the decision they did, they acted irresponsibly - in a vacuum. If each member had thorough training in public relations and branding, then the board could have made the decision based on sound experience and expertise. But, boards are typically comprised of diverse groups of people. To do what they did without adequate consultation and guidance was short-sighted and foolish. The Komen brand will be feeling the fallout for a long time. The board should resign.

lpiotto
lpiotto

@ginidietrich - Sad that the Board rejected the reco of pro staff. Shouldn't need an agency to say the same thing to make it credible, WADR

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@Samjb That's nice of you to share the post with your class. Thank you!

Tinu
Tinu

Another major thing I thought was missing was communication directly with the people who would care about the decision. You can sometimes avert a tidal wave of disapproval with conversation - maybe only into a simmering brow-furrow, but also perhaps avoiding the crisis altogether just by knowing the imminent attention wouldn't be worth whatever end they were attempting to reach.

SmokinHotPR
SmokinHotPR

@ginidietrich I totally agree about "Good PR counsel and a crisis management plan is like insurance…you have to have it." Thanks!~

KirkHazlett
KirkHazlett

This episode definitely underscores the vital need for an awareness of and an understanding of public opinion...and the equally vital need for senior management to turn to and rely on public relations counsel when planning anything that might impact the organization's stakeholders. Especially today, with the already-proven power of social media to activate and agitate publics, organizational leaders have no choice but to "be sure brain is in gear before putting mouth into motion."

I think all of us in the public relations profession have learned something from this incident that we will carry with us into the workplace or the classroom as an example of how NOT to communicate.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@HowieG Maybe they did...when they were brought into this particular issue last week. If they were brought in at the same time the senior leaders were having this discussion a year ago, they would have asked all of these questions. They would have played out every scenario. They would have been prepared with the right messaging. Even if it were political, they would have said, "We are doing this because we only support pro-life organizations." It still would have created an outcry, but it wouldn't have gone on for days because they were straight about it and never lied.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Elaine_Fogel It'd be interesting to find out if the SGK board is paid and fully functional like, say, the Apple board. Or if it's run like most nonprofits....as you say, here today and gone tomorrow. I have a friend who runs a nonprofit and she is the decision maker. Yes, she needs to discuss strategy changes with the board, but she and her team make the decisions. It seems odd their board would have this much control. Maybe it's because Brinker is chairman? I don't know. But, you're right, this is going to hurt them for a long time. It'll be interesting to look at it a year from now and see how much it hurt them.

ifdyperez
ifdyperez

@ginidietrich right away! i'll top it with angel feathers, elf tears, and some gypsy magic wrap.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Tinu Yes! I received an email from our chapter yesterday. YESTERDAY. And Arizona sent theirs on Thursday. A little too late. There is so much that could have been done to avoid all of this. They, apparently though, have no desire to listen to their executives or their PR counsel. It's too bad.

Latest blog post: Where's Gini?

Elaine_Fogel
Elaine_Fogel

@ginidietrich Gini, most 501(c)(3) organizations operate with volunteer boards who ideally make all decisions related to strategy, budgets, and finances. They oversee the executive director/CEO, hold him/her accountable to performance expectations, and have the right to hire and fire that person.The executive director/CEO oversees the senior management team, and together, they are responsible for all operations.

It is a fine balancing act that requires mutual respect and a shared belief for the mission. A nonprofit executive who makes major decisions single-handedly = an unhealthy situation. Similarly, a board that micro-manages operations = an unhealthy organization, unless the organization is very small or in start-up mode.

Corporate boards, in which members receive a stipend, have an obligation to the company for that money. There are expectations about being available for board meetings and performing their duties. Nonprofits have similar expectations of board members, but because they are volunteers, whose jobs and families come first, their participation and time commitment may not always be ideal. In fact, many nonprofits have well-known people on their boards for their "names" and do not always expect them to be engaged. They do expect them to raise money from their friends and use their influence.

Another interesting point... many nonprofits have a financial expectation of their board members to make a donation. Some require members to "give or get" a specific dollar amount. So, they don't get paid - they pay for the privilege to serve the nonprofit.

Hope that clarifies the difference between nonprofit and corporate boards.

SmokinHotPR
SmokinHotPR

@ginidietrich I am putting together a basic course called PR Detective...for online management. companies need to wake up.. start early!

SmokinHotPR
SmokinHotPR

@ginidietrich oh tell me...I often wonder if biz planning consulting agencies they pay big bucks know that PR even exist..

Steveology
Steveology

@ginidietrich For the love of god, is there anything you do eat? Besides, the cauliflower makes the tasty "cream" sauce. Very good. Yum!

SmokinHotPR
SmokinHotPR

@ginidietrich Thank you! I loved your website. I was checking it all out. Love to talk to you sometimes..

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