Komen Runs Big-Budget Damage Control Campaign

You m ay remember that Susan G. Komen — the company responsible for turning October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month) into a sea of pink– pulled funding from Planned Parenthood  back in February, resulting in a tidal wave of outrage. The hypocrisy of Komen, which urges women to be screened for cancer, pulling funding from an organization that provides access to cancer screenings and preventative education for underprivileged women proved too much for many to swallow. Komen eventually reversed its decision, but the move came too late for many former supporters.

As the company gears up for this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many in the industry doubt whether the brand can recover its damaged image and retain corporate sponsorships. For that reason, this year’s campaign will focus on salvaging Komen’s credibility where past efforts leaned more toward educating women about screenings and inspiring others to join the fight by purchasing branded items and participating in sponsored races. So will it work?

The upcoming no-holds-barred PR effort, managed by Burson-Marsteller’s Proof, will include TV ads, print ads, digital content, and media events; The September TV spots will feature four cancer survivors of different ages and demographics, each stating “I am Susan G. Komen for the cure.” Founder Nancy Brinker will also spend as little time in the spotlight as possible in light of her past contradictory statements and less-than-stellar interactions with the press.

This campaign will also cost significantly more than past efforts, and that fact may rub people the wrong way by indicating that Komen is more interested in saving itself than spreading awareness. The fact that the Komen name is synonymous with the cause does not necessarily deflate this argument.

“People very frequently see all the pink in October and don’t understand that this is actually money that’s being raised to help a woman down the street or in the worst part of town whose decision today is to buy bus fare or food for her kids,” said Andrea Rader, Komen’s managing director-communications. “We’re telling that story through the people who [have] benefited from the research and outreach programs and advocacy work we’ve done and reminding people this is an organization that has meaning.”

Although the beginning of that statement strikes us as a bit clunky (that “woman in the worst part of town” is likely to rely on Planned Parenthood for some of her healthcare), Komen hopes its general message will help the public re-focus on the cause itself and overlook past political differences in the name of coming together for a common purpose.

“Cause invites people into something bigger than themselves. They fell on their sword when it was about Komen and rose to the sky when it was about a sisterhood fighting breast cancer,” said Carol Cone, chairman of Edelman’s Good Purpose group. “They still have a core and they should focus on the core.”