Friday, February 3, 2012

Susan G. Komen: How Not to Manage PR

  I frequently write PR material for a company that produces software enabling companies to sense and respond to business events and/or crises. Innovative companies can thus anticipate things that might happen that could spell disaster and avoid them - or even profit from them. One of the examples we are using in a book about this (I am ghostwriting part of it) is the BP oil spill. BP badly misjudged the power of social media and the US Gulf oil spill became an international scandal. From premature press releases about how minimal the spill was, to badly-timed yacht trips by its CEO it was a monument in how not to handle a crisis. BP's CEO Tony Hayward was ejected, the share price was shredded, and the furor no doubt jacked up BP's legal bills and settlements by billions of dollars.
  Lessons that should have been learned from this apparently sailed over the heads of the executives at breast cancer non-profit Susan G. Komen. When it decided to jettison one of its mainstay partners, Planned Parenthood, Komen completely misjudged the public reaction. Twitter caught fire with mostly outraged Tweets the morning the news hit (Feb. 2) and Komen's Facebook page attracted thousands of comments - predominately negative. Komen released a holier-than-thou video blog from its CEO Nancy Brinker further fanning the flames, then a day later changed its excuse - then changed its mind and put PP back on its "Friends" list.  Now if only it could claw back the goodwill it lost in the space of 24 hours.
  According to news stories, Komen execs had months to think about the possible backlash, but failed to take any pre-emptive actions. They even let PP send out the first press release, completely failing to anticipate the backlash. That one of its execs was fervently pro-life and had a vendetta against PP never entered their minds? The fact that women don't care about politics when it comes to their bodies, as long as they can get proper care and make their own decisions about pregnancy? Idiots.
  I was never a supporter of Komen, the over-marketing of pink ribbons and T-shirts (and even a limited edition pink Smith and Wesson pistol - seriously!) put me off. I tend to avoid organizations that market themselves too aggressively, figuring they must be hiding something. Any organization with a brand as recognizable and strong as Komen's should have realized that brand management includes anticipating crises, complete with plans to respond to and mitigate damages. In the case of Komen, technology is not the answer, common sense is. But, as Voltaire said: "Common sense is not so common."

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