The (First) 24 Communications Lessons of the Komen/Planned Parenthood Faceoff
1. (Lack of) Speed Kills. Within hours of the AP story that kicked this all off, "Komen" was a trending term on Twitter, and thousands of people had hijacked a Komen wall post to sound off. There was no official reply from Komen on social media (or anywhere else) for more than 24 hours.
2. Messaging Consistency is Key: The Komen rationale shifted as the news cycle lengthened. The second-day stories ended up being about those inconsistencies, rather than the arguments themselves.
3. Scenario Planning Makes a Difference. Stories don't take predictable paths. Planning for as many different outcomes as possible is the key to not getting caught flat-footed.
4. Get Out Ahead of Bad News: Internal documents show that Komen has been preparing for this issue for weeks. But it was Planned Parenthood that pushed the story out, framing the initial narrative in a way that Komen was never able to counter.
5. No Organization is an Island: Komen isn't just Komen headquarters. It's also dozens of affiliates. And they weren't all giving the same message. Indeed, the fractured affiliate network had become its own story by last night.
6. And We All Have Stakeholders: Komen lists more than 200 corporate partners. That was 200 additional voices with the potential to drive the news cycle. And many of those 200 were fighting this battle in miniature over the past 2 days.
7. Labeling a Document "For Internal Use Only" Doesn't Mean the Public Will Never See it: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/02/an-inside-look-at-susan-g-komen-for-the-cures-spin-machine/252488/#.TywKqIOCgA0.twitter
8. The Mainstream Press Remain Important: AP broke the story. And the Washington Post and the New York Times had key scoops.
9. Avoid the Press at Your Peril: The silence over the first 24 hours extended to the media. The inability to get a comment reinforced the image of an organization in crisis.
10. And the Mainstream Press Isn't All About the Print Edition: If you weren't following indefatigable WaPo reporter Sarah Kliff on Twitter, you weren't really following the story.
11. Oh, and Sarah Kliff is a News-Sniffing Machine. But you probably knew that already.
12. The Online Press is Important, Too: Other big scoops came from original reporting from the Huffington Post and the Atlantic Online.
13. Masses Matter: Yes: thousands of Facebook comments and hundreds of thousands of tweets do make a difference. Especially when they last for days and days. It's not just about how loudly people scream. It's about how long they can keep the volume up.
14. People Will Comment, Even if You Shut Down Comments: Komen didn't allow comments on its initial YouTube posting on Wednesday. People commented anyway, and there was a discussion about the disabling of comments.
15. And People Will Comment Everywhere: There were more than 30,000 comments on the Komen Facebook page, but that's hardly the total of the commentary. Huffington Post was generating nearly 10,000 comments per article on the topic. Hundreds flocked to comment at the Washington Post. And that's to say nothing of Twitter.
16. People Like to Keep Score: Planned Parenthood did a great job of talking up the number of donations they brought in during the dustup. That number was used -- rightly or wrongly -- as evidence of the strength of their position. By the time Komen weighed in (donation were up 100 percent), they'd lost that narrative, too.
17. Stories Never End: As I write this, we're about to enter the next chapter, and there will almost certainly be a negative reaction to Komen's backtracking from the other side of the ideological spectrum. Part of communications readiness is being prepared for tomorrow's battle.
18. Words Have Meaning. Spin Doesn't: The Komen statement today is being parsed word-for-word by everyone from bloggers to the Washington Post, looking for wiggle room. That's just one factor that will keep this fire smoldering for months.
19. Technical Infrastructure Matters, Too: Komen's site couldn't handle the traffic after they posted their update today. Making sure that servers can handle a crisis load is a crucial part of getting a message out. So if having alternative platforms.
20. It Helps to Have Third-Parties to Weigh In: Not only was Komen quiet as the firestorm began, but there were no breast cancer advocates or surrogates making their case, even as the media quoted concerned patients and leaders.
21. Never Forget the Lawmakers: One of the threads of the story was a letter signed by 26 Senators calling for a reversal of the Komen position. That's only a small slice of Congress, but in the absence of a similar, Komen-supporting group further turned the narrative toward Planned Parenthood.
22. Cross-Beat Crises Can Get Big, Fast: The Komen/Parenthood dustup hit at the interaction of policy and health and charitable giving. That meant a lot of reporters in a lot of areas who felt ownership of the story.
23. Personal Stories Hit Hard: Both Planned Parenthood and individuals online took on the task of soliciting stories from people who had benefited from Planned Parenthood services. That had the effect of further personalizing the narrative, even in the face of questions about what services Planned Parenthood was able to provide.
24. There's a Difference Between Communications and PR: Good public relations might have been able to see the crisis ahead when the policy was still being developed. And communications could have been used to get ahead of the story. Given the way the story has turned, it looks like Komen may have missed signals in both areas.
That's for starters. I suspect this list will grow as the discussion takes new turns in the seconds, minutes, hours, days and weeks to come.