Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Potential Genius Behind Susan G. Komen

Unless you were hiding under a rock last week--which BTW is physically impossible--then you likely had your Facebook feed, Twitter and email blowing up in response to the Susan G. Komen Foundation decision to discontinue funding Planned Parenthood and then the foundation's reversal of that decision later on in the week.

The defunding decision, the communication of the reasons behind that decision to the public and the response (or lack thereof) to the decision to us marketers screams mismanagement, lack of planning and zero forethought on what their decision would produce.

Or does it?

While I'm no conspiracy theorist and I'm not prone to peeling back potential layers of foundation management, I was talking about this "debacle" with a friend last night and it suddenly dawn on me that the entire Komen decision, management, reversal of decision, etc. could potentially be a most ingenious and well thought out plan.

So, hear me out.

Over the last year or so, Planned Parenthood has been under increasing pressure from Congress and right-to-life groups because it uses federal and private funds to provide abortion services and contraception, which account for 3 % and 35%, respectively, of total Planned Parenthood activities.

A main pressure tactic used by anti-Planned Parenthood/right-to-life groups has been to examine Planned Parenthood's funding, both public and private, exert pressure on those foundations, corporations, groups and individuals and get them to stop funding Planned Parenthood. (Side note, this method of attack is not unique to right-to-life organizations and has and will continue to be used by both liberal and conservative groups.)

The Susan G. Komen Foundation is, of course, on Planned Parenthood's list of funders and is one of their largest and most well known foundation donors, making Komen a high-priority target for anti-Planned Parenthood groups and one they likely spent a great deal of time and money on. It may even be, that getting Komen to defund Planned Parenthood was as important to anti-Planned Parenthood as getting Congress to defund Planned Parenthood. The net takeaway is that just as Planned Parenthood has come increased pressure, Komen has also experienced increased, if not, equal amounts of pressure to stop funding Planned Parenthood.

So what was Komen to do? Listen to the increasing loud and adamant calls from its right-to-life supporters to stop funding Planned Parenthood? Or please its pro-choice supporters by continuing to support Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides important women's health services and family planning as well as abortion services?

The opinions of Komen's key audience, women, on abortion didn't make this an easy decision for Komen. According to a 2011 Gallup Poll, the breakdown of pro-choice vs. pro-life is fairly evenly split among US women with 50% being pro-choice and 44% pro-life. However, 51%, believe abortion is "morally wrong" versus 39% saying it is "morally acceptable". When it comes to the legality of abortion, 31% want abortion legal in any circumstances, 8% say abortion should be legal under most circumstances, 36% prefer abortion to be legal under a few circumstances and 24% want illegal in all circumstances. With over 50% of Planned Parenthood activities focused on non-abortion/contraception activites, such as cancer screening and prevention and  STIs/STDs testing and treatment for low-income populations, Komen was backed into a ginormous corner. Whichever action (defunding or continue funding) they took was going to cause high-levels of ire and feedback, and would ultimately lead to loss of supporters and, most importantly, funders.

Here's where the potential genius part comes in. While on the surface it appears that Komen chose to side with its pro-life supporters and defund Planned Parenthood, was that really what happened? Or did Komen make an ingenious, strategically driven, well thought out decision?

Let me explain.

Komen was inundated and being highly pressured to stop funding Planned Parenthood. Whatever decision it made was going to create outrage with a large portion of its supporters and donors; it was going to lose face, no matter what. So why not, let the decision to support or not support Planned Parenthood be determined by its supporters? Or at least, make it appear that its supporters made the decision?

What I'm postulating is that to appease the right-to-life groups, Komen purposely defunded Planned Parenthood, knowing that its pro-choice, pro-women's health services base/majority would revolt, and revolt they did, and that in response to these epic levels of opposition, Komen would be "forced" to reverse their defunding decision and return to funding Planned Parenthood as they had been before. Komen's leadership would then be in the position turn to the right-to-life/anti-Planned Parenthood groups and say "We tried, but our supporters (and you guys saw and heard their reactions) wouldn't let us" or, in essence, "We did what we could."

There's absolutely no way to tell if what I'm suggesting actually happen because Komen would ever admit to it. But if it's true, then the leaders of the Susan G. Komen Foundation know their audience and how their audience will respond a whole lot better than they're currently getting credit for, and that instead of jumping ship on their Planned Parenthood decision, they're actually just seeing an ingenious plan to its conclusion.

1 comment:

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