Will Komen Controversy Make Corporations More Risk Averse?

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February 10, 2012; Source: WBUR | Energizer may have to think long and hard about whether it wants to continue selling pink batteries associated with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. In recent days, Energizer has found itself responding to customer complaints—ironically, the complaints were about funding abortion—in the wake of Komen’s now-rescinded decision to remove its funding for cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood. It is one of a number of corporate supporters that have found themselves dragged into the situation through co-branding.

Jim Ziminski, chief marketing officer for Energizer Global, comments, “No company ever wants to do something which polarizes its supporters and stakeholders.”

While it makes a decision about its future with Komen, Energizer does not want to be seen as turning its back on breast cancer, so it has already made a $50,000 grant to the St. Louis–area Siteman Cancer Center to fund mammograms for low-income women.

This points to a potentially more critical problem for the sector, as corporations weigh the downside of co-branding with Komen and, indeed, any nonprofit. Will such controversies drive corporations to look ever more carefully for the “safe bets” of the sector to ensure that their relationships with customers are not impaired?

Amanda Herkel of Huffington Post did a survey of Komen’s corporate sponsors soon after Komen retracted its defunding of Planned Parenthood, and found that respondents were not immediately jumping ship. The statements of the corporations were less than passionate about Komen, but they still expressed a commitment to fighting breast cancer. But what will the long-term fallout be?

“The Komen situation will motivate corporations to be a bit more involved in the decisions that their partners make,” says Denise Bortree, a communications professor at Penn State University, whose work includes the study of nonprofits. “This will raise significant concerns for corporations as they consider future relationships.” –Ruth McCambridge