Silence is not always golden: The Komen-Planned Parenthood Brouhaha

Earlier this week, news got out that Susan G. Komen had decided to stop funding Planned Parenthood, leaving more than 870,000 women without access to breast cancer screenings. These screenings save lives.

This post isn’t a blow by blow of how this all went down. This post is about silence.

After two days of “no comment”, Nancy G. Brinker, Founder & CEO of Susan G. Komen, released a video. In the video, she never mentions Planned Parenthood. Not once. She talks about the grant review process they initiated in 2010 and how it will affect many of their partners. But no mention of the frenzy swirling around their decision to de-fund one specific partner–Planned Parenthood. Kinda weird. Kinda too bad.

By not addressing the real issue, Brinker’s attempt to “set the record straight” backfires. There were many natural opportunities to mention Planned Parenthood. It didn’t need to be the whole story, but it’s clearly a big piece of the story. Not mentioning it only makes that part of the story a bigger deal.

In today’s world of YouTube, social media and immediate access, you’ve got to be real. Using tactics–like a scripted video–fall flat. They come across as inauthentic, especially when you’ve got an 800 pound gorilla in your video that you don’t so much as bat an eye at!

You can come up with all the great messaging and talking points you want. In a case like this, it doesn’t matter one lick.  Why? Because it’s not what you say that matters, it’s what people hear and it’s what they feel. When all you do is put out a tightly controlled speech that is almost completely void of emotion, what people hear is that you don’t really want to set the record straight or, taking it one step further, make it right. You just want the PR craziness to go away.

The only way to truly set the record straight is to engage. Give interviews. Do live webcasts. Blog and respond to comments. Put yourself out there!

The lesson: Silence is not always golden. (Komen should’ve learned this with the Pink Bucket Debacle.) When you do talk, be real. There’s a time and place for speeches and scripts. Now’s not that time. Now’s the time to be real. A lot of women are depending on it.

NOTE: If you’re interested in great coverage on this story, check out Kivi Leroux Miller’s post. She’s become a one-woman Komen-Planned Parenthood news channel and is doing an exceptional job. I’m grateful for all her tireless work on this.


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  1. Looks like they listened to you and actually mention Planned Parenthood in their apology:

    “The events of this week have been deeply unsettling for our supporters, partners and friends and all of us at Susan G. Komen. We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not.”

  2. Erica, you are spot on with your analysis of Brinker’s video statement. As of this morning, Komen decided to reverse their decision, here’s the full statement where they do speak of Planned Parenthood:

    While the news on the reverse decision is nice, I believe the silence this week as you’ve pointed out – has already done great damage. Will it be an uphill battle to earn back supporters’ trust? I guess only time will tell.

    • Since crises pass quickly, the other question is will supporters successfully take advantage of this moment to highlight the importance of women’s health more broadly rather than Komen and/or Planned Parenthood, specifically. Along with trust among Komen supporters, only time will tell, as you say, Carrie.

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