Social Media Planning is Important. Yes It Really Is!
Years ago, when still working as a professional bassoonist in Shreveport, Louisiana, I was hired to perform in an orchestra and accompany a community chorus in Texarkana as part of a fundraising event for the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure. The Komen Foundation was prominently mentioned in the musical parts that we performed from as well as in the programs. It was actually a fun gig. The chorus was enthusiastic and so was the audience. What I noticed then and later was that the people supporting Komen, in concerts, in runs, and even corporate sponsors, were all doing so because of the cause. Their volunteers included people all along the political spectrum.
This week, when AP broke the news that Komen was withdrawing funding from Planned Parenthood, you could practically hear that bipartisanship cracking, falling and crashing all around the nation, almost as if it were a massively loud challenge-level of Angry Birds.
The defunded organization, Planned Parenthood, will likely be noted in future textbooks on social media on the adroit way they responded to the news. (After all, they had had over a month to plan.) They deplored the politicization of the granting process by the world's largest breast cancer foundation and also announced a fund-drive to replace that money along with a lead gift from a previously little known foundation. All of sudden the social media were alive with the debate. People began raising money on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere. News organizations reported on grass roots efforts to raise money, which climaxed in a $250,000 pledge from Mayor Bloomberg of New York City, who announced that funding for breast cancer should not be political.
The Komen Foundation was silent for nearly two days, after which the group's founder and CEO, former Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker was seen, alone and looking unhappy, on her website's video, and later in news interviews. First she was saying that Planned Parenthood didn't meet their criteria because they were involved in a Congressional investigation. Later that story changed somewhat and it was a decision based on metrics and proving outcomes based on the amount of money given and patients served.
But Ms. Brinker wasn't served well by former supporters, nor by former critics. Anti-abortion groups were quick to crow about the apparent defunding of Planned Parenthood. Early in the week, Americans United for Life President and CEO, Dr. Charmaine Yoest, (who in her press releases and news interviews showed she cannot say the words "Planned Parenthood" in any sentence without adding the words "abortion," "death" or "killing") was one of the first to crow about the decision. There was no doubt of moral victory on her part, even when Ms. Brinker was trying to convince others it was merely a matter of funding criteria.
Clearly, Ms. Brinker and her foundation were surprised by the public and media reaction. Even though they repeatedly stated that uterine politics were not involved, other evidence was piling up to suggest otherwise.
We also learned, from postings on another pro-life website, LifeNews.com, that Komen had blocked funding to five cancer research centers last November because of their support of embryonic stem cell research. The defunding was in the amounts of $3.75 million to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, $4.5 million to the University of Kansas Medical Center, $1 million to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, $1 million to the Society for Women’s Health Research, and $600,000 to Yale University. These were amounts far higher than Planned Parenthood's gifts, but had barely, if ever, been mentioned by the media. However, other schools (including Penn State, which is now definitely under investigation, although not for its cancer research) retained their funding.
We also learned that Komen had, last April, hired Karen Handel as senior vice president for public policy. Previously, Ms. Handel had run for the Republican nomination for Governor of Georgia on a pro-life platform and had then announced she was against any government funding of Planned Parenthood. Ms. Brinker later stated that Ms. Handel had no involvement in the decision, but it's pretty clear that she must certainly now be involved in the culture at Komen.
Also, the Think Progress website, http://thinkprogress.org, announced that former press secretary and prominent right-wing writer and speaker, Ari Fleischer "was secretly involved in the Komen Foundation’s strategy regarding Planned Parenthood. Fleischer personally interviewed candidates for the position of 'Senior Vice President for Communications and External Relations' at Komen last December."
With all due respect to Think Progess's scoop, to anybody who knows Dallas's philanthropic and business community, the fact that a former Bush White House conservative is involved with a Dallas-based charity is pretty much a non-news item. What would have been controversial is if a liberal Democratic Yankee had been hired to do the same thing.
In the meantime, the comments on Komen's web pages, their Facebook pages, on Twitter, and in the media kept coming in, including people who were Komen activists (and apparently at least one or two directors of Komen chapter offices), passionately disagreeing with the foundation's actions.
Finally, Ms. Brinker threw in a towel of sorts. She announced that they will revise the criteria under which Planned Parenthood chapters were denied funding to include only real, legal investigations (rather than those apparently fake, political Congressional ones). The news media announced that it was a reversal of their earlier stance, although it probably, really wasn't. No funding was restored. The change is only that the same people who had applied before can still apply again. Of course, Planned Parenthood hardly needed the money now. As the result of their campaign, they had raised over $3 million in three days. That was more than four years worth of Komen Foundation donations.
That this decision would please nobody was immediately apparent. Liberals and moderates, who felt Komen was bowing to political pressures from the Right to Life community were hardly mollified. Those who opposed Planned Parenthood and abortions felt betrayed or just blamed the liberals.
An AP/Wall Street Journal article quoted Tony Lauinger, state chairman for Oklahomans For Life, "We were very happy to see (Komen) discontinue funding to Planned Parenthood."…. "For an entity ... that's trying to prevent breast cancer across the world, it's directly counterproductive that the organization would be giving funds to Planned Parenthood, which is the largest provider of abortions in the country."
Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, sent out emails and social media messages Friday aimed at "tens of thousands" of abortion foes, urging them to withhold donations to Komen. Days earlier, when the original decision was reported, he'd urged people to donate to Komen.
Americans United for Life’s Charmaine Yoest grudgingly admitted that Planned Parenthood had done a better job with social and press media, saying that it was “unfortunate that the Komen Foundation had come under vicious attack from Planned Parenthood as part of a media-savvy campaign.” In her own release, she continued, "This week we have all been witness to highly partisan attacks from pro-abortion advocates and an ugly and disgraceful shakedown that highlights Planned Parenthood’s willingness to pursue a scorched-earth strategy to force compliance with their pro-abortion agenda."
Clearly, lest there be any doubt, Dr. Yoest does not like Planned Parenthood.
In contrast, the most gracious language appeared to come from Planned Parenthood's own Cecile Richards, who thanked Komen for their "reversal" and hoped the two organizations will continue to work together in the future. Of course, it's much easier to be conciliatory when you've won the public debate and also raised $3 million in a few days.
The fact that media emphasized many of the good things that Planned Parenthood has done, and that the various other health services that they provide are worthwhile and supported by millions of women, and the fact that they raised so much money, will stick in the craw of many pro-life organizations' supporters.
There's one other aspect of Planned Parenthood's media blitz that will continue to gnaw at and anger pro-life groups, like Dr. Yoest's supporters. When Planned Parenthood complained that the breast cancer research was being politicized, they committed the unforgivable sin of being right.
If there is a somewhat sympathetic figure in this whole tempest, it might be Nancy Brinker of Komen. She founded the organization in 1982, after the death of her sister by breast cancer. It's easy to assume that her quest to cure breast cancer is personal, passionate, sincere, a life-long pursuit, and above politics. For thirty years, the foundation became famous for its ability to mobilize people and grew into one of the largest and most visible cancer groups in the world. Whether she became the victim of the anti-abortion crowd surrounding her, or whether she lead the change is unknown and may never be known.
Meanwhile, the Komen Foundation staff and board may need to go to some clinic (other than Planned Parenthood) and have their ears checked. Their lack of anticipation of how their policy changes would be seen in the social media, and their tone-deaf non-response for a long time after the issue became public, was truly unprofessional and inexcusable.
What is likely, though, is that Komen's future races might be more lightly attended, the pink ribbons a little less prominent, some corporate sponsors may be a bit harder to find, and donations from long-time supporters may decline. If they are made up by new donations of pro-life groups, that may be small consolation for a group that used to be seen as above politics and focused only, solely, on a mission to defeat a deadly disease.
That is indeed sad.
Tags: Komen, Planned Parenthood, cancer, politics, abortion, pro-life, pro-choice