In case you didn’t notice, Arun and I recently posted our list of the top 10 crises of 2011, and now we have an early candidate for the top spot on next year’s list—a crisis all the more fascinating because entirely self-inflicted.
This might be the first time in 25-plus years of writing about public relations that I have ever seen an organization create an existential crisis for itself quite deliberately—by taking action that quite clearly contradicts its stated mission and values and that seems purposely calculated to alienate its core constituency.
In the About Us section of its website, the Susan G Komen Foundation says that its founder, Nancy Brinker “promised her sister that she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever.” It’s pretty hard to reconcile that promise with the decision to cut funds to an organization that provides breast cancer screenings and treatment to thousands of women with limited access to alternative healthcare services.
Having betrayed its mission—and all those who have participated in events to support that mission—the Foundation seems incapable now of providing a cogent explanation. The official line, from Brinker, appears to be that the organization was renewing its focus on “higher impact programs” and getting rid of “duplicative” grants. Other officials said Komen did not wish to be associated with an organization that was the subject of a Congressional “investigation.” But at least one Komen board member says the decision was made specifically to target Planned Parenthood.
Whatever the backstory, it is clear that many Komen employees—and chapters around the country—are outraged by the decision, and that corporate sponsors such as Energizer and Yoplait have been targeted for their support of Komen.
Right now, I would put the chances that Komen will still exist by the time our next crisis review comes around at roughly 50-50.
And the group didn’t even achieve its unstated but thinly-concealed objective: since the announcement, Planned Parenthood has received more than enough in donations from outraged supporters—many of them claiming to have taken the money they would have sent to Komen and redirected it to a group focused on healthcare rather than politics—to make up for the loss of revenue.
UPDATE: Well, that didn’t take long. Moments after my blog post. Coincidence? I think not. Seriously, though, it will now be interesting to see how much damage has been done, and whether any of it can be undone by a reversal of course.