Do you remember the Susan G. Komen blow-up this February? Probably only vaguely, and that’s the natural life cycle of these things — there hasn’t been much media coverage for about a month now, so out of sight and out of mind. But The Washington Post (bless their black little hearts) ran a good follow-up article this week on departures and reorganizations within the Susan G. Komen for the Cure leadership.
It’s a good look behind the scenes at what happens once you stop hearing about a company for the boneheaded shit it stumbled into. It doesn’t always play out this way, of course — B.P., for example, sells oil for a living rather than begging for charity dollars, so their profits are just fine regardless of how smelly your beachhouse is. But for companies that don’t enjoy a drug kingpin’s immunity from public censure, the Komen follow-up is educational:
People who can quit for a better opportunity, do.
A company in public crisis is a free-falling airplane. There’s a right moment to jump and a whole lot of wrong moments to jump, and there’s the hope that you can ride it out and survive the crash. Everyone gets to make that calculus for him or herself. But what mostly ends up happening is that people who did good work with the company and were not involved in the bone-headed lethal mistake (or better yet were opposed to it publicly from the outset) develop a sudden interest in good offers from other employers. Other employers, of course, vulture-like, are not shy about those offers when they catch wind of talented staff looking to change careers in a hurry. From the Post article:
The [departing] New York chief executive, Dara Richardson-Heron, declined to comment Wednesday. In a statement on the affiliate’s Web site, she said the decision was not “easy,” but the right one. Her counterpart in Oregon, Christine McDonald, said last month that she was stepping down. McDonald, who did not return phone calls Wednesday, said “deep frustration about the distraction” caused by the Komen headquarters’ actions was a factor, a statement on the affiliate’s Web site said.
The three executives who have left or plan to leave the Dallas-based national organization are: Katrina McGhee, the executive vice president and chief marketing officer, leaving May 4; Nancy Macgregor, vice president for global networks, leaving in June; and Joanna Newcomb, a director for affiliate strategy and planning, who left at the end of last month, according to Aun.
These are not small losses. Your chief marketing officer is an important person when you are basically one giant pink-waterbottle-marketing company. Top staff like these people fleeing is a good sign that the public relations cannonball holed you below the waterline.
Bad P.R. can hurt companies that sell goods — or it can not. Apple is battling ongoing scandal about the work conditions in their affiliated factories oversees, but the company is not exactly facing financial crisis. As mentioned above, B.P. is likewise sailing on unperturbed by the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and if anything J. C. Penny seems to be enjoying a bump in sales from the ill-fated and idiotic One Million Moms campaign against them.
Unfortunately for Susan G. Komen, they are not selling a product that most of us need (or at least think we need). Giving up that feel-good rush from throwing a few bucks at a cancer charity is a lot easier for most of us to part with than our iPhones. More importantly, if you’re willing to believe that Susan G. Komen is now the villain, you can get the exact same feel-good rush by denying them funding. It’s all the emotional reward of giving to charity without having to actually spend the money! People are feeling genuinely good about cutting off previous giving, and it’s showing:
Meanwhile, questions are being raised about the breast cancer charity’s ability to raise money after the public relations fiasco. The New York affiliate postponed two events, including its annual awards gala, “because we were not certain about our ability to fundraise in the near term,” spokesman Vern Calhoun said Wednesday.
Komen is asking staff members at headquarters to review budgets for the fiscal year beginning April 1 because of anticipated drops in revenue, according to a source familiar with the process who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Budgeting for the coming year was basically completed before the Planned Parenthood controversy erupted.
Authority changes hands.
This is possibly the most interesting part, to me. In light of what they see as failure on the part of the board and the national executives, Komen state affiliate directors seem to be staging something of a long-overdue coup:
At its annual meeting with affiliates in Dallas this month, top leadership apologized and sought ways to give affiliates more of a voice in decision-making. Komen established a new group of local affiliates that will work with the national board to set policies and priorities, officials said. Details still need to be worked out.
“Currently, there is one affiliate representative on the board, in a volunteer job,” [the executive director of Komen’s Maryland affiliate] said. With 122 affiliates, “the idea is to have a group that can vet some of the concerns we have in another way.”
So change seems to be in store for the entire leadership structure and decision-making process of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Of course, you sort of have to wonder if their best shot at hanging onto power might not be to give it up right now, let the local affiliates run things for a year, and then blame them when the end-of-year financial reports are, inevitably, dire…
All in all it’s an ugly damn mess, two months after the fact. But for those who did speak out and weigh in with the general public outcry, it may be comforting to know that, in a rare David-and-Goliath moment, an unorganized negative public backlash really did cripple a multi-million dollar organization, possibly permanently.