Fresh off its rebranding and 25th anniversary, Susan G. Komen for the Cure is tackling its comms challenges head on.
When Susan G. Komen for the Cure celebrated its 25th anniversary this year with a rebranding, the results were staggering. Not only did the nonprofit garner substantial media coverage, but it also saw an increase in donations, sponsorships, and race participation. But the rebranding wasn't just an elaborate marketing effort - it was also a call to reach new audiences and to reignite the cause's vigor.
"It's a little bit hard to say if [this year's success is] solely because of the brand change," says Emily Callahan, director of communications for Komen. However, "a lot of this year has been taking our 25th [anniversary] and trying to wake up people again to be really passionate about this cause."
It certainly is a different world than the one the organization knew when it began in 1982. Back then, many newspapers avoided using the words "breast cancer," and when the organization's founder, Nancy Brinker, suggested adding tags about mammograms to bras, businesses declined because it was negative marketing, Callahan explains.
Yet today breast cancer is one of the most widely covered diseases and its pink ribbon is well known as the global awareness symbol.
Challenges of success
While the organization is celebrating milestones - its investment of nearly $1 billion to the cause makes it the largest source of nonprofit funds in the fight against breast cancer - success has created challenges. In some cases, the public has developed a "comfortably numb" attitude toward the disease, Callahan says. Myths such as those claiming the disease has been cured or its cause can be traced exclusively back to family history have surfaced.
"There is so much work left to do," she notes. "And so much we don't know that I don't think we can afford to stop talking about it."
As a part of the rebranding, Komen is working to reawaken the public's urgency to find answers.
"We're trying to reinvigorate that spirit," Callahan says. This includes reminding the public why the disease is still a problem and that its cause is still unknown.
The name change earlier this year, from Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, leveraged the popular Race for the Cure event for which it is best known. Putting the word "cure" in the organization's name reinforces its ultimate goal, Callahan says. The rebranding has been in conjunction with Komen's AOR Weber Shandwick.
Melanie Ofenloch, EVP at WS, says that while working on the rebranding, the agency whittled down a list of hundreds of ideas to those that best supported Komen's mission.
"Knowing that Komen is a nonprofit and did not have unlimited buckets of money to spend, we wanted to make sure that every single dollar they spent was important and well-used," she says.
The name change, she adds, was a drastic shift.
"There was initially some confusion because Race for the Cure was so successful," Ofenloch says. "People sometimes didn't even focus on the foundation name."
"A big portion of changing our brand was to cast that wider net and definitely appeal to a younger audience," Callahan adds. The organization wants to engage the next generation - which it identifies as especially philanthropic - by increasing its college tour, developing an IM system, and establishing a presence on Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube.
In addition, Komen's former logo featured a silhouette of Susan G. Komen, but many minority women were turned off by the logo of a woman with a bun, perceiving the nonprofit as geared primarily toward white women, Callahan says. "There is a perception versus reality to overcome," she notes.
So the nonprofit is targeting minority groups by seeking out members of those communities as decision-makers in the organization, reaching out to niche media, and understanding cultural perspectives, she adds. Komen is now also grappling with new taboos that are specific to different communities - such as language or cultural issues.
"We have huge pockets of people who are coming here with English barriers," she says. Some communities frown upon talking about the body, or are suspicious of the healthcare system, she adds.
The organization is also doing more global outreach because in many nations the disease remains a low priority. Komen is hosting a Global Advocate Summit in Budapest to build an international network to fight the disease.
Additionally, Komen wants to better reach those who are uninsured or under-insured about the disease, early detection, and treatment options. Most of these women, adds Callahan, don't seek medical treatment because of limited time and resources.
A simple message
But even the health-conscious are inundated with messages, so the organization wants to give the public simple, tangible messages and action items. This year, Komen is releasing a report in common language that explains the state of the disease and what still needs to be done, Callahan says.
"It's a constant battle to figure out unique opportunities and angles to tell our stories and get the information out there," she points out.
From a PR perspective, the challenge is keeping breast cancer in the media forefront beyond its awareness month in October.
"I think that people who are not in throes of experiencing it are willing to say, 'Hey, it's never going to happen to me,'" Ofenloch says. But statistics indicate that most people will either be affected or know someone who is. "It's really an education effort," she adds.
And Komen's vision puts it in a unique position.
"Komen doesn't want to be in business," she says. "We'd love to not have this issue, not have people die, and not have to fight."
Building a foundation
Nancy Brinker starts the foundation with $200 cash and a small group of friends
The first Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure is held in Dallas with 800 runners
The first Race for the Cure outside of Dallas is held
Komen adds its first chapter outside of Dallas; its national hotline becomes available
The first national race is held in Washington, DC. Pink ribbons are distributed
New Balance becomes Komen's first corporate partner
The first race outside the US is held in Costa Rica
The first international affiliate is founded
Susan G. Komen for the Cure celebrates its 25th anniversary with a brand and logo change and a host of new events and initiatives