There was finally an organization or event that was able to generate a buzz that matched the Super Bowl in its big week. Unfortunately, the buzz was for so many of the wrong reasons and it will be a while before we can understand the true fallout effects. While there was talk of which team would win, which players would work through injury or which commercials would be the best, the most heated debate was about whether Planned Parenthood would continue to receive funding from the Susan G. Komen Foundation. In a most peculiar set of circumstances, the foundation came out of the social media and PR melee badly bruised and showing a lack of focus on their core remit. That remit is to battle breast cancer and they lost that focus by making a horrible business decision without weighing what was best for their core.
When the Komen Foundation’s decision to end funding to Planned Parenthood came to light at the beginning of last week, social networks and phones went crazy with people conjecturing that the cause was purely a political one against abortion – with the timely addition of an outspoken anti-abortion activist being placed on the non-profit’s executive staff. Some heads were cooler believing the corporate line that it was just an automatic safeguard recently put in place that they would not fund any organization that is under investigation. Whichever side is believed, people are already beginning to think twice about giving money to the organization and that is a huge issue.
With buzz that long-time walkers and volunteers were going to shift their involvement to other breast cancer organizations, like the Avon Walk, and that corporate sponsors were considering dropping their sponsorships and partnerships with Komen, the ramifications are real.
Even if you believe that the stop in funding was caused by their automatic safeguard, it still poses a number of issues from a business perspective. Far too often, there is a knee-jerk reaction to quickly make a blanket decision without looking at all of the perspectives. In this case, if the communications department was not involved in the discussion, that’s a huge snafu. If they were, they should take a long look at what they are there for.
I’m not so concerned about funding and the long-term health for Planned Parenthood because the publicity and the backlash was a huge win for organizations that are involved in abortion and other women’s issues. Even New York Mayor Bloomberg donated $250,000 to Planned Parenthood in the wake of the announcement and many more donations flowing in.
I do believe that there was a little bit of politics and a little bit of off-the-cuff procedural hacking, but this is where being true to your core helps across the board in business. Had Susan G Komen held fast that their main goal is the treatment of and battle against cancer, they could have stayed above the fray of politics. They could even protect themselves against fraud had they come out and said they will not continue funding organizations if an audit shows misuse of funds. But a company cannot stand behind what they do if they blindly or blatantly go cut off options to achieve their goals for anything less than actual proof that illegal actions had taken place. In the case of Planned Parenthood, the hot-button issue of abortion is legal and they were absolutely helping low and middle-income women in education and detection of Breast Cancer. With that information and Komen’s steadfast commitment to their core remit, nobody could have rightfully contested any naysayers externally or internally.
Komen’s mis-steps sadly have a larger impact than on just the health of a company, but on the much more important search for the cure for Cancer. Some would say it was a triumph for social media that their decision was reversed by social media, but it was really a boneheaded, not-well-thought-out move that mirrors the recent Netflix fiasco that just points to bad businesses decisions.
No matter how much of a push for a swift decision, a reliance on your company’s core is the key to succesful business and its communications thereof.