How to kill a brand’s goodwill in 24 hours or less: The Susan G. Komen Kerfuffle

February 4, 2012

By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

Unless you are living intentionally off the grid, from smart phones to twitter to broadcast, cable media, radio or iTune downloads, you’ve probably heard of the recent decision aka ‘kerfuffle’ by the Susan G. Komen Foundation (SGK). SGK first announced their intentions to defund future grant commitments to Planned Parenthood as an ‘ineligible’ organization, followed by a series of drifting explanations, and ultimately the rescission of their decision some 48+ hours post announcement.

How long does it take to build goodwill? Quite a while if you were to timeline out the history of the Susan G. Komen Foundation finding it’s way into the hearts, minds and ultimately purses’ and wallets’ of an army of pink clad women, girls and their male cohorts.

Yet, how much time does it take to tarnish if not strike what some are saying may be a ‘fatal’ blow to an organization that has successfully performed a vital service funding research into a cure for breast cancer, while also supporting organizations such as Planned Parenthood? Answer: not very long. In fact I’d argue that in a matter of hours, a brand’s hard won credibility and community benefit standing can be materially compromised, if not fatally wounded. Time will tell, and it remains to be seen if this minimally tone deaf and worst case blatant political over-reach of a cloistered board and ‘out of touch’ c-suite will have led SGK to have walked the plank of ritual death of a heretofore valued community service.

This is likely to go down in history as a classic case of how NOT to manage a business let alone charity. It will be studied as a benchmark case for lessons in crisis communications and how not to advocate for your organization. If ever there was an argument to make the marketing and communications function an equal member or principal vs. staff advisor in the c-suite decision process, it will be the ‘Komen case.’ Anyone one active in social media could have told you immediately of the sh*t storm that was inevitable once this decision found its way into main stream social network conversations.

More on point though, is how could anyone with an active pulse have suggested to SGK’s Board or CEO that this decision would not cross a very bright line and push the organization into rather turbulent and divisive waters? Or might this just be more evidence of the power of ‘group think’ to build a bubble in which a c-suite makes tone deaf decisions?

More will be revealed? Well, maybe…. In the street wisdom I once overheard: ‘…there are no mistakes in life. Only lessons’. So the key question may be, are they (SGK) paying attention?

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