Battle of the Women’s Health Care Giants - Can anything good come from this?
Many of us in the public relations industry have watched sadly – and with jaws dropping – over the recent announcement (and then retraction) of a decision to cut Komen funding to all of the Planned Parenthood affiliates. While it was tempting to lash out from the beginning, as a veteran “old war horse” I decided to hold my powder. I was not surprised to learn the decision had been reversed after a mammoth backlash scorched the web and mainstream media with its firepower. At times like this, public relations people always ask ourselves – did any good come from this and what can we learn?
These two organizations – while very different in many ways – also have a lot in common. They are run at the national level but rely on numerous affiliates to do the tough work of bringing health care to not only the poor and disenfranchised, but in many cases, particularly in our rural areas, they are the only place women in the community can get much-needed breast screenings. Planned Parenthood and Susan G. Komen for the Cure are tireless providers of access to women’s health. If they didn’t exist, many women would not get these screenings and many more would die as a result.
Here are the lessons to be learned, as I see them.
- Lesson One – Decision-making at the national level – as was apparently done by the Komen camp without input from the affiliates who are on the front lines of this battle – neglected to take the consequences into consideration. Headquarters of organizations cannot act in isolation without the facts – and there is no better place to get the facts than from the front line people who do the actual work. Targeted research into how any major decisions being considered will impact the organization is also fundamental to avoid nasty surprises.
- Lesson Two – Read the mood of the country. Women and men are passionate defenders when it looks like the health safety net for the poor is being further compromised. Did we learn nothing from the recent outcry from the Presidential debate trail? The Occupy movement? Out of touch organizations can soon find themselves out of support and then out of business. Top-down, one-way communication seldom works – unless you’re in an actual war situation.
- Lesson Three – Don’t underestimate the power of interactive communication. While mainstream media found the story irresistible, it went viral in record time with an energy that was scary. While donations increased to Planned Parenthood – this may be the one good thing that came out of it – to do so at the cost of taking a chunk out of a high-quality organization like the Komen group, in a snarky, pitting of women-against-women tone that was unmistakable – was stomach-turning. No one wins in the long run if these two organizations that have done so much for women’s health can’t work together. It is essential to prepare our organizations with interactive-friendly strategy when major decisions are being made. “No comment” never really works and comes across as weak and out of touch. The Komen organization said those magic words we in public relations know help to sooth the public sentiment in cases like these – “we’re sorry.” The healing could begin now for those who want to move on.
In the aftermath, my hope as a supporter of both organizations is that any woman in small town, rural America as well as her sister in the inner city can walk into a Planned Parenthood clinic and get her breast screening examination without having to worry about how she’s going to pay for it.