A reputation is a terrible thing to lose

In the past several hours, the news of the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s reversal of its decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screenings has saturated the web. People have been weighing in left and right – literally – with opinions on both the original and subsequent decisions.  However, if there’s one thing everyone seems to agree on, it’s that the organization’s reputation has taken a serious hit.

Komen is one of the best-known charities in the world.  Its ubiquitous pink ribbon is not only worn by individual supporters, it’s displayed on numerous consumer products.  Its Race for the Cure is a signature event that supporters of women’s health have been proud to participate in.  But the decision to de-fund Planned Parenthood’s screening projects put them squarely into the middle of a political fight, causing a huge backlash.

This could have been prevented if Komen had followed these simple public relations rules:

Consult your PR counsel.  Although an established charity, Komen made a rookie mistake by not fully considering the public relations ramifications of its original decision.   You have to wonder:  Were PR people even in the room?  Any competent public relations counselor would have taken them through the various scenarios of what could happen and counseled them in advance.

Respond immediately.  Predictably, the news of Komen’s decision flooded the web, and its critics dictated the terms of debate.  Instead of getting in front of the story, Komen waited 24 hours to post a response online and another day before doing any media interviews to try to explain their decision.

Know your message and stick with it.  In their comments, Komen executives gave three different reasons for their decision, making it look like either they didn’t have a reason, or they were covering up the real reason.

Have a crisis plan in place.  Perhaps because the Komen Foundation has previously had nothing but positive media coverage, its executives didn’t think crisis planning would be necessary.  But a crisis plan is like home insurance; you hope you never have to use it, but it’s important to have.

However things turn out, it’s almost a given that the organization will spend a fortune on public relations now to repair the damage that could have been prevented much less expensively.

Sadly, it may take years to do so.

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