Pinkwashing recovery will take decades

In the last two weeks a lot of public relations criticism has been directed at the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and well deserved. I’ve refrained from participating because in full disclosure I’ve worked or volunteered with Planned Parenthood for more than 21 years.

Without debating the merits of the SGK decision, as a Public Relations practitioner, it’s an amazing case study. First it’s a study in how not to sabotage your own organization by succumbing to internal and external pressures to change the mission of the organization. Kivi Leroux Miller did an excellent non-partisan job of covering this issue in her article The Accidental Rebranding of Komen for the Cure.

Komen changed their position after three days of unprecedented response from women and men across the country. Who knows how many thousands of people across the country weighed in nationally, locally and across every platform imaginable. The social media viralness contributed to the three day ordeal for Komen. Clearly SGK was not prepared for the tsunami of response and show how NOT to respond to a crisis of your own making. They threw a sponsor under the bus but posting a new corporate sponsor during the crisis. Whether Energizer battery intends to stick with is its sponsorship remains to be seen.And women are pissed off. Reversing the decision has opened a big problem with financials investigated, prior relationships investigated. “Pinkwashing is now a verb in the lexicon for long time detractors of Komen. Locals are finding rebuke from former volunteers not willing to do races. Sponsors not willing to connect to ‘controversial’ entities are not willing to offer race locations. And through all this the fight against breast cancer must go on.

Other groups exist to fight cancer, and breast cancer specifically. It is going to take decades for SGK to recover from their 3 days of not understanding their audience, not understanding the connection women feel to Planned Parenthood and not having a crisis communication plan in place to address their ongoing challenges. Breast cancer wins over women’s health because of the political debate. May be get back to the focus of making women’s health a priority and not political or religious debate.

Locally chapters are left relatively to their own devices on mending relationships with local donors and volunteers. Women are mad at these attacks and the politicization of women’s health. SGK failed to recognize: while one in eight women contract breast cancer, one in five uses Planned Parenthood in her life time. One percent of annual 200,000 diagnoses of breast cancer happens in men, but Komen doesn’t provide access to services or screening to men. One percent of the nearly 5 million patients at Planned Parenthood are male.


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