By now everyone in our industry has formed their opinions regarding Paula Deen’s rapid demise and her subsequent barrage of awkward apologies and wayward explanations. This entire situation is sad. There are no winners here. So we’re hesitant to jump in the media melee and add energy to this sadness, but as PR experts it’s our job to deconstruct this ugly mess.
These are emotional times for the Paula Deen empire, and emotional PR situations must be handled with logic, sincerity and intelligence. That means showing up and treating the public like adults. For Paula Deen the folksy, southern “aw shucks” shtick may sell Virginia ham, but it doesn’t sell the truth.
The public wants the truth from Paula Deen. The public does not want Paula Deen to tell us “I is what I is.” Despite the attempt at quaintness, those words are not authentic. We don’t believe them. Those are marketing words designed to perpetuate a caricature—one the public no longer believes is real. Those are not words spoken by an educated adult who wants to be taken seriously.
So Paula Deen has wisely decided to hire a PR professional, and not just any professional: Judy Smith, who has helped embattled public figures ranging from Monica Lewinsky to Michael Vick. Ms. Smith, who is African American and inspired the “fixer” character Kerry Washington in the ABC show Scandal, will have her work cut out for her. Paula Deen is a disaster on every level.
Not only is Paula Deen’s vocabulary offensive, but her grammar is deplorable.
“I is what I is.”
That’s just insulting.