First thing: I’m going to stick to public relations, not politics, in this post. There, now the men and you folks who oppose women’s reproductive rights can continue reading. Until the last paragraph.
In case you’ve been on a desert island, this week the Susan G. Komen Foundation has been soundly blasted – or resoundingly praised, depending upon how you look at it – for a decision to pull funding for breast cancer screenings from Planned Parenthood. Critics of the decision have blasted Komen for what they say was a politically motivated decision. The Komen folks claim they had no choice but to enforce a new policy preventing them from funding organizations under investigation. Lacking a crystal ball or membership on the Komen board, I won’t comment further.
So, what are a few of the lessons we PR folks can learn from this week’s goings on?
1. Timing of an announcement is important. Planned Parenthood has been in the news over the referenced ongoing investigation, not to mention a political football in this year’s Republican presidential primaries. Komen’s PR folks should have known that making this announcement during primary season would earn extra attention. Takeaway: Consider the environment in which your announcement will be made. If you might be co-opted in ways you don’t care for, reconsider your timing.
2. Transparency is important. Komen could have defused the reactive tsunami by being more up front, out front, with its reasoning for the defunding decision. Takeaway: When you fail to tell your own story, others will tell it for you – and you won’t like the picture they paint. So tell your own story, early and often. P.S. Even when you get out front, extremists are still going to paint you badly. Ain’t nuttin’ you can do about them; so debunk their messaging, but don’t bother trying to change their minds.
3. Relationships are important. According to news reports, Komen notified Planned Parenthood of the decision by a rather abrupt phone call. Really, Mrs. Brinker, is that how you treat a long-time ally and partner? Takeaway: Be human in your business dealings and communications. Apply the golden rule (and suggest joint talking points to use moving forward).
4. Perception is important. Regardless of why Komen decided to defund Planned Parenthood, the perception – from both sides, mind you – is that their decision was political. Komen missed an opportunity to dispel that perception if in fact it isn’t true, for example by explaining the conditions under which Planned Parenthood could be refunded. Takeaway: In our line of work, we know perception is reality, so plan your communications activities and messaging accordingly.
Those are just a few of my thoughts on the matter. Can you add any other lessons learned to the list?
Personally, I’m saddened to see Komen make such a gaffe – though it looks like Planned Parenthood may in fact come out stronger for it. I won’t stop supporting Komen, not with my strong family history of breast cancer, but I am now also supporting Planned Parenthood.