I have been following the news about Susan G. Komen Foundation cutting its funding to Planned Parenthood. No matter where you fall on the abortion argument, this has been a great case study on what not to do to prevent a PR crisis. Through observations about how the Komen foundation and Planned Parenthood handled this decision, I have been asking myself how can an organization prevent a debacle like this? I have come up with four simple guidelines.
1. Internally, work with the PR and marketing departments to make sure all potential outcomes are discussed and planned for.
Susan G. Komen foundation came off looking ill-prepared for the potential fallout from their decision. Susan G. Komen has been a PR darling. The fact they have not had to handle a large scale controversy may have given the foundation a false sense of security. Given how much press is given to Planned Parenthood, any marketing neophyte should have been able to predict that this decision would not be accepted quietly. Planned Parenthood is no stranger to controversy and has become quite adept at handling criticisms and public scrutiny. They have a very agile and well groomed PR machine.
2. Have a clearly defined statement about why your company is doing what it’s doing
Susan G. Komen foundation stated repeatedly that this was not a politically motivated move. At first, they said it was to make sure they were financing organizations that were reputable and not subjects of investigations. Then the message changed that the reason behind the decision was to fund programs directly and not through pass-through organizations. This caused people to feel like the foundation was not being straight with them and that the move was in fact politically motivated.
3. Be proactive in all social media channels to maintain ownership over the message
Tuesday afternoon, Planned Parenthood jumped on Facebook, Twitter, and email to rally their supporters. This campaign continued with Tweets, reTweets, and Facebook updates thanking their supporters and acknowledging their critics. On Twitter, there was not a single tweet from @komenforthecure until Wednesday morning when the outcry reached a loud crescendo. Planned Parenthood positioned themselves in the public’s mind as being unfairly targeted. After that, no matter what Susan G. Komen did, they would be seen in an unfavorable light. If Susan G. Komen took to the social media channels sooner and maintained their position, they would have been on equal footing.
4. Be transparent
The biggest mistake the Susan G. Komen foundation made was not being straight with people. Instead of listing the organizations that would be affected by the funding policy change, Komen released cryptic statements about the change itself. If they had been upfront and announced how this change would affect the number of organizations they funded last year, this decision would have looked less politically motivated.
The lesson is when you are making changes to your policy, think about your supporters, clients, and customers and how they may react then prepare. No change goes without some outcry. Being prepared with a solid strategy, statement, and tactics will lessen the chance you will be in a similar position that Susan G. Komen found themselves in.