It’s no surprise that the Susan G. Komen Foundation is having trouble fundraising after their giant missteps in the handling of grants to Planned Parenthood. As the former pink powerhouse struggles to regain its footing, it is comical to hear their issues described as a communications problem.
They failed to keep local Chapters in the loop. They failed to communicate the changes in their position promptly. Didn’t apologize fast enough.
That isn’t a communications problem. It’s a policy and strategy problem.
This notion that any policy, strategy, action or decision can be communicated away is at the heart of the bad reputation PR has earned. Some call it spin.
Is it better for people to hear bad news from the source? Absolutely. Prudent to communicate and explain a controversial decision, rather than just putting it out there? Of course. But sometimes a strategy or policy problem is just that….a strategy or policy problem.
How can you tell the difference?
- Is the “disconnect” due to old facts vs. new facts?
A communications problem stems from lack of insight, understanding or recognition of a strategy, policy, issue or “truth” about your Company. Perhaps you have retooled your direction, and are still being judged by the old benchmarks. When your stakeholders understand the issue, but don’t support it – that isn’t a communications problem.
- Does your “news” take you away from your core constituencies, without a good strategic reason?
Sometimes, companies will do something that purposefully takes them in a new direction, often in an effort to expand their customer base. Sometimes these are adjacent businesses….GAP Kids; or appealing to a different demographic…Banana Republic, GAP, Old Navy. If investors, employees, mall owners seemed resistant to that story, that might be a communications problem. Completely alienating your core…strategy problem.
- Are you choosing not to communicate about something significant?
Hoping people don’t notice is rarely an effective communications strategy – and a pretty good indicator that perhaps this is a flawed business strategy – both for the business and from a communications perspective. You can run, but you can’t hide – at least not for long. If you don’t want to see it in the headlines, maybe you shouldn’t do it.
One of the hardest tasks for a communicator is identifying the difference between strategy issues and communications issues, and counseling their clients, whether internal or external, about the difference. Telling the emperor he has no clothes isn’t easy. Have you ever been in that situation? How did you handle it?