Crisis PR: #PRFail Paula Deen’s PR Fiasco

paula deenPaula Deen, a beloved Southern cook known for her soul food ‘fixins,’ has now come under fire for her use of racial slurs – as Deen’s empire swiftly crumbles beneath her feet, the questions of the day are: “Could her empire have been saved?” and “Is a comeback possible?”

Read on to explore the multifaceted aspects of this case and learn where Paula went wrong.

Problem: Paula Deen, a celebrated chef with a sweet Southern drawl, has recently come under fire for her use of derogatory language. A former employee has slapped Deen with a civil lawsuit accusing the chef (and her brother) of using racial slurs, among other allegations.

When asked during her deposition whether or not she had ever used the language, Deen replied, “Yes, of course.”

Oops. That was not a drilled response.  “Of, course?”  Bad use of language and a blow to her image.

To make matters worse, Deen’s appearance on the Today Show was another hatchet job in Crisis Management PR. Instead of taking responsibility for her actions – which likely would have turned the tide in her favor and given her the opportunity to make the public see the situation from her perspective – Deen instead favored a “woe is me” approach with a tearful, convoluted “apology.” In Crisis PR, this looks guilty.

Deen also denied ever using racial slurs with the exception of when she was allegedly robbed at gunpoint – a direct contradiction to what she admitted to in her deposition. Remember, lies can be proven – which is why lying in PR is a horrendous move.

Not only did Deen’s apology miss the mark with many public relations experts, it also fell on deaf ears when it came to her endorsers. She was promptly dropped from the Food Network after 14 years with the concise statement: “Food Network will not renew Paula Deen’s contract when it expires at the end of this month.” Walmart, Smithfield Foods, Caesers Entertainment and others quickly followed suit and severed all ties with Deen.

On a sweeter note: Surprisingly, despite the huge industry backlash, Deen’s fans have come to her defense and urged the Food Networks and other endorsers to cut Deen a break. Twitter and its social media frenemy, Facebook, have seen an outpouring of tweets and comments in support of Dean. (2)

Moral of the story: Deen encompasses two distinct markets.

The huge gap between the reactions of Deen’s business market and her fans means Deen’s PR team (assuming she has one) is NOT assessing the needs of both groups – target markets have different needs and communications and failing to adhere to this put Paula Dean on the defense – a BAD place to be in Crisis Management.

But what Deen and her fans must realize, if her products are no longer on the shelf and her face no longer on the TV screen, there will be no “Paula Deen” to support anymore.

Solution:  Hire JoTo! Problem solved.

  1. Husar, Shirley. “Paula Deen: Just Bad Business for Food Network.” The Washington Times, 03 July 2013. Web. 03 July 2013.

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