As the stories continue to heat up about Paula Deen’s release from the Food Network and many other partners, Baker Creative wanted to look at this scenario from a PR point of view.
If you don’t know already, Paula Deen, one of the highest paying southern stars, has been in the media for admitting she has used the N-word once in her life. Deen tells the story that she did use this word back in 1986 when a black man held her at gunpoint. This controversy was brought up in a discrimination lawsuit from a former restaurant manager that said Deen and her brother consistently used innuendos and racial slurs.
It was then that Deen admitted to using the racial slang years ago, but has not used it since. Paula posted a series of apologetic videos on YouTube after not showing for her first interview on the Today show. Last week she was fired from her contract by the Food Network followed by Smithfield Foods and Caesars Entertainment Corporation, both companies that worked closely with her food empire. Still deciding whether of not to terminate contracts is QVC, Sears and Target, which promotes her brand in stores.
In a PR controversy like this, you can’t help but see both sides. One side is that these companies have to save face and have their own brand to think about. Keeping Paula Deen as a partner could deeply hurt their companies by seeming to support a racist, white, southern woman. On the other hand, Paula Deen has apologized and admitted to using the N-word years ago but never again. Deen did interview with the Today show stating that, “I believe that … every one of God’s creatures was created equal. I believe that everyone should be treated equal, that’s the way I was raised and that’s the way I live my life”
As far as friends and other companies standing by Paula Deen, that is their brand’s decision. Paula Deen will have to recover from this by taking certain steps.
- Apologizing. Deen has already gone public via YouTube and admitted to her mistake on the Today show. Many celebrities do not even take this vital step, for example Mel Gibson who just shrugged his indiscretions off with “if I offended anyone, I didn’t mean it.”
- Explanation. Some people may view this as unnecessary, but since she is in the public eye and does represent other brands, Paula needs to explain her story, which she did. Being put under high-pressure stress, like being held at gunpoint can cause erratic behavior, like using a racial slur.
- Show her true beliefs. If Paula Deen does truly believe that everyone is equal, as we quoted her above, this is her time to show it. We are not talking about writing a check to an African American association, but demonstrating her belief that everyone is equal by doing some sort of volunteer work or throwing an event to benefit a non-profit organization.
In the end, Paula Deen’s future actions will determine if her brand will rebuild again.