Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Your brand is every word, deed and action.  For the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, its current brand perception tinkers on hypocrite and blasphemous.

On the former, Mother Jones revealed yesterday the perceived leading champion in women’s cancer awareness, research and advocacy – the one that had cut ties with Planned Parenthood – is funding cancer research at Penn State’s medical center.  The rub?  Penn State is under federal investigation for failing to report crimes on campus (Google “Sandusky”), and that violates Komen’s policy on grant making. That’s the reason Komen gave Planned Parenthood, which uses the funds to provide breast health exams in underserved communities, because an apparent Congressional adversary to Planned Parenthood opened an investigation as to whether the nonprofit group uses federal funds to pay costs related to abortions.

Not only should Komen have anticipated the emotional backlash – amplified online, in traditional media, by advocacy groups and in political circles – but also done a little due diligence to make sure the Pink Ribbon wasn’t talking out of both sides of its mouth.  A few hours of homework on those fronts could have staved off what must be the worst week in Komen’s history.  First, cooler heads would have realized cutting ties to Planned Parenthood runs counter to the collective effort in advancing women’s access to healthcare – mission critical to both organizations; the blasphemous part  – and the response would be less than stunned silence.  Second, what you say and what you do can’t be out of alignment.  Saying you’re cutting ties to one group because of an investigation and not taking the same action against another is akin to political waffling on issues, and Komen tried to do that on MSNBC.

It’s hard to believe an organization the size and scale of Komen didn’t have a plan to anticipate where this action would lead.  Without one, a crisis can quickly escalate beyond control, leaving it to others (breast-cancer survivors and their families, media, advocacy groups, politicians, and so on) to shape perceptions.

For the Pink Ribbon, that perception isn’t as shiny or heart-warming as it used to be, but it took steps today to try bring back its luster.  It’ll be interesting to see if years of good will keep the tarnish off its image and supporters and angered cancer survivors will forgive the organization, or if Komen will find itself forced to revise or initiate a reputation management strategy to win back favor.


Inoculate Your Reputation Against Negative Situations

Inoculate Your Reputation Against Negative Situations.

Coaches, Leaders Failed in Going the Extra Distance

Main entrance of Old Main, at Penn State Unive...

Main entrance at Penn State University (Image via Wikipedia)

Happy Valley has a frown on its face – a sad and ashamed Nittany Lion.

In an earlier post, I touched upon how a poisoned corporate culture can paralyze an organization.  In the midst of crisis, that culture comes bubbling to the surface, defining true character that will guide or topple any organization experiencing turmoil.

The apparent culture at Penn State University is to tuck issues under the rug, get by with doing the bare minimum and CYA.  And that’s what broke the moral compass at PSU. Without a complete gutting of those in the know of the horrific acts that occurred on campus, the long-storied state university – “Success With Honor” – will be vilified in historic proportions.

At the onset of any potential crisis, doing what’s right is paramount – regardless of repercussions – and that includes going the extra distance.  What did you know, when did you know and what actions did you take?  These are tenets of crisis management.

If it was fourth and one with the game on the, Joe Paterno and Mike McQueary would have gone for it; with children’s safety on the line, the two coaches and the university punted.

Of Trust and Corporate Culture

Terry Francona

Image via Wikipedia

What’s the worst that could happen?  That simple question sets the stage in crisis planning – analyzing an organization’s risks and vulnerabilities to its ability to conduct business.  In BlackBerry’s case, an interruption in service surely had to be on the top-five list, somewhere close to declining stock and competitive pressure from iPhone and Droid.

Some 48 hours’ worth of interrupted services to BlackBerry users in Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and most of North America could likely send long-lasting ripple effects to Research in Motion’s reputation.  Repairing that is no simple feat, and a discount on services is a nice gesture for the short term.  Earning back trust, as RIM founder and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis noted as a prime objective in the closing of a well-scripted video update on the crisis, is a more long-term endeavor.  While discounts will win favor among some consumers, that good will last only as long as it takes for BlackBerry to encounter and manage another crisis.

As forgiving as they are, consumers impart their trust on products and services that have a long history of exceptional service and performance.  For BlackBerry, whose entry in the tablet market is struggling and is also facing pressure from Apple’s foray into the messaging space, ensuring uninterrupted service is but one task to accomplish in regaining trust in the consumer marketplace.  The stakes are now even higher for BlackBerry to regain market share.  If it hasn’t already, BlackBerry would be wise to think of re-engineering its brand – R&D, platforms, feature sets, software, hardware, customer service – to one the evokes passionate customer experiences.  Doing so helps establish trust before a crisis occurs.  It’s a lot easier to bank on that than after a crisis happens.

The Culture on Yawkey Way

Avid BoSox fans, including yours truly, grew up accustomed to the foibles of the local nine, whether on the field or in the front office.  That changed significantly over the last decade when new ownership came into town.  Winning miraculously changes everything.

The Red Sox’ historic collapse this season, however, just didn’t lead to two-time World Series manager Terry Francona leaving Fenway or hometown born and bred GM Theo Epstein heading off to resuscitate the Cubs.  It revealed the organization’s corporate culture – distrust.

Booze, fast-food and video games?  The former manager’s marital woes and pain-killer meds?  That’s not at the heart of what befuddled the team, but they’re convenient smokescreens for the handful playing Deep Throat with the Boston news media.  These anonymous sources, likely both players and management, are revealing more about what they’re not saying.  Neither the players, coaching staff or ownership trust each other.  They couldn’t get on the same page and back each other up during the September slide to oblivion.  And when Francona tried to take the high-road in announcing his bon voyage, players were mum on the record, but anonymous sources bloomed.  As Epstein was in talks with the Cubs, more anonymous sources foamed at the mouth.  Now we’re hearing of players wanting to leave and player v. player finger pointing ad nauseum.

A backstabbing culture of distrust will cripple any organization.  Fixing that starts at the top, well above the general manager.  If not, the culture will continue to infest what should be one of the most storied brands in all of professional sports.