CMO Q&A: Katrina McGhee, Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Susan G. Komen for the Cure CMO Katrina McGhee speaks with Alexandra Bruell about multicultural marketing and protecting trademarks

Alexandra Bruell speaks to Katrina McGhee about Susan G. Komen for the Cure's multicultural marketing push and challenges in communicating with both women and state legislatures.

When we spoke in January about the organization bringing on new AOR Morris + King, you mentioned that the investment in various marketing disciplines has shifted as a result of the economy. Can you elaborate on how you had to reallocate marketing resources as a result of economic hardship?

The economic challenges really impacted our fundraising. When you're dealing with limited dollars and have such a compelling mission that literally touches lives all over the world, you want to spend as much of your resources as possible in meeting the immediate needs of today while maintaining that infusion of capital into research to actually find a cure. When we have to decide between putting dollars into advertising versus keeping funding around community health at the same level or increasing it because we see a need around treatment assistance or gaps in state funding increasing, of course we reallocate those dollars to be directly impacting the people who live next door to you.

Where does PR stand versus other marketing disciplines?

I'd say right now we have a heavy focus on PR and making sure people understand the priorities as it relates to research and community health. There's new information that comes out every week and people have a hard time deciphering what's important now, and what is my action as a result of it. Something may come out, and we'll say from a patient advocate perspective this is the position Komen is taking. It's important because people expect for us to take all of the information that's coming out from the medical community and be able to communicate in a way that's either easily implementable if there's something to do or understandable if we're trying to increase the breadth of knowledge.

Where does social media and digital marketing fall within the marketing structure? 

It sits within the branding department but it's connected to our communications department on an ongoing basis so that the messages coming out from a PR perspective are reaffirmed and communicated via our social media channels.

How have the new healthcare policies impacted your marketing goals and programs?

We've always had a heavy focus on advocacy because we know it's not just enough to discover the cures for breast cancer, but we have to be able to deliver them, as well. We remain committed in ensuring that women over 40 have access to mammograms on an annual basis. As healthcare reform rolls out, and the states have to figure out how to implement it, it is the Komen family that says to their elected officials that it's important to us that the needs of every woman in this community are met. Here's what we're asking you to do: to increase funding to go into mammography and screening programs, to ensure women have access to care. That's the beautiful thing about social media. It presents an opportunity to rally and mobilize our base around issues timely and relevant in real time. It's a more efficient use of dollars, and in the ever-changing world of healthcare you have to be able to communicate with as many people as possible.

Did you have to increase your lobbying and consumer marketing efforts to explain what's happening?

It certainly has prioritized the messages coming out from a PR/communications perspective because it is a priority as states set their budgets for the year. Many states are facing shortfalls. These programs easily fall off, so we've made a commitment to work with our affiliates on the state level to ensure that the information around it gets the attention it deserves. I don't know that I'd say it's driving the buzz, but it is one of our key messages.

There was some news about Komen opposition to other charities using the pink ribbon and trademark “for the cure.” What has been your role, as CMO, in protecting the Komen trademarks?

Our priority has always been that our owners and supporters and people who are part of the Komen family understand where their dollars go and what they're being used for. We have never put a mom-and-pop charity out of business and we have never sued one. We fund 1,900 local organizations around the country. Of course, there's a conundrum that takes place. People certainly expect nonprofits to be efficient and effective with the resources they entrust them with and to do that you have to run like a business, but when you do run like a business there's this icky feeling because you're a nonprofit and people say I don't want you to be a business; I want you to be a nonprofit. We're not necessarily trying to put other people out of business. We just want to be clear.

When people see a program branded “for the cure,” they intuitively think it's Komen. But it's such a small part of what we do. The energy is around keeping awareness in the forefront. We're also now fighting apathy. Less than 50% of women with insurance are getting an annual mammogram. Busy women are not stopping to take care of themselves.

What are some of the challenges in reaching women today?

I told the team after last year that we needed to focus and refine our messaging because I felt the pressure of having a lot of white noise out in the universe and I wanted to make sure that when we talk to women that they hear us and understand and are able to act. A lot of our messaging crystallized this year around a few key messages: ensuring everyone has access to care and working with state legislatures to do that; ensuring that you get a mammogram if you're over 40 and you understand breast self awareness; and engaging a broader group in helping us to raise funds. As long as we have high unemployment rates and people are suffering and can't get or pay for the cure they need and medical bankruptcy is a real and ever-present danger when getting cancer treatment, we have to be able to tie in the funds we raise with the actual needs we're trying to meet.

What are you doing on a global scale?

We grant in 52 countries and partner with some NGOs doing great work to meet the global cancer crisis. We know that 70% of cancers will happen in developing global countries over the next decade, yet only 5% of resources go there. Our work globally is to help shore up the infrastructure of NGOs who are addressing that need and to provide financial and human resources to expand the reach of what they're doing in a country. 

You're providing these NGOs with marketing templates?

Yes, we have a great program called Course for the Cure that we execute in 12 to 14 countries where we take the NGOs through a series of classes and part of that is teaching them how to market and communicate messaging around breast cancer and how to do fundraising. They get training on advocacy and on community health and we make it culturally relevant for the communities. We partner with the World Health Organization which has come into several countries and said based on the resources you have, the economics of the country, here's what you should address first in trying to downstage the disease.

What else is on the agenda for the near future?

The one thing we didn't talk about that's really important to us right now is multicultural marketing. Three years ago, we launched a program targeting the African-American community, not only to educate, but to engage them as ambassadors to their own community. Next we'll be launching a Hispanic program that will happen this fall. We're really excited about that because it ties nicely into the work we're doing in Latin and South America. It'll go a long way in helping populations that are vulnerable to mortality rate actually survive and thrive. The program is still in the planning stages. We're looking for strong community partners similar to what we have in the African-American community, and identifying what the media partners will be.

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