Howard Bragman, longtime crisis publicist, weighed in. Having worked with Monica Lewinsky, Naomi Campbell and Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater, he’s assessed various situations in the spotlight, advised clients and tried to salvage bad situations.
He wrote a post on LinkedIn and mentioned when he first heard about Paula Deen’s deposition, he predicted her empire would come crashing down. He indicated, “Few things are more abhorrent to us than racism, or even perceived racism. Hers was not one word used in a heated moment; it was a shockingly insensitive acknowledgment of her innermost thinking and beliefs.”
So, what can we learn from this situation? As per the piece, Bragman pointed out her brand isn’t dead and she’ll salvage some relationships and mobilize steadfast fans, he guessed the brand will transition from Paula Deen to the Deen Family.
He added, “But to be clear, she will never come back whole. She will never make as much money as she did. And this moment will be with her until the day she dies.”
As for details, as soon as she was sued decisions should have been made on what would have been best for the business. Yes, that’s right — should have, would have, could have.
The vice chairman of Reputation.com and chairman and founder of Fifteen Minutes Public Relations referred to it as “litigation-support” PR. He explained in the piece: “I always explain to my clients that they have to deal with the court of law and the court of public opinion. You can win in one and lose in the other. In Deen’s case she may indeed prevail in the court of law, but she has already lost, big-time, in the court of public opinion.”
When it comes to the lawsuit itself, Bragman indicated it’s technically a business decision. Factors come into play such as time and investment in lawyers and the cost to settle.
In addition to how the situation was handled by Deen and her lawyers, let’s not forget about appearing on Today. Then again, let’s not since it didn’t happen on Friday and is now scheduled for tomorrow morning. That’s because she was absent last weekk. Considering court dates have a long shelf life, Bragman indicated she could have given herself time to prepare for the interview with Matt Lauer.
“There’s nothing wrong with doing a big interview with a major media outlet. But what she did do wrong was try to rush. This case, by virtue of a court date, had a long shelf life. Ms. Deen had a longer time to prepare for an interview and needed to know that. A few days, some intense preparation and coordination between her legal and PR teams would have been the best road.”
Bailing on the interview at the last minute, it left the morning program with a segment to fill and she continued to generate negative headlines, at this point in addition to the YouTube apologies. From a strategy perspective, “you want the story to go away,” the series of apologies added fuel to the fire.
Bragman wrote, “Saturday morning it was leaked that the reason The Food Network let her go was because of her handling of the situation. There are two parts to every situation: what happens and how you handle it. Clearly they had no confidence that Paula and her team could resurrect their image and they had no intention of going down with the ship.”