Paula Deen recently hired a professional crisis manager to help repair her reputation. The fact of the matter is that before Deen’s story even hit the news, she should have proactively developed an assertive, heartfelt crisis communications strategy which forthrightly dealt with the racial slur she apparently espoused decades ago.
Deen has become one of the most famous women in the cooking industry with a wide range of fans that fell in love with her southern charm and food. But after her admission to using a racial slur (almost 30 years ago according to Deen) hit the court of law (deposition) then the court of public opinion, even the most loyal fans are questioning her character and ethics.
Fans aren’t the only ones abandoning Deen. The Food Network announced they will not be renewing Deen’s contract and corporate sponsors (Target, Wal-Mart, Smithfield Foods, etc.) are cutting ties. Based on Deen’s reputational crisis, some stakeholders believe continuing a working relationship with her would not be good for their own brands and violate their ethics and beliefs. This week, Deen also severed her relationship with her long-time agent who helped get her the Food Network gig. Candidly, the Deen empire is in shambles and her financial future in jeopardy.
None of us are in a position to truly judge the heart of another; however, the actions of high-profile business leaders are always fair game in the court of public opinion. Regardless of Deen’s true intent, ability to apologize or attempt to lend perspective, many have already voted with their feet – they’ve run for the hills and have distanced themselves as far away as they can from Deen’s slur.
Were these the right and most appropriate corporate decisions? Did Deen handle herself well in the court of public opinion since the issue became public? Should a remark 30 years ago define one’s character? Many will debate these questions over time, but one thing is clear…regardless of opinion and conjecture, the reality is Deen’s slur has cost her lots of time, unimaginable amounts of money, countless customers and, quite possibly, her storied career.
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