Komen Arrogant In Denial

At last week’s Cause Marketing Forum, The Great Breast Cancer Debate panel at the 2012 Cause Marketing Forum featured Margo Lucero of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Susan G. Komen for the Cure seen a 20% decrease in corporate sponsorships over the past year, but blames the economy rather than the very public fiasco it experienced when it pulled funding from Planned Parenthood.

Lucero’s statement met an audible gasp from the Cause Marketing Forum audience.

In addition to corporate funding cuts, Komen is experiencing additional signs of public dissatisfaction with its actions. This weekend’s Komen for the Cure walk in Washington State saw a 1/3 drop in participants.

But Komen’s Lucero did not address the Planned Parenthood fiasco directly at the Cause Marketing Firm. The panel moderator did not bring the topic up, and the audience was not allowed to ask questions. Instead Lucero offered pithy little nuggets like the tallest blade of grass gets cut first.

Another interesting Komen remark was the statement that all breast cancer foundations are in it together.

This coming from the breast cancer brand that sued its sister organizations over using the color pink, and for using the phrase “For the Cure.” Komen’s legal actions were so egregious that Stephen Colbert, a Komen for the Cure supporter, called them out publicly last year.

From the Planned Parenthood disaster and the legal problems are just two examples. The blatant level of pink washing the brand engages is shocking. Like the Planned Parenthood move, some of these deals seem to contradict its mission, including the controversial Buckets for the Cure partnership with KFC, and deals with gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson.

It’s right to call Komen’s denial arrogant in the face of its many recent controversies.

It’s wrong assume the public won’t remember these public controversies. Brands are leaving Komen because of the dark cloud hanging around its head. It’s obnoxious to offer platitudes and messaging to a room full of cause marketing professionals who know better.

The Komen nonprofit brand — a brand still shared by many corporations — acts like a bully only interested in making money and acting out an agenda that contradicts its mission. Until it fully acknowledges and embraces its mistakes publicly, and then changes its culture, I predict it will continue to lose revenue and corporate sponsors.

What do you think of Komen’s decline?


  • Geoff – I’m not surprised at all. The source of the problem with Komen is not their PR strategies or tactics. It’s their culture of arrogance and denial (as you point out) that permeates every square inch of their organization. 

    From their YouTube video of Nancy wagging her finger at critics to the CM panel, they seem to lack a whole lot of honesty and humility – things you’d expect from an org fighting breast cancer.

    • I agree. And they definitely don’t act like a 501c3, rather they act like an arrogant company that has enjoyed its monopoly status for too long.

  • Their conduct over the past couple of years — and their utter blindness to how much that conduct has disgusted people — is pathetic. I do not consider Komen to be a women’s health organization. They are simply a corporation with a culture of denial and arrogance (as you’ve astutely pointed out) that will continue its march toward failure and irrelevance. 

    • And we know how corporations that treat their customers poorly fail, especially in markets with competitive options.  Irrelevancy does seem to be the long-term outcome.

  • I am one of the women who did not walk this year in DC. I want to support a non-profit that stays true to it’s mission of helping those with breast cancer, not one that bullies corporations and pulls funding help for poor women. I advised two other groups not have a walking team this year, as well. I wonder if they can change their culture and pull-out of this ongoing decline?

    • All indications seem to be no. Frankly, I think by the time they do turn it around it will be too late.

  • I no longer support them.

  • They lost all support and respect from me. Yes, they still do a lot of good in the world, but the way they conduct themselves and especially the Planned Parenthood happening made me stop supporting them.

    • There are so many others now in this space like the national Breast Cancer Foundation that I can’t imagine serious competition rising up. I think for many Planned Parenthood was the last straw.

  • I think they are suffering from a severe case of Founders Syndrome.

  • They lost their mission as a non profit organization through arrogance, denial and defiance. I liken them with the  ‘Too Big To Fail’ corporations.  Chapter read, book shelved.

  • You are so right, Geoff.  Komen is basically an arrogant bully and they don’t “get it.”  Why they even put in an appearance at the Cause Marketing Forum is anyone’s guess.  And they are indeed suffering from the worst case of Founders Syndrome I’ve ever seen.  It’s time for Nancy to go.

  • Great post Geoff. Komen will continue to self-destruct until it realizes throwing crap under the rug doesn’t work. If they were smart, they would have had a session where the only topic WAS to talk about the whole debacle. Komen knows it can’t do that…as the reasoning for dumping Planned Parenthood was a strategic political move. They tried to “PR” their way out of it, but, as we all know, you can’t escape the truth, nor should you try to. Major backfire. Until Komen understands it needs to be completely honest about its intentions, it will continue to nose-dive. 

  • Very fair & thoughtful post.  By the way, he pink gun is cute, but it’s also misleading. Komen had nothing to do with that.

  • The moment you lose sight of your bigger picture goals is the moment you lose relevance. So what if the founders and CEO’s, etc, have distaste for the way other orgs behave and who they stand for? If your raison d’etre is breast cancer awareness, prevention and cure, stick to your goal and ignore personal vendetta shit.

    Komen is about as relevant as Tiger Woods is to fidelity classes at the local colleges.

  • They lost me when they started “suing for the cure”. Even so, I’ve watched the absurd “pink” partnerships and the recent Planned Parenthood meltdown with something approaching shock – how can one organization be that arrogant and out of touch?! And these are only the moves made in the public eye – what about the gradual de-funding of stem cell research that happened below the radar last November? This is NOT an organization in touch with their purported base, it’s a corporate entity making unilateral decisions from the top down and pandering to political interests. I’ve found other organizations to support, ones that conduct themselves with transparency and dignity.

  • Komen has forgotten one very important guiding principle of non profit governance: you don’t own your mission! their arrogance just more proof that they are not donor centric, nor mission based any longer .

  • I have to jump in here as a former employee of Komen Central Virginia to say that there is a huge disconnect between what the national organization does/says and what your local affiliate does. Although I don’t agree with how the national organization has handled many situations recently (andin the past), I will always support my local affiliate. When you pull donations or sponsorship from your local affiliate, the only people who suffer are the women who won’t receive life saving care because Komen can’t fund their local grants. People are so quick to point out the negative and believe everything they read. 

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