Can Positive PR Save the Susan G. Komen Foundation?

October is breast Cancer Awareness Month, and all eyes will be on the Susan G. Komen Foundation to see if they can get back to the business of raising money for breast cancer research and out of the business of digging itself out of a massive public relations hole.

If you will recall, six months ago, the foundation pulled $650,000 worth of funding to Planned Parenthood in a move that was widely perceived as political in nature. The PR crisis that followed was horribly mismanaged, with Founder Nancy Brinker slow to respond, then responding with contradictory messages and then ultimately apologizing. Finally, after months of internal struggle, Komen reversed the decision to pull the funding.

In the aftermath, Komen has taken a huge hit and there is no guarantee they will ever fully recover. According to a report in Advertising Age, donations are down 30% and participation in the organization’s fundraising races is down as well. Funds that otherwise would be going to help find a cure for breast cancer are being diverted to the organization’s public relations and advertising campaigns.

The foundation has hired several PR agencies and has launched a multimillion dollar advertising campaign that is geared to repairing their image in the eyes of current, former and potential donors. Most importantly, it is aimed at major corporate donors who are seriously questioning whether they will continue to be involved with the tarnished foundation.

The campaign is aimed at refocusing people’s attention to the great work for which the foundation was known. Front and center are the women who have benefited from the programs funded by Komen. Brinker, who had been at the heart of much of the Foundation’s messaging, is now in the background.

I am rooting for Komen. Their new campaign hits the nail on the head. Over the years, they’ve done some truly admirable work and they need both corporate and public help to continue that great work. There’s no denying they made a major error. There’s no denying they’ve severely tarnished their name. But it would be shocking if they were to make the same mistake twice.

Other brands have learned from their mistakes, listened to their publics and went on to greater heights. Based on the great work Komen has done in the past, let’s see if they can do the same.

Follow Jon Gelberg: @Jon_Gelberg

  • Eileen Walsh

    I am one of those people who has stopped supporting Komen. I was a supporter for close to ten years and after this debaucle, I find it extremely difficult to give them my faith, trust or money. I wish I didn’t feel this way, but I do and I don’t know what it’s going to take for me to change my mind. I lost my mother to breast cancer and know several people who have been diagnosed and are survivors. Knowing that they’re spending a bunch of money to recoup their reputation doesn’t make me want to contribute to them either.

  • Vicky Agnew

    As a breast cancer survivor and communications director for an academic cancer center, I can’t help but root for Komen’s recovery. Their Planned Parenthood moves and response strategy were really, really stupid and somehow seemed naive and arrogant all at once. But I believe in second chances. Over time, Komen has done far more good than bad. I can’t help but think of the patients we’ve been able to serve because of Komen grants and the researchers whose projects have been funded thanks to Komen–and its donors, of course.
    In the end, I don’t want to be forever dismissed for a past bad decision. I believe in giving a fair hearing to an organizations like Komen that want to change the world.

  • David Skelton

    I , too, have supported Komen for many years and have participated in numerous events. My participation has stopped in total, not because of the poor handling of the PR crisis, but because of the cause of the PR crisis in the first place… the that fact that they are annually forwarding $650,000 to Planned Parenthood. For personal reasons, I am not a supporter of Planned Parenthood and strongly object to funds I help raise and personally contribute being funneled to that organization. I know of many others that hesitate to donate to this worthy cause for the same reason. The crisis is that this funding was provided…and exposed.

  • Chris Falk

    While I support the organization’s cause, I’m not ready to forgive. Aside from the clumsy handling of the Planned Parenthood situation, I believe Komen is the leading cause of “pink fatigue,” hurting not only their own fundraising, but also that of other cancer-related non-profits. For those who want to make a difference in the battle against breast cancer (without seeing pink ribbons on car tires, marshmallows and office supplies), I encourage you to participate in the American Cancer Society’s “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer”

  • Heather Lynn

    I was a supporter for 5 years with SGK.. but after hearing negative things involving their reputation with how they handle their money… I started supporting the National Breast cancer foundation and American Cancer society. Now, after making a very stupid decision to cut the funds off of Planned Parenthood,makes me sick to think they are still running.(I have to point out, a large percentage of komen supporters, seek treatment at planned parenthood) I also want to point out, out of all the money planned parenthood receives in funding.. only 3% is used on the “procedure” that started this whole thing. What about the other 97%?! It went to cancer screenings, check ups, pap smears, women who can not afford to do so. Id also like to point out that gyno’s do that procedure too (most),so..does that mean we must look at every gyno negatively now? No. I am not saying I support anything related to that subject,I am not going to provide my opinion,it doesnt matter! The biggest issue at hand…By SGK pulling that funding in the first place is going against their mission statement all together. Which is wrong on so many levels.
    As a woman said in a previous comment, the fact that they are using an extreme amount of money, to try and help their reputation instead of using it on what they are supposed to do.. Should show everyone what SGK is all about. Ugh. Im done,my opinion is shared. I really hope this helps some of those out there,to make sure you do some research before donating to an organization.
    Thank you
    PS: here is a link to my sports blog.This post is in relation to them going pink for October.Where the money goes,and what they are doing to help. Its amazing what they are doing,and picked a great Org.

  • Elisa

    I have not been a supporter of Komen for years, precisely because they support Planned Parenthood, an organization dedicated to the wholesale slaughter of innocent human beings. When they decided to stop funding PP, I put them on my “donate” list (I do all donations at the end of the year). Needless to say, they are now on the permanent OFF list.

    To those who say that despite PP’s being the largest abortion provider in the nation, they do “some good” with their other programs, I ask you this: would you donate to the KKK if they had a division that did “good” things?

    Komen should back away from providing grants to an organization who, by their own admission, doesn’t own one single mammography machine, and refers out for mammograms.

  • Peter Sandman

    I too believe in second chances.

    But I don’t think “positive PR” earns a second chance. Contrition earns a second chance.

    It irritates me to receive fundraising appeals from Komen that don’t mention the PP debacle in the same way it would irritate me to receive fundraising appeals from Penn State that didn’t mention child molesting.

    I’m not suggesting that the two misbehaviors are equivalent, only that all misbehaviors need to be repeatedly acknowledged until they are forgiven, not papered over with positive PR in the hope that they will be forgotten.

    For more on my take on this communication issue, see