A Lesson In Crisis Management

25 Mar

Most people outside the world of Public Relations don’t realize the versatility and specialization that some types of PR require. There are experts in community relations, public issues, consumer relations, and even social media. For one of my Public Relations classes at Otterbein, I dug a little deeper into the ever exciting crisis management aspect of PR with a case study. Here’s a little bit of what I learned.

What is crisis management?

Crisis management is usually what comes to mind when someone mentions public relations. Scandals, mistakes and just plain bad publicity can result in a crisis where PR professionals can be called in to help remedy the situation. Examples range from  Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol tampering incident in the early 80’s, the gulf coast oil spill disaster in 2010, and even the most recent trouble with the Royal Bank of Canada. These issues were each handled by public relations professionals for the good of their organization both in the time of the incident and sometimes for years afterward.

A Case Study: Susan G. Komen for the Cure

One of the easiest ways to learn about crisis communication is by taking a look at an example. For my project, I explored Susan G. Komen for the Cure as a case study.

The Situation

Susan G. Komen for the Cure was founded in 1982 by Nancy Brinker, and is today’s leading breast cancer non-profit and has raised nearly $2 billion for research, medical care and early detection programs. Susan G. Komen for the Cure decided to discontinue funding Planned Parenthood organizations in January of 2012. Investors, both corporate and in the form of potential donors, began to show support to Planned Parenthood leading Susan G. Komen executives to reverse their decision and continue funding the organization just weeks later, inciting reaction from the other side of the debate.

Public Relations Strategies

Susan G. Komen as an organization made a political statement by withdrawing funding from another, admittedly politically active organization, should have had a more thorough strategy to implement. There are a handfull of strategies that Komen as an organization overlooked during the time of this crisis in communication. Employing some of these strategies could have been helpful.

  • Media Relations- Komen executives did not respond to media questions. Associated Press broke the story on January 31 and there were no interviews given until February 2 when Nancy Brinker,was filmed in a library giving a statement that was available via YouTube.  The organization has been critiqued for releasing conflicting statements, details and inaccurate information to clear up their public relations problem too late in the process.  Their February 2012 statement to the public can be seen here.
  • Social Media- Susan G. Komen went over 24 hours without a tweet on Twitter or a post on Facebook when followers and fans were viewing the sites looking for answers. The lack of initial response from the organization left room for creation of anti-Komen pages, posts and tweets. Without a proactive social media presence, many uncommitted or unaware individuals were left with only a negative response.
  • Investor Relations- Corporate investors for the organization were caught in a cross-fire of opinion. Particularly, Energizer as their logo was displayed on the Facebook page at the time of Komen’s announcement. The mixed messages given by both Komen officials and inferences by the media and professionals alike confused potential investors and did not ease the minds of the current donors.
  • Public Issues and Debates- Susan G. Komen took a stance on an issue for political gain. Both organizations have a strong commitment to their communities, and the political games should have been decided by way of candidate sponsorship rather than an outright denunciation of Planned Parenthood.

Careful planning of media and investor relations should have been a top priority. Social media response should have been monitored and a plan implemented, as well as an immediate statement by a clear voice of the organization. This should have been followed by a media packet of information giving a clear reason for withdraw of funds and how the redistribution of funds would affect investors and potential donors of the organization.

What I Learned

Susan G. Komen for the Cure, one of the world’s largest non-profit organizations with a noble cause, made mistakes that cost the organization. Poor planning on the part of the organization led to negative media coverage, social media outrage and the loss of at least four executives leading the organization. Ambiguous reasons followed the decision to withdraw funds from Planned Parenthood, a politically charged organization with a reputation 95 years old. While Susan G. Komen for the Cure may recover as an organization, the preventable blemish on its reputation due to poor strategic planning has already cost thousands of dollars and supporters, both individual and corporate.


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