This week's decision (and subsequent reversal) by the long-admired Susan G. Komen Foundation shows how quickly a group can fall from grace if it fails to communicate effectively.
A social media outcry forced Komen, after only three days, to reverse its decision to cut funds for breast cancer screenings and services at Planned Parenthood.
That was proof that its weeklong communication strategy (or lack thereof) failed tremendously.
Let's take a look at what will surely become a textbook case of how not to communicate (stonewalling the press and creating an ineffective video, to begin with).
Case study for years to come
Once it announced its decision to cut ties with Planned Parenthood, the Komen Foundation was woefully unprepared for what followed.
It did not tweet or respond quickly on Facebook, and it took take two days to post a video response; an analysis of that response follows.
Unlike Planned Parenthood officials, who were happy to talk directly with lots of reporters, Komen CEO and founder Nancy Brinker was not.
As a CNN anchor said, "I want to stress again the Susan G. Komen Foundation did not respond to specific questions."
All we got from Komen (until Thursday evening), after two days of increasing controversy, was a video of comments by its founder.
The first sign that the video might not be effective was the title on the YouTube page, (which has since been made private): "Straight Talk from Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker, Founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen."
Ambassador, no less.
Right or wrong, many people criticized her physical appearance. She came across as haughty and unfriendly. She looked stiff with a severe, swept-back hairstyle. It would be in her best interests to soften her look.
She displayed little emotion as she read her script. And the talk was anything but straight.
She did not answer the question directly of why Komen was pulling funding from Planned Parenthood. Nor did she use common language to appeal to a range of people. Brinker's language was formal, corporate-speak, as opposed to what it should have been—caring and concerned.
She started by trying to shift the blame, saying the organization has implemented "new granting strategies and criteria" and that "some have regrettably mischaracterized."
She later used more non-conversational language: "The scurrilous accusations being hurled at this organization are profoundly hurtful to so many of us who put our heart, soul, and lives into this organization."
Again, she attacked her critics, this time with a self-focused statement that people in her organization feel hurt. She didn't seem to comprehend even the symbolic nature of the organization's decision.
She went on to intimidate many listeners with this near-threat, "More importantly, they [the protests] are a dangerous distraction from the work that still remains to be done in ridding the world of breast cancer."
Brinker's video (and later interviews on NBC and MSNBC) would suggest that her blaming others for the reaction to the Komen decision was part of her strategy. It didn't work.
It is Komen's fault for not adequately and simply explaining the reason for the move, and Brinker's stilted language got in the way. In trying to explain the new standards, she did not relate it to Planned Parenthood and why its breast cancer programs did not fit.
On Thursday, Brinker finally went face to face with NBC's Lisa Meyers and later Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC with less than stellar interviews.
With Mitchell, Brinker was defensive and tried to steer the discussion away from the political nature of defunding Planned Parenthood and toward what she called "grant excellence," meaning the organization wants to do more direct delivery of services. (Brinker said Planned Parenthood farms out the breast exams.) She then told Mitchell this was simply part of a restructuring of its grant program.
She went on to say, "As an NGO [most people have no idea that this abbreviation stands for non-governmental organization] and a leader in the breast cancer space, we have an obligation to the community we serve, to donors and to this country to translate cancer care in the way we know how."
Brinker continued, "All I can tell you is the responses we are getting are very, very favorable."
Does she live under a rock?
She added, "People who have bothered to read the material, who have bothered to understand the issues…"
Is she accusing most of us of being lazy, even stupid?
Companies such as Yoplait and Energizer who have sponsorship agreements with Komen were pelted with anti-Komen sentiments on their Facebook pages. This comment on the Yoplait page was typical:
"Yoplait must rescind its sponsorship of Komen or risk the wrath of women nationwide in the form of a boycott. You are not the only yogurt of the block, but your brand is in the link to Komen's betrayal of women."
Clearly, the Susan G. Komen Foundation was unprepared for an incredible outcry over its policy announcement. By not directly answering questions, it allowed the opposition to own the discussion.
Sadly, its "too little, too late" reaction came out as a defensive move.
As a tweet Friday from @pandagon suggested, "Going on a two-day bender and then trying to make it up to everyone after will be called "pulling a Komen."
And will someone please help Komen's Brinker become a better spokesperson for an organization that has accomplished so much good for so many?