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.