Paula Deen needs to engage the black community to recover, according to a public relations specialist. The celebrity chef can get back what she has lost as long as she cleans up her image by admitting she’s used racial slurs in the past.
Sears and J.C. Penney were the latest retailers to cut ties with the Georgia cook celebrity. Crisis management professionals say it’s not too late to turn around this sinking ship.
She’s been losing valuable sales since racial-slur controversy began, and it sent the Food Network and several large corporations, including Target, Sears and Wal-Mart, fleeing from Deen.
Despite the ongoing uproar, crisis management professionals say it’s not too late to turn around this sinking ship. After all, Martha Stewart was able to rebound after spending time behind bars.
But Deen’s path to recovery is a bit more complex.
Part of the problem, experts say, is that racial missteps are some of the hardest to smooth over. Another problem is the errors Deen has made so far in handling the controversy that has stemmed from her admission that she used the N-word.
“She made a fundamental mistake in the beginning by not getting in front of the story,” said Jim Joseph, the North American president of Cohn & Wolfe, a communications firm.
In general, he advises clients to be completely transparent about mistakes and take responsibility for them quickly. What gets people in trouble, Joseph said is “never the crime — always the coverup.” In order to successfully rebound, Deen needs to get back out in the public eye with new products and a new show.
In essence, she needs to go back to being Paula Deen.
“If she goes into seclusion, she’ll really quickly be forgotten,” he said. “And the longer she does that, the harder it is to come back.”
This strategy helped fellow domestic guru Stewart rebound with help from her fans after an insider-trading conviction sent her behind bars and later house arrest.
“I think Martha Stewart is a good example of that,” Joseph said. “When she got out, she went right back to being Martha Stewart. Even though she was under house arrest, she was still recording shows.”
It also helped Tiger Woods after a fallout from extramarital affairs caused many sponsors to distance themselves from the golf superstar.
“I think for him, he focused on his core skill set — he focused on golf and on winning again,” Joseph said. “Because he was focused on it, I think that caused other people to focus on golf instead of him.”
Despite describing Deen’s situation as a “house of cards,” Mike Paul, president of MGP & Associates PR, said Deen could still rebound.