How Susan G. Komen is perpetuating the negative buzz

The nonprofit must recalibrate its PR, break its silence, and talk about what it knows best—fighting breast cancer—to help repair the damage to its reputation.

Over the past week, I heard the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation being discussed everywhere from cable talk shows to waiting room chatter. The discussion was not positive.

Last month it announced then reversed (more or less) its decision to defund Planned Parenthood. Komen perpetuates an already severe mistake by allowing negative comments to pile up and reinforce the blunders it committed (and bad feelings towards the organization).

I visited its website to see whether it had posted anything about its current position. The latest news announcement was the Feb. 7 resignation of Komen Vice President Karen Handel. I believe this ostrich has stuck its head in the sand.

PR Daily reported that Komen had hired consulting firm Penn Schoen Berland, founded by former Democratic strategists Mark Penn and Doug Schoen. Penn is also CEO of Burson-Marstellar.

So what is the strategy? Conducting a survey to gauge public sentiment, which misses the mark, some experts say.

It asks survey participants to rate the merit of statements such as, “Susan G. Komen is letting left-wing liberals dictate its internal policy decisions,” and, “Susan G. Komen’s decision to de-fund Planned Parenthood was particularly harmful to young and low-income women.”

It also asks those being surveyed to rate various apologies.

Last I checked, apologies should come from the heart, not from a survey. In essence, it’s saying, “What do you want to hear?” and not, “This is what really happened,” or, “This is how we really feel.”

What should Komen be doing?

It should be talking proactively as well as responding to the continued negative remarks being tossed at and about them.

It should address the issues head on, from the heart (not a survey), on their website as well as in social media.

Simply put, it should remember its roots. The organization was set up to fight breast cancer after the death of CEO Nancy Brinker’s sister, Susan Komen. It is time for the organization to be that humane once again. Brinker, in the statements she made, resorted to corporate-speak. She needs to work with her Komen colleagues on softening her image and her tone.

The organization needs to talk about what it’s doing to combat breast cancer. What kind of research is being done? How many lives have potentially been saved because of mammogram screenings that revealed a possible problem? What stories of individuals can they share who, because of Komen, have a better life today?

And it can’t start with this approach soon enough.

Komen needs to get back into the conversation and demonstrate the actions the organization has taken, is taking, and will take to find a way to end breast cancer.

Tripp Frohlichstein is founder of MediaMasters Inc. His firm specializes in media and presentation coaching, along with message development and message mapping. Contact him at or e-mail

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