Susan Komen, Planned Parenthood and the self-inflicted crisis

The worst-possible crisis is one you jab into your own eye.

Even if you’ve anticipated how bad you think the fallout of a compulsive, off-mission decision might be, you magnify the damage to your reputation by being the source of the crisis. BP’s Tony Hayward’s mid-spill sailing jaunt is a recent example.

Those leading the Susan G. Komen for the Cure probably wonder what hit them and where the nightmare scenario they now find themselves in originated. Mirror, please.

For at least the fifth or sixth time nationally just this year, smart people underestimated the immediacy and collective power of social media; and they afflicted themselves without any apparent upside. The clichés — what were they thinking? and if it’s not broken don’t fix it —leap to mind.

Komen is as close to pure good as any organization. Its grants and donations likely helped save thousands of women’s lives and extended the lives of countless others. Now it’s apologizing for an antagonistic, unnecessary and thoroughly destructive decision.

That was to end grants to Planned Parenthood, apparently over concerns about its abortion views. Nancy Brinker, Komen’s founder and CEO [right] forgot her own credo in the non-politization of breast cancer detection and care.

BREAKING: Komen apologizes for ‘recent decisions,’ pledges to continue funding Planned Parenthood – @dallas_news

That reversal — delivered this morning first on Twitter, but we hope not only on Twitter — is at least smart and an attempt to end the crisis Komen generated starting Tuesday when the AP reported its de-funding decision.

There are tons of downsides to a lot of what social media does to people and what people do with it. But from Egypt to Wegmans to Papa John’s to Tom Brady, we’ve witnessed its power, and the elevation of individuals into collective democratic forces that no organization can ignore.

We tend to want to find winners and losers in a crisis and certainly Planned Parenthood [President Cecile Richards above, right] has reason to feel empowered, however grimly.

Komen delivers $93 million in annual grants designed to help save women’s lives, in part but most publicly, via early breast screenings. Planned Parenthood nationally only received $700,000 of that total, which will now be restored; added to hundreds of thousands of dollars in fresh contributions.

No one wants to be the beneficiary of someone else’s dumb move, especially when the dummy is a friend.

The time Komen needed decisive strength and to stick to its mission was when someone first suggested cutting funding to Planned Parenthood. That was simply wrong — given Komen’s mission.

Stick to your mission, be true to yourself, remember your roots and who your friends are and maybe you won’t pull a crisis over your head like a mid-winter quilt. Under which there’s no place to hide. But especially don’t force yourself to do it when no one of consequence is asking.


About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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