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Paula Deen Public Relations Scandal milestone 1

Updated on August 6, 2015

I have decided to create my media press kit on the public relations scenario surrounding Paula Deen. In May of 2012 Lisa Jackson filed a lawsuit against Paula Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers. Lisa Jackson’s lawsuit alleged that Paula Deen had been guilty of using the “n-word,” sexual harassment, and infliction of emotional distress on Lisa Jackson while she worked as a general manager at Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House in Savannah, Georgia, from 2005 to 2010 (Clabough, 2013). The lawsuit and the release deposition led to Paula Deen needing to implement a public relations plan, however Paula Deen did not hire a crisis management counselor until after most of the damage to her image and reputation had been done.

The fact that Paula Deen dealt with most of this public relations situation on her own meant that there was no clear established public relations plan. The message statement that was released to the public was unclear and sent mixed signals. The first form of communication she offered to the public came in the form of a heavily edited video, with numerous breaks, which she posted on YouTube saying:

I want to apologize to everybody for the wrong that I’ve done. I want to learn and grow from this. Inappropriate, hurtful language is totally, totally unacceptable. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, but I beg you, my children, my team, my fans, my partners, I beg for your forgiveness. Please forgive me for the mistakes that I’ve made (Nguyen, 2013).

Paula Deen then replaced the YouTube video with a longer unedited version of it where she apologized to Matt Lauer for missing his Today Show because she was physically unwell. In this video Paula Deen goes on to apologize to those that she hurt and to explain that she does not care about color, skin, religion, or sexual preference, but only about what is in each person’s heart (Nguyen, 2013). She ends the video by stating that she was wrong and that she hopes for forgiveness from everyone (Nguyen, 2013). Paula Deen then sent out a clearer message when she made an appearance on the Today Show with Matt Lauer. On the show Paula Deen explained her past uses of the “n-word”, her belief that everyone should be treated equally, and that she is who she is. The YouTube videos and her appearance on the Today Show were the only form of mission statement released by Paula Dean to the public outside of her lawyer, Bill Franklin, stating that "contrary to media reports, Ms. Deen does not condone or find the use of racial epithets acceptable” (Duke, 2013).

Paula Deen’s YouTube videos and her Today Show interview were both targeted at men and women from the age of 18 to 49 as these were the people who were the most affected by the situation (Hagey, 2013). The key audience message that the videos and statement sent to the public was that Paula Deen was apologetic over her use of the “n-word”, that she does not condone the use of the “n-word”, and that she hopes the public and her fans can forgive her for her mistake. None of the key messages were tailored in any way to fit different key audiences; instead the message was meant for anyone and everyone affected by Paula Deen’s use of the “n-word”. The key audience messages were only barely effective; while some of her audience believed her to be sincere in her apology many more believed that she was not sincere after witnessing the obviously edited first version of her apology video.

Public opinion became divided on whether or not Paula Dean was actually apologetic or if she was merely acting. Lily Golightly, owner and publicist with New York-based Golightly Media, stated that “she appeared very genuine, her YouTube videos were kind of strange, and this interview should have cleared things up" (Dawn, 2013). David E. Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, called her appearance a "non-apology" of Nixonian proportions” (Dawn, 2013). Public relations experts and the general public all took to social media, some to defend Paula Deen as simply a person who had made a mistake and was sorry for it, while others believed that Paula Deen was a diehard racist who was putting on an act for the public to attempt to rescue her business.

The end result of Paula’s lack of a public relations consultant for most of the situation was her deciding to hire crisis management counselor, Judy Smith. Paula Deen’s decision to hire a crisis management counselor is an indication of her public relations plan’s failure. Paula Deen’s plan did reassure some of her loyal fans as well as people who believed that she should not be hated for what they perceived as a mistake that she was not a racist. Her plan failed to bring most of her targeted audience of adults aged 18 to 49 years old to her side. Many people felt that she was not taking responsibility for her own actions and that she was only putting on an act of an apologetic nature due to Food Network and many of her financial backers leaving her. In total Paula Deen’s public relations plan failed to keep most of her financial backers and fans from parting ways with her.

References

Clabough, R. (2013, June 25). Food Network Fires Paula Deen Over Racism Scandal. Retrieved July 24, 2015, from http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/politics/item/15809-food-network-fires-paula-deen-over-racism-scandal

Dawn, R. (2013, June 26). Paula Deen's 'bizarre' apology 'failed,' experts say -- but fans are divided. Retrieved July 26, 2015, from http://www.today.com/popculture/paula-deens-bizarre-apology-failed-experts-say-fans-are-divided-6C10452611

Duke, A. (2013, July 3). Celeb chef Paula Deen admits using 'N word' - CNN.com. Retrieved July 25, 2015, from http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/19/showbiz/paula-deen-racial-slur/

Hagey, K. (2013, June 25). Paula Deen's Other Problem: Stale Ratings. Retrieved July 25, 2015, from http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887323998604578567832751771860

Nguyen, T. (2013, June 21). Paula Deen’s Statement On Racism Scandal. Retrieved July 25,
2015, from http://www.thebraiser.com/paula-deen-to-address-racism-racket-in-video-
statement/

Seitel, F. (2013). The History and Growth of Public Relations. In The Practice of Public
Relations (12th ed.). Harlow: Prentice Hall.

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