Paula Deen – PR Dream or Nightmare?

Paula Deen holds court
Paula Deen holds court (Photo credit: Bristol Motor Speedway & Dragway)

Aside from Kanye West and Kim Kardashian naming their daughter – North West – all the gossip this week is centering around Paula Deen‘s tumbling career. Lots of opinions from PR professionals on both sides of the coin following Deen’s Today show interview.

PR Professionals LOVE to analyze crises – we love to scrutinize how celebrities handle themselves and pick apart their PR strategies.

So what exactly do we PR professionals look for to determine if the PR Crises Strategy was a success or failure?

1) How soon did they say I am sorry? (Plus 10 points)
We all remember the Tiger Woods saga that went on for what seemed like an eternity  – had Tiger just come right out and apologized for repeatedly cheating on his wife, he would have saved precious news cycles from continuing to run his pathetic story. In the case of Paula Deen – she gets 10 points in my book, for immediately coming out with her YouTube video and apologizing – off to a good start.

2) Accept Blame and Push Toward Redemption (minus 10 points)
So the next step is to accept the blame, ensure that people have not one single ounce of doubt of how sorry you are for what you did and immediately control the story by focusing on the future. Any good PR strategy shifts from the “I’m sorry” to “I am doing x,y,z to reform” asap!  This is where Deen misses the boat. Instead of shifting on the future she gives pointed examples of additional moments in the past when she “may” have used racial slurs AND then tries to shift the blame to others by stating the following and basically committing PR suicide:

“I is what I is and I’m not changing,” she said.

“There’s someone evil out there that saw what I worked for and wanted it.”

3) Media Preparation & Positive Spin (Minus 10 points)
The key is to prepare the client to hammer home their redemption message as confidently as possible.  Answer every question with a positive spin toward the future – you have apologized and now you need to move on. People make mistakes and they learn from them – this abosultely has to ring loud and clear! Here is where Paula Deen’s PR Strategy missed the boat – as the Today show interview continued on to crash and burn status she continued to play the victim, shift blame and keep a Negative Nancy attitude. An uncomfortable Lauer tried to end the interview, but Deen repeated that anyone who hasn’t sinned should attack her.

Now of course right after the interview, Walmart ended its sponsorship relationship with her, announcing that it will not place “any new orders beyond what’s already committed.” In addition, Caesars Entertainment said it had been “mutually decided” with Deen to remove her name from its restaurants in Joliet, Ill.; Tunica, Miss.; Cherokee, N.C.; and Elizabeth, Ind., the AP reports.

The clock is ticking on her redemption strategy, but my guess is the lights in Paula Deen’s kitchen will stay dark for some time while the dust settles.


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