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Paula Deen: Out of the frying pan, into the fire

Many of us have been following the recent PR fiasco concerning celebrity chef, Paula Deen, which has become so controversial that it has begun to wreak havoc on her butter-lovin’ empire.

If you’re largely unfamiliar, the short of it includes: A discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee, a deposition that prompted Deen’s public admittance to using racial slurs, a string of tearful apologies, an ill-timed tweet that ignited a social media firestorm and the demise of a culinary queen.

While we’re not here to judge, throw stones or add fuel to the (enormous) fire, we do believe that Deen’s camp could have acted more tactfully in handling this very unfortunate situation.

In Deen’s defense, when given the opportunity to lie (or otherwise, sugarcoat) at her deposition, she opted to tell the truth-which is honorable. Afterwards, however, Deen failed to show up for a scheduled interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer- later citing exhaustion- that should have launched her campaign for retribution. Instead, Deen rescheduled and elected to post a series of drawn out video apologies that made her a prime target for parodies, cruel jokes and harsh comments.

In less than an hour after the videos were posted, Deen’s bread and butter, “Paula’s Home Cooking,” was cancelled by the Food Network-the station that launched Deen to super-stardom. To add insult to injury, Smithfield Foods and casino operator, Caesar’s Entertainment, also announced that they would sever ties with the chef.

Not long after Deen finally went on air with Matt Lauer, her team of public relations professionals decided to post an inappropriate, ill-timed tweet that read:

 paula deen tweet

 Twitter began buzzing, and Deen was met, once again, with a cynical storm.

Although Deen was facing an uphill battle as soon as she admitted to using racial epithets, her crisis-management faux pas have made it more difficult for her to reconcile. Agreeing to appear live on a major television network and then canceling at the eleventh hour was a huge mistake that led viewers to believe Deen was disoriented, intimidated and unprepared to face the music.

While social media has become an efficient tool in large-scale crisis management, mass communication must always be professional, transparent and succinct. Deen’s multiple messages, poor quality and overwhelming emotion essentially took away from her credibility and led viewers to believe that her apologies truly stemmed from a need to grasp at remaining business relationships and salvage what was left of her multi-million dollar fortune.

Finally, the tweet- the cherry on top of a disastrous Sundae.  Rather than attempting to make light of a sticky situation with an already irritated audience, Deen would have been better off flying under the radar altogether- avoiding all media outlets, including Twitter, until her PR team had an opportunity to develop a clear and consistent message that could have been utilized across the board until a more appropriate time to return to light hearted food-oriented tweets. By doing this, Deen would have spared herself embarrassment and could have maintained her dignity and professionalism.

We imagine, though, that Deen has recognized these missteps, as she has hired new counsel, Grace Speights, an attorney specializing in defending clients in employment discrimination cases.  Who’s to say what lies ahead for Paula Deen and her remaining business ventures- the aftermath has not yet come out in the wash, but we’re hoping to see more effective public relations in months to come.