prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Pink Ribbons and PR Missteps

Posted by prof e on February 6, 2012

The social media buzz machine turned into a buzz saw late last week for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. If you’ve been anywhere near this social media maelstrom you know that the Komen Foundation has taken a major hit for its decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, and then reversing the decision, all within a 72-hour period. According to Advertising Age, the incident “showed how a brand can boomerang from one of the most loved into one of the most reviled in a head-snapping two days.’’

First a little background. Over the years the Komen Foundation, and their Race for the Cure, has raised billions of dollars for diagnosis, treatment and research of a disease that kills about 110 women every day in this country. The foundation gives away tens of millions of dollars every year and some of that money, about $700,000, had been going to Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood was using that money to provide screenings and mammogram referrals to women who might not otherwise be able to pay for these services. But Planned Parenthood is also the largest provider of abortions in the US, and that has resulted in close scrutiny by members of congress who want to ensure that government funds are not being used to provide abortions. Planned Parenthood is currently under investigation by congress with regard to its financial dealings and that was the initial reason cited by the Komen Foundation as to why they were withdrawing funding from Planned Parenthood. However, as negative responses mounted the story began to change. The Foundation countered that Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms, only referrals, and that this change in funding was about being more responsible stewards of precious resources. You can see their initial response in this YouTube video.

Proponents and opponents have taken sides, sometimes determined by their view on the always-contentious topic of abortion. Critics of the Komen Foundation’s decision to halt funding to Planned Parenthood saw the decision as knuckling under to political pressure from the pro-life lobby. As you might guess, the reversal fired up the pro-life crowd who had been pleased with the earlier decision.

This blog is not a forum to debate the relative merits of either side in the culture war raging around abortion, but this case-study provides an opportunity to observe how a non-profit, known for years of service in the battle against breast cancer, could so quickly find itself under attack by many of the people that it claims to serve. The power of social media to aggregate discussions and dissent is once again center stage. Reaction to SOPA and PIPA last month, and now this…demonstrates the raw energy that can be focused by the impassioned use of  these modern-day megaphones. There’s another angle that students of media should consider. How you learned about this event may also be shaping your understanding of the issues at stake. According to an op-ed in the NYT, the media’s coverage of the story has been biased by the media’s failure to understand the perspective of those on the pro-life side of the issue.

Part of the problem facing Komen is that they appear to be giving in to political pressure…first from pro-life, then pro-choice, political operatives. Even after issuing an apology for their earlier decision plenty of anger remains. Some of their funding sources are now saying that they will stop giving to the Komen Foundation and only time will tell if the Foundation can bounce back from this misstep.  Somewhat ironically, both the Komen foundation and Planned Parenthood are reporting increased giving in the wake of the scandal. Planned Parenthood reported that it had raised $3 million in a 72-hour period, including a $250,000 pledge from NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Additional Resources: Kaiser Health News has collected summaries of news organizations’ reports on the debate.

NOTE: if you respond to this post please do your best to keep your comments focused on the media issues related to the story.


17 Responses to “Pink Ribbons and PR Missteps”

  1. Shelby Moore said

    This is now the second time hearing about this topic this week. While flipping through channels on my television, I came across a talk show that was going through the pros and cons of this situation and how it could benefit or destroy one or the other non-profit organizations. Hearing about this topic on television as well as this blog and the link to youtube, it is easy to see that media in all different forms can create a social uproar. There are plenty of supporters for each organization and it would be interesting to see who continues their support, switches their support, or withdraws completely due to the way the media portrays it. Because we say that media will always have some bias to it, the people reporting on this topic can twist it any way they want so they can influence a good portion of their viewers. It’s definitely sad to see that two outstanding organizations are falling short of their expectations. Hopefully the media will drop this story shortly before words begin to get twisted even more.

  2. Bou Amaya said

    I find this blog to be very interesting. It amazes me how much of an impact media really has on our society. With rumors passing almost instantaneously, I am not surprised that the Susan G. Komen Foundation changed their decision twice within only a 72-hour period. I don’t think we always realize how “loud” the media is and how wide of an audience it reaches. The blog refers to it as a megaphone and this is a great analogy. Although the media may stream to only reach a particular audience, it really reaches to more than it plans. This controversy is a prime example of this and it should come to no surprise that the founder of the Susan G. Komen Foundation felt she had to personally broadcast her response to the issue to clarify any question and protect her organization from any further complications.

  3. Bekah Hathaway said

    The Susan G. Komen Foundation is a very well known and appreciated operation. They have been able to raise awareness and money for Breast Cancer patients every where and it seems to me they got caught up in the political media aspect themselves. The money that they were giving to Planned Parenthood was helping women that have no other means of being checked, but because of the media sensitivity on pro-life, or pro-abortion they seemed to have second guessed their original act of helping those who could not afford to go anywhere else. Then from the reaction that they got from the public, they immediately put the blame of their actions on somebody else in this case they used the government. Which is an easy place to transfer the blame to. Media in this case unearthed so of the less than perfect and unbiased thoughts of one organization. The media has this impact on any kind of organization or business, but it seems to have a much broader impact when it deals with funds that help in the aid of medical illnesses. Had Susan G. Komen taken a different approach upon the investigation on Planned Parenthood, they could have gotten a much more positive reaction. The media both called attention and praise from those supporting pro-life, but then also had the opposite reaction from those in support of Planned Parenthood and what they do. Had the issue of “life” been left there would not have been such a big media demand on this story. In the end, it has caused a bout of awareness to some about what Planned Parenthood does besides abortions, which may explain the sudden increase of donations, and it also put Susan G. Komen’s name in the spotlight, whether good or bad for the organizition only time will tell.

  4. Aubree Jo Miller said

    I think this is a very important issue that is going on for women everywhere. I believe that one of the main reasons there is a negative view about Planned Parenthood is because of the media. The media has a way of making organizations like Planned Parenthood look like they are a negative influence on people. Because they are one of the largest providers of abortions, they are seen as a negative organization. However, I believe that the Komen Foundation is overlooking all of the positive things that Planned Parenthood brings our nation. It helps women who are unable to afford yearly examinations, and taking away the funding will take away the health benefits for many underpriveleged people. It is clear that a lot of people also have negative feelings about Planned Parentood because they provide younger girls with birth control without the knowledge of their parents. The media is the reason why people even know that they do this, and of course, that is why they are viewed as a negative influence. Although it may seem like the wrong thing to do, Planned Parenthood is simply trying their best to keep the young people safe from getting pregnant and sexually transmitted diseases. Of course, because the media is so huge and so many people become aware of information because of the media, the trouble between the Komen Foundation and Planned Parentoohd is everywhere, and many are outraged, and rightfully so. Although Planned Parenthood might be the largest provides of abortions, they also provide many other great things for our communitiues and I believe that using the media, Planned Parenthood has a fighting chance in proving that they have the right to the money that the Komen Foundation has given them in the years before,

  5. Rolland Morris MCCNM 101 said

    First, the Komen foundation responded in a necessary way, in so far as its much relied upon government subsidy was threatened, and they had to make a move. And because of the tremendous outcry from women who value both the services of the Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood, the Komen foundation, thanks to public outcry, was able–and some would argue–forced to reverse its decision. As a show of the public’s loyalties to both organizations, the donations poured in. Some people smelled rats (the government & media) and took action. The Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood organizations have been involved in cross-promotional strategies and tactics for many years. So, that just now the U.S. Congress decided to stir the pot regarding their relationship should leave you feeling very, very suspicious about the intent.

    This issue is a Paper Tiger intentionally unleashed by Congress. The U.S. government purposely put pressure on the Komen foundation’s funding, leading to this knee-jerk response from the foundation to separate itself from Planned Parenthood. This triggered the so called media maelstrom in question. This wasn’t a misstep, this was a media facilitated distraction instigated by Congress, invoking the tired controversy over anti-abortion and pro-choice advocacy. An issue, by the way, that has been subtly resolved amongst women and most Americans, generally speaking, for many years. But the intensity surrounding the discussion is still useful to the government and media. Specifically, in a media system that constantly cycles and regurgitates highly sensational media topics similar to this, which are never intended to be resolved, it’s no wonder we’re revisiting this trumped up controversy, yet again. Ask yourself what else is happening in the world that might make this topic convenient? If you’re a total goob, you will have no clue what else is happening in the news, and that’s the point. This is a water-cooler topic designed to detract from other intelligent discourse — nothing more.

    That aside, any quick glance at public opinion polling regarding the Pro-Life vs. Pro Choice issue shows that a strong majority of the populace are Pro Choice in disposition, with caveats regarding trimester related considerations of abortive practices. In other words, the vast majority of people accept 1st and early-2nd-trimester women’s right to an abortion, while the disapproving numbers obviously rise with regard to midpoint 2nd and 3rd trimester pregnancy abortions. One statistic I found, claimed that the number of American people ENTIRELY against any-term-abortion is perhaps less than 20% overall; often, only people who staunchly identify with fundamentalist religious values who will also picket and protest or push for prohibitive legislation. Others who are against the practice of abortion keep it a personal choice and don’t protest at all.

    The media can cycle garbage debates such as these by avoiding what’s known in Rhetorical Theory as Stasis. When an argument never attains Stasis, it is impossible for an argument to be resolved, even move forward. Crating a never ending, phony debate in our media.

    For example:

    If pundits were to AGREE to DISAGREE on these two key premises that: A.) Abortion is Murder. and B.) Abortion is not murder.

    Then the debate could continue and COUNTER ARGUMENTS to each position could be made; The facts for continued debate could be established, hence, reasoned progress toward a resolution could be made. But this never occurs, as both parties to the debate (Liberal & Conservative pundits for example) refuse to commit to precise definitions such like these. Put another way, here’s a different example of how Stasis in the argument could be achieved:

    A.) Women have the right to decide what happens to their bodies, including terminating a pregnancy.


    B.) Women do not have the right to decide what happens to their bodies when they are pregnant because a potential life is at stake.

    This is to say that while regular people may be able to agree to disagree on these basic premises, the media dialogue on this topic completely avoids any discourse that achieves the Stasis function of rhetorical debate; therefore, pundits and politicians can completely talk past one another to pretend that they’re merely representing their constituents positions. And this is how many political arguments are intentionally never resolved.

    because proponents of either side in media discourse never cede the merits of either argument, they can keep the back-and-forth nonsense going forever. This is why this is still an issue in America.

    Interestingly, the same Public Relations strategies and tactics used by the Komen and PP organizations to manage the phony crisis they unfortunately faced was in fact manufactured by the Government and media using these very principles of Rhetoric and PR communication methods.

    Wake up people, the government is making very serious moves behind the scenes that you, for your children’s sake, must be aware of.

  6. Alyssa De Vita said

    I did not know of the ‘fued’ between The Susan G. Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood until I read this article today, but this is sure to spark a lot of issues within the community. Both the Komen Foundation and the Planned Parenthood are well known organizations; one “fights for the cure” of breast cancer, and the other helps spread awareness, also helping young women with unplanned pregnancies. Regardless of where the morals of each organization lie, these are real issues faced by women today, even the women the The Susan G. Komen Foundation seeks to help. The Komen Foundation’s brash decision to cut their funding for Planned Parenthood was a slap in the face to many. The media shows just how much power politics can exert over foundations/corportations/charities. If congress was not supportive of funding for abortions, perhaps that played a role in the Komen Foundation’s decision to cut the funding of Planned Parenthood. The Komen Foundation’s PR did an incredibly horrible job, and although this was a sticky subject, it could have been handled a lot better. As a matter of fact, much of this issue could have been avoided. Did they really have to include Congress in the article, do they really play that large of a roll in the funding the Komen Foundation receives? Or perhaps the Komen Foundation is run under religious views and morals? Regardless, the choices made by such organizations are being skewed by the political pressures placed upon them. They face conflict between the community they seek to serve and the politics of our government. It’s truly unfortunate how biased our country’s media is, and the ”corruption” that can be associated with it.

  7. Deann Pantoya said

    I find this entry very interest and it really relates to women these days. It’s also amazing how fast the social media lets media travel these days. I also want to say want to say how great the Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood are in helping women. Even though Planned Parenthood may have some flaws, some people might say, it is still a great foundation for women. It’s amazing to learn that the disease kills 110 women every day in the country.Even though Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of abortion in the US I don’t think they should be under investigation. With the help of Planned Parenthood, women were given screenings and mammogram referrals which they might not have been able to pay for by themselves. I think the foundations should try and figure out a may so they can still give money to Planned Parenthood without any of it going to abortion.

  8. Pierre Johnson said

    Honestly i feel as i a non-profit organization such as this one is of no harm at all. They obviously have good intentions for the fac it is a non-profit organizaion. Another situation is that the people involved in the program are not forced in any way at all to participate in cativities which makes America what it is. If the congress got rid of such a proram it would immediately damage the idea of “Freedom” within the country and cause the uprising of disappointed Americans. To conclude I just feel as if the government would be putting a hault to a completely innocent and life saving organization.

  9. Leon Sheeley said

    I find that Planned Parenthood even in an investigation that they are not using money given to them for Breast Cancer awareness are gonna use the money for other uses other than for that. I mean everyone knows that they are there to help and get money from other organizations to help them out, and that is why Komen Foundation, after what was printed had retracted and will still in the end give them all the support they need. Both these organizations are very strong in helping women out in all that the women of today need.

  10. Alexandra Veksler said

    This article is a great example of just how influential media can be, not only on individuals, but on organizations as well. If the media had not been involved in the situation, I am sure that the Komen Foundation would not have changed their decision. i believe that the only reason they changed their minds was because of all of the pressure from the media. Although one could view this pressure as a downfall of media, it can also be very insightful. Now all who followed this case know that this organization might not be very professional or certain on their position on controversial topics. It will be interesting to see how people react to this and how seriously people with take the Komen Foundation in the future.
    All of the new technology and different channels allow everyone in society to see what really happens in an organization (although these results can sometimes be skewed). Either way you look at it, media allows organizations to be more transparent, therefore making them a lot more conscious of how they present themselves. Because they are so exposed, they have to be very careful about what kind of message they send to society. Especially in the modern world, reputation is everything. Without a positive image, organization will have a very hard time being successful.

  11. Sasha Klepitskaya said

    This topic aggravates me very much. I’ve also heard a lot of talk about this, and every time i hear it it frustrates me even more. I completely understand and respect people who believe that abortions should not be legal, and even more, are immoral and unjust. I can see where these people are coming from when they say that abortions are murder, and that every one deserves to live. I can understand how abortions are clearly against some religions, and i respect that. The part that gets me is that i’m afraid these people with strong conservative views fail to recognize and respect the other side of the topic, and that for some people, abortions are in fact a positive thing. That is my pint of view and i will stand by it forever. Beside the fact that i feel like these people are not respecting other peoples choices, this blog is not even talking about the issue of abortion. Planned Parenthood is a non-profit organization that has done nothing but positive things for countless women all across the country. The facts that should be recognized and explored is that Planned Parenthood has done screens and tests for women, many of which have proved to be life saving. In my opinion, Planned Parenthood is one of the most amazing organizations created. Not only will they nonjudgmental screen women for all sorts of various issues, but they can give medicine to those that need it, and even provide a safe place for mental counseling. Being a woman is tough, and Planned Parenthood is something that makes is much easier. Taking away these resources is unjust and ridiculous. Not only could it lead to deaths from diseases that could have been discovered through tests conducted at the facility, but it can lead to many more unplanned births. These issues will create a domino affect of issues, and since this program has been working so well before, why would it come to and end so abruptly? This idea seems ridiculous to me and I strongly hope that others will agree.

  12. Ravyn Tanner said

    I think that this is a very good topic for a blog. There are woman everywhere going trying to fight the fight of breast cancer. Every woman should be able to get a screening whether they get it at their doctor or they have to get in from plan parent hood, it’s very important for a woman to do so. The fact that the Komen Foundation is saying that they will no longer provide money for plan parent hood because they are a place where woman can also get abortions is ridiculous. It’s interesting how the media reactions to the comment of no longer funding plant parent hood because or the abortion situation. I don’t know that this should have gone public until everything was a for sure thing.

  13. Chirs Washington

    I feel like there was a mistake made in the need to “inform” which is what the media in most cases is all about. I feel they should of continued the investigation and withhold of fundings in a more on a private way. I do believe that there should of been some implementations put in place to insure the “proper use” of future fundings if there was an issue or questions resulting in the misuse of funds..However the political aspect bring it to the mainstream the for front of the new creating the video was harmful in some ways because it.

  14. cassie crutchfield said

    The Susan G. Komen Foundation is a trusted non-profit organization. I think in this case they were trying to be sure that their money went to organizations directly linked to providing help to women with breast cancer. However, because of the Planned Parenthood abortion controversy they got caught in the middle of an argument they were trying to avoid. This particular case goes to show just how important PR can be. By not explaining themselves well enough the foundation found themselves under fire from assumptions people made about their actions.

  15. Rebekah McAnally said

    Media plays a big role in a ton of political things, and makes not so political things political. With every station you watch you will receive bias, they have a man person who gears the programing more towards their liking. In the case of the Susan G. Komen Foundation not giving to Planned Parenthood anymore I feel that the media did not need to get into it. It brings attention to things that don’t necessarily need to be broadcast nationally. With it being an election year, I think this is a bigger issue than if were not. In everything these days, media is the head honcho. They get out the stories first and let the community know what is going on, wether it be for the better or worse, media is an important role in our society.

  16. Kiki Behr said

    While I finished reading this post, the main thing I took away was the fact that both of the places received an increase in giving during this little scandal. It was “bad” publicity and they still saw huge benefits! It was very similar to Ryan Holiday’s case study when he said bad things about the thing he really supported just to bring more attention to it. I knew that no publicity is bad publicity, but seeing his example and then this, I’m in disbelief of how just how well it works! It is also very funny to me that the PRSA said that the definition of “public relations” is simple and straightforward because the act itself is not. Whoever was working in PR for the Komen Foundation either got fired for such a horrible job at communicating exactly what the foundation wanted to portray, or they got a huge raise because their “flub” ended up raising so much money. Either way both companies came away with a win for the mere fact of how much money came in for this.

  17. Megan Petersen said

    Here we see where public relations and public opinion collide. According to the PRSA, public relations builds “mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” In this case, the public relations for Susan G. Komen failed at creating a good relationship with the people from whom they needed support. By making such a controversial decision and then reversing it, it only created bad publicity for the foundation. In the age of constant news and social media, it only makes PR problems like these worse. From Confessions of a Media Manipulator, we can see the power of smaller social and news sites, like blogs, and their use in generating buzz about a certain topic and people’s opinions about that topic. The power for a story to grow at such high speeds can be both good or bad for people who manage public relations. It can be either a tool or a weapon that can backfire.

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