There has been plenty of chatter of late in the nonprofit community regarding the Susan G Komen and Planned Parenthood organizations. The mistakes of SGK and the success of PP contain greater lessons in understanding the importance of strategy in all your decision-making activities.
Let's first take a look at the loser…
Any way you slice it; defunding PP was an extremely contentious decision for SGK to make. Let’s not discuss the politics of the decision; they simply lead to a bottomless pit. But at the very least, let’s agree that it is hard to believe that it was not obvious to everyone involved that this would be perceived negatively by many, many, people.
So, when you can be absolutely certain that your decision will be controversial, the very first point to remember is that how you explain your decision is just as important as why you make your decision. Your message needs to be extremely clear, concise, and if possible, bounced off a sampling of those who will disagree in order to determine the extent of any possible damage. It is imperative to look at both sides of the coin and to frame your argument in a manner where the opposition will take the least path of resistance.
In today’s social media fueled environment, you can’t stick your head in the sand and hope that everything will be OK. And, you can’t assume that a controversial decision will eventually blow over. And that leads to bad decision #2; in light of this obviously contentious decision, SGK failed to get out in front of the issue with an appropriate communications strategy. They sat idle while the media storm built to category five hurricane proportions.
The damage they created hurt women on both sides of the issue and SGK may now be facing even closer scrutiny; they may never fully recover from their mistake.
Now the winner…
Planned Parenthood took advantage of this sleeping giant by leveraging social media to properly frame the argument in their favor. They heard the rumblings of defunding and spent weeks preparing to debunk SGK’s decision.
Their strategy was simple and elegant; first they courted the Associated Press with an exclusive story and then they garnered support through social media presenting their argument by posting: “ALERT: Susan G. Komen caves under anti-choice pressure, ends funding for breast cancer screenings at PP health centers.”
They further leveraged social media by suggesting to interested parties that they donate, sign online petitions, post their PP badge, or tweet about the issue. The rest was left to mainstream media and roughly 24 hours later they had won the battle.
When faced with tough decisions, developing a dynamic plan to frame your argument in the best possible light is akin to other strategic planning efforts. You can leverage any decision if you understand the dynamics. Marketing, branding, PR, and other communications are not for the untrained and best left to professionals who look at the world from the 30,000 foot level.