Founder Nancy G. Brinker and President Elizabeth Thompson talked to executives from Komen affiliates across the country about ways to apologize to supporters and about what needs to be done next, according to a Komen official.
The overall tone was positive, but there were “lots of tough and candid questions” from executive directors and local board members, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal communications.
Robin Prothro, executive director of Komen Maryland, said national leaders told affiliates that “we’re on track; this is what we’re doing.”
Maria Williamson, president of the Komen affiliate in Virginia’s Tidewater region, said Brinker spoke of her “deep concern” about the community backlash and the onslaught of media inquiries that deluged Komen offices last week.
Williamson likened the reaction in her office to a Category 5 hurricane. But, she said, “a really good brand can withstand a big hurricane.”
The foundation reversed course Friday after the overwhelming public reaction to news on Tuesday that Komen was no longer going to fund Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screening because of a congressional investigation into whether the group was using federal money to pay for abortions. Planned Parenthood is now eligible to apply for grants, Komen said.
Now Komen executives are faced with the task of restoring credibility to one of the strongest brands in the nonprofit world.
Brendan Daly, an executive vice president at Ogilvy Public Relations and a onetime aide to former House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), confirmed that Komen had sought his help last week.
Brinker told affiliates Saturday that they would also be getting help on crisis communications from Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary in the George W. Bush administration. Fleischer said Saturday night that he had not been asked but that if he could help, perhaps he would. Neither consultant was involved in the initial funding decision.
“People may now question the role political ideology plays in their decision-making, and that didn’t enter into people’s minds in the past,” said Lee Lynch, who heads health-care advocacy and does crisis management for the public relations firm Edelman. “So they’re going to have to deal with that perception.”
Some corporate sponsors are reviewing their partnerships. Komen affiliates have already lost donations and Race for the Cure sponsorships. In New York, the Tocqueville Restaurant e-mailed a “note of concern” Saturday to patrons, notifying them that it was no longer donating proceeds to Komen from a special dinner Tuesday because of “the recent events.”