The nation's leading breast cancer advocacy group has gone into full damage-control mode.
Executives of the embattled Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation held conference calls with affiliates Saturday to discuss a new strategy for working with supporters, a first step in rebuilding trust after last week's public relations fiasco surrounding Komen's off-then-on-again decision to fund Planned Parenthood.
Founder Nancy Brinker and president Elizabeth Thompson talked to executives from Komen affiliates across the country about ways to apologize to supporters and about what needs to be done next.
Robin Prothro, executive director of Komen Maryland, said national leaders told affiliates that "we're on track; this is what we're doing."
Maria Williamson, president of the Komen affiliate in Virginia's Tidewater region, said Brinker spoke of her "deep concern" about the community backlash and the onslaught of media inquiries. She likened the reaction in her office to a Category 5 hurricane.
The foundation reversed course Friday after the overwhelming public reaction to news on Tuesday that Komen was no longer going to fund Planned Parenthood's breast cancer screening because of a congressional investigation. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, is looking into whether Planned Parenthood has spent public money for abortions. Planned Parenthood is now eligible to apply for grants, Komen said.
Now Komen executives are faced with the task of restoring credibility to one of the strongest brands in the nonprofit world.
Brendan Daly, an executive vice president at Ogilvy public relations, confirmed that Komen had sought Ogilvy's help last week. Brinker told affiliates Saturday that they would also be getting help on crisis communications from Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary in the George W. Bush administration. Neither consultant was involved in the funding decision.
Some corporate sponsors are reviewing their partnerships. Komen affiliates have already lost donations and Race for the Cure sponsorships. In New York, the Tocqueville Restaurant emailed a "note of concern" Saturday to patrons, notifying them that it was no longer donating proceeds to Komen from a special dinner Tuesday because of "the recent events."
Honest Tea, the Bethesda, Md.-based company that began partnering with Komen two years ago, is pausing to rethink its options. It donated $100,000 to Komen last year. The company wants to support breast cancer awareness and research, said company president Seth Goldman. He's just not sure Komen is the best recipient.
Poor communication had the biggest impact for a core group of supporters who care about breast cancer and not about the politics of abortion, said Komen board member John Raffaelli. During last week's roller coaster, these supporters were frustrated that the organization was letting "the left grab one leg and the right grab the other leg, and it would rip us apart," he said.
By contrast, Planned Parenthood mobilized public opinion almost immediately.
Moments after the Associated Press reported the news late Tuesday that Komen was barring the organization from receiving funds, Planned Parenthood blasted news releases via email and Twitter and posted the information on Planned Parenthood's Facebook wall.
On Facebook, Planned Parenthood has added more than 32,000 new fans since Tuesday, spokesman Tait Sye said.
Planned Parenthood had a simple strategy for Facebook and Twitter. "We gave people things to do," Sye said. The organization sent out suggestions to donate, sign an online petition, tweet about the issue and post a Planned Parenthood badge on Facebook.
"All of it," he said, "is meant to reinforce the idea of showing public support."