Analysis Media

How Komen Flushed Their Brand in 24 Hours

Raven Brooks

I'd like to dissect how Komen for the Cure completely destroyed a brand 3 decades in the making and how they're now a different organization with a different future (if they even have one), whether they like it or not. My goal here is to help people understand this so you don't make the same mistakes.

Cross-posted with permission from the Netroots Foundation.

See all our coverage of the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s break with Planned Parenthood here.

There have been some good pieces written analyzing what has happened with the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s huge mistake to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings. One worth reading is Kivi’s post, the Accidental Rebranding of Komen for the Cure.

My personal thoughts on this are no secret, but I’d like to dissect how Komen for the Cure completely destroyed a brand 3 decades in the making and how they’re now a different organization with a different future (if they even have one), whether they like it or not. My goal here is to help people understand this so you don’t make the same mistakes.

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First let’s start with this item from the New York Times.

Komen told Planned Parenthood of its decision just days before Christmas. When Komen’s board voted on the policy, several members asked who would be affected by the new policy. Elizabeth Thompson, Komen’s president, said, according to Mr. Raffaelli: “Planned Parenthood is the only one we know of. If we find others, those would be impacted, too.”

If you read the full piece you’ll see that Komen’s board was pondering this all the way back to October of last year, but they actually informed Planned Parenthood a few days before Christmas. So think about that, Komen had at least a month to prepare for this if not generously a whole quarter!

A lot of people have been writing that Komen didn’t have a communications strategy and that was their problem. Well that was one problem. Others include a complete lack of understanding of the Internet, how news spreads during a news cycle, and the temperature of progressive activists after a lot of backsliding on this issue specifically, and more generally with things learned from the ACORN fight. But the biggest issue is they completely changed their mission without even realizing it.

The mission departure
There has been plenty of controversy from Komen to date ranging from accusations they are denying links to cancer because of donations they receive to suing smaller organizations for using “for the cure” in their marketing. But they’ve weathered it because they’ve remained focused on what is and should be a completely non-partisan cause — preventing, treating and curing breast cancer. They’ve attracted women and men of all political stripes and backgrounds to their cause. It was a safe place for corporations to support the cause. Komen’s board thought they were simply cutting off a grant, for what many believe to be ideological reasons driven by Karen Handel, but what they were really doing is changing their entire mission. By taking a side in the abortion debate they essentially decided: we only want to work with men and women on the anti-abortion side of the debate, cutting off at least 50% if not more of their support.

I’d bet the board didn’t realize that’s what they were doing, but given that fact there’s no communications strategy that could have saved them. They could have handled things much better, but that was crossing the Rubicon for them. The lesson for nonprofits here is you have to always bring strategic decisions back to your mission and your supporters. How would they perceive it? Mission statements aren’t something top of mind every day and they usually aren’t something we can rattle off in an elevator. But that’s why they exist, to guide you as things like this come up.

How the internet works
Their mission blow up aside, they completely failed to understand how the Internet works, how news spreads, how a news cycle works, and the political climate. Understanding of some of those things could have blunted the response, but as I said they crossed the Rubicon with their decision.

Their first mistake was they didn’t break the news, Planned Parenthood did with a press release. So right from the beginning they were not in control of the story. The story contained within the press release spread like wildfire on twitter, Facebook, and on listservs of activists. In less than an hour traditional media sources had picked up the story exposing it to more people. Because of the Congressional investigation angle activists picked up on this as a parallel attack to the one that ultimately took down ACORN.

Secondly, everyone online quickly found their outlets online: twitter accounts, facebook pages, race sign up communities, personal accounts of key executives like Karen Handel. Komen was then flooded with overwhelmingly negative comments in every possible online venue. Not only did they completely fail to respond in any meaningful fashion for over 36 hours, they dug the hole deeper for themselves. In Kivi’s story linked above she mentions they announced a new sponsor, Energizer, for one of their events like nothing was going on. People promptly started complaining to Energizer about the decision. Karen Handel retweeted something further reinforcing the ideological nature of the decision and then backed off it quickly.

That’s bad enough to ensure that everyone at Komen was having a really bad day. But as all this was going on there were more stories being written and activists were planning actions. I saw emails from MoveOn, CREDO, and Planned Parenthood go out to their full memberships. That drove more calls, more online anger, and more activists to start digging. That’s not even a complete list, I’m sure plenty of other organizations sent something out too. This also translated into small dollar donations for Planned Parenthood, over $400K at last count. It was just announced today that Mayor Bloomberg is contributing $250K to Planned Parenthood. And just like that the full amount Komen took away, and more has been raised. Sites like started popping up. Those stories will be useful for any campaign that might be launched by enterprising activists and it’ll feed journalists personal stories they love.

As the news cycle continued we started getting more stories about how the decision came about and resignations started dripping out. The folks at Komen made an attempt to get on TV and address this but it was too little too late. The story continued to build. 22 Senators have sent a strongly worded letter to Komen. Activists started doing what they do best, turning up new angles to keep the cycle going. A blogger in Georgia has filed an ethics complaint against Karen Handel (Edit: this is from 2010 read too quickly, but still an example of the dirt that gets churned up). People started digging into all these other areas of criticism for Komen. Most of these are known critiques, but new life has been given to them. As it turns out there is even a documentary coming out that couldn’t have better timing. The trailer is below.

And there’s absolutely nothing Komen can do to stop the story now. Even if they were to announce that the people responsible for the decision had been fired and the funds were being restored there’s plenty to keep going. And a door has been opened for all sorts of activism that wouldn’t have made an impact just 72 hours ago. New dimensions to this story will surface on their own, or activists will take action to keep the story going.

What’s also presumably happening, or will happen soon, is activists on the other side of the aisle will go to work telling their story. They’ll do similar activism and make their own media pitches. Komen will ultimately end up in the middle of it, caught in the crossfire.

At the end of it, whenever that comes, Komen will be a completely different organization. By changing their mission and stepping into a political debate unprepared, they will have had their future written for them by others.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

News Human Rights

Remaining Charges Dropped Against Officers in Freddie Gray Case

Michelle D. Anderson

Gray, who was Black, died of a neck injury a week after being taken into police custody in April 2015. The 25-year-old’s death led to widespread protest and civil disobedience against racial injustice and a number of reforms in Baltimore and across Maryland.

Three Baltimore Police Department officers charged in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray will not go to trial as originally planned.

Chief Deputy State Attorney Michael Schatzow of the Baltimore City State Attorney’s Office said during a court hearing Wednesday that his office would not prosecute Officer Garrett Miller and Sgt. Alicia White or attempt to retry Officer William Porter, whose case ended in a mistrial in December.

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby had charged Miller, White, and Porter, along with Officer Edward Nero, Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., and Lt. Brian Rice, in Gray’s May 2015 death in police custody.

The officers faced an array of charges, ranging from second-degree depraved-heart murder and reckless endangerment to second-degree assault and involuntary manslaughter.

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All of the officers pleaded not guilty.

Judge Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams acquitted Nero, Goodson, and Rice during bench trials that ended in May, June, and July, respectively. Miller’s trial was set to begin Wednesday; White, October 13, and Porter, September 6.

Gray, who was Black, died of a neck injury a week after being taken into police custody in April 2015. The 25-year-old’s death led to widespread protest and civil disobedience against racial injustice and a number of reforms in Baltimore and across Maryland.

Mosby, in filing charges against the officers, attempted to hold law enforcement accountable for failing to secure Gray in a seat belt after transporting him in a police van following his arrest, among other alleged negligent acts. Prosecutors charged that Gray was illegally detained before police officers found a knife in his pocket.

Mosby stood by her decision to bring charges against the six officers during a brief press conference held near the Gilmor Homes public housing project, where Gray was taken into police custody.

“We stand by the medical examiners determination that Freddie Gray’s death was a homicide,” Mosby said.

She touted her team’s success during the trials, including an appellate court victory that led some officers to testify against one another and asserted that a summary judgment was among many reasons she had “legitimate reasons” to pursue criminal charges.

Mosby praised the reforms that had come over the past year, including a new “use of force” policy Baltimore police instituted this year. The new policy emphasizes de-escalation and accountability. It marks the first rewrite of the policy since 2003.

“For those that believe I am anti-police, that’s simply not the case. I am anti-police brutality,” Mosby said.

The conference was the first time Mosby had spoken in months, since a gag order imposed by Williams had kept prosecution and defense alike from commenting on the police trials.

The decision to drop charges stemmed from “an apparent acknowledgement” that convictions were unlikely for the remaining officers, the Baltimore Sun reported.

This was because the prosecution would face major challenges during Miller’s trial since they wouldn’t be able to use anything he said on the witness stand during Nero’s trial in an attempt to convict him. Miller had spoken during Nero’s trial in an immunized testimony and with protections against self incrimination, the Sun reported.

Williams said in previous trials that prosecutors failed to show sufficient evidence to support their stance that the officers acted recklessly and caused Gray’s death. He said prosecutors wanted him to rely on “presumptions or assumptions” and rejected the notion that police intentionally gave Gray a “rough ride” in the police vehicle, according to numerous news reports.

The decision to drop charges drew criticism from many activists and citizens alike, but drew praise from the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 union, which had repeatedly urged the prosecution to drop charges.

Baltimore Bloc, a local grassroots group, said in a statement this spring that Mosby should be removed from office for failing to secure convictions against officers and continued to criticize her on Twitter after the announcement that charges would be dropped.