What a small mistake can cost a Southern Household Name

Paula Deen has been a household name for many years. She is a renowned celebrity chef, cooking show host, resteraunteur, author actress and Emmy award winning television personality. As a result of past comments allegedly made in her past, Paula Deen’s character and overall brand has been and continues to unravel before mainstream and social media.

It all started with a civil lawsuit was filed,  March 6, 2012 against Paula Deen and her brother for the using the N-word and discriminatory words in front of  their employees. The law suit was filed by a former employee, Lisa Jackson.

Once testimony from the disposition, and documents released into the news media of Paula Deen admitting to using the N-word, the Deen brand has been under attack.  Deen also confessed to requesting that black employees dress up as slaves for an antebellum-themed wedding, and claimed that she got the idea from a restaurant where the waiters were all “middle-agedblack men, and they had on beautiful black jackets with a black bow tie…I would say they were slaves.”

June 20, 2013 Deen only digs herself in a deeper hole when she tries to rationalize the use of the -word on a television interview. Deen had “recounted having used a racial epithet in the past, speaking largely about a time in American history which was quite different than today.” She was “born 60 years ago when America’s South had schools that were segregated, different bathrooms, different restaurants and Americans rode in different parts of the bus. This is not today. To be clear Ms. Deen does not find acceptable the use of this term under any circumstance by anyone nor condone any form of racism or discrimination.”

Although Deen attempted to make a public apology on the Today Show, allegations continued to overshadow her apology and more criticisms arrived around the authenticity of the apology.

Stories and allegations  have continued to circulate in the news media from, former employees claiming Deen stole recipes and paid cooks minimum wage, racial slurs against President Obama, dressing employees like Aunt Jemima.

All these allegations and Deen’s response in the media has resulted in destroying her image/brand, but more importantly her financial empire. One of the major consequence of her behaviour was the Food Network who launched Deen career into stardom announced they were not renewing her contract after 11 years on air. The below infographic briefly highlights, which of Deen partners in business have dropped her, kept her and are still on the fence after the N-word controversy.

Three ways I would have managed the social media web team during the Deen crisis
  1. First of all, the entire Deen family would have initially not been allowed to respond via television or social media without a media training and crisis response strategy being put in place. This would be done to ensure Deen and her family use the appropriate tone and body language, language in the media.
  2. Deen would make a public appearance on a television show where she would first acknowledge and explain why she was wrong for using that type of language and behaviour. Thereafter apologize on news and social media.
  3. Lastly, Deen would work on rebuilding her image and relationship with the audience she initially discriminated against.  For example, she could donate profit from one of her brands to a charity/cause that deals with African American population or create culinary scholarships/contents for underprivileged youth minorities seeking a career in culinary.


  1. anibek

    I think you made great points in your crisis management approaches. Reputational crisis can be a result of so many reasons. In the public eye, if the necessary takes the necessary steps to make their wrongs a right, the public can be more forgiving and the image of the organization can be preserved. However, in cases such as this when the root of the issue is degrading people – it is very difficult to justfy their poor attutedes, judgements and ancient way of thinking.

    Personally, I can’t believe people like this still exist. That said, I completely agree with you that the only way Deen can save face is to publicly acknowledge her mistake, apologize and show support for programs geared towards African American community.

    • dannainclass

      In this case, it may also be useful for third parties, who know Deen, to speak publicly in her defence – such as respected community leaders or other celebrities who believe that while Deen suffered from a serious lack in judgement, she isn’t truly racist.

  2. alisonsilveira

    You have great ideas for managing this social media crisis. It is evident that Deen needed a crisis communications expert to help her understand the situation from a different perspective and respond to effectively. Deen appears to be very disingenuous and I very much doubt the veracity and sincerity of her apology. I question her motive for her apologizing. Is she apologizing because she felt pressured to do so or because she is truly sorry? It is also important for her to go above and beyond apologizing to show that she can atone for her past indiscretions. Doing outreach would be beneficial not only for her image, but more importantly, for herself. Your idea of Deen creating culinary scholarships for underprivileged youth minorities who want to pursue studies in culinary arts is a great start!

  3. ddpublicrelations

    This was a crisis I followed and found Deen really lacked saying the words “Im sorry” when on the Today Show but then eventually released her YouTube video where she apologizes and confirms “…shes worked hard in her life… bla bla bla”. Which I found to still be a back-handed im sorry… no one is disputing your hard work ethic Deen.

    If I were interviewing Deen the question to clarify is 1) did you say you wanted an antebellum-themed wedding where middle aged black men would be serving the guest. If so, explain your rational for the ‘theme’ 2) Based on the details released to the media, can YOU understand why there is a outrage? 3) What do you want your sponsors to know (which I believe was a question asked on the Today Show)

    Her PR crisis team should be cultivating her 3 key messages around these points because this is what the audience wants answers too. Most of what she was saying I found to be filler and empty words! A simple “im sorry for ever mentioning or joking about wanting that ridiculous, insensitive ‘themed’ wedding ideas. It was a horrible laps in my judgment and I am deeply sorry.” No one should need two attempts to say ‘I’m Sorry’

  4. nadia.84

    Great post, I forgot about the Deen crisis until you reminded me. I agree with all of your crisis resolutions especially the first one, having the family members not get involved with the media is key. In this case it clearly hurt Deen, as it would if anyone was in the same situation. Deen will probably be able to get out of this crisis, look at Martha Stewart, she’s still popular!

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