It’s been several weeks since The National Enquirer broke the story about Paula Deen admitted to using racial slurs in her past and poor judgement when planning her brother’s wedding. Her brand has been decimated, with sponsors and retailers and publishers abandoning her right and left leaving her food empire to sink quicker than the Titanic. She has also faced a blackmail attempt and a pretty awful interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show and her sons did not help her cause either. The latest news coming from camp Deen is that she has fired her longtime agent. At this point, the hemorrhaging seems to have stopped (there aren’t many more companies left to abandon her). So what, if anything can Paula do to help her regain standing in the media and with her fans? Since most of the damage has been done, this is not about stopping the bleeding, this is about rehabilitation. Here are some of the things I would advise Ms. Deen to do, if I were hired by her.
- Take a media vacation. I would advise her to not make any media appearances for several weeks to a month. Let some of the headlines fade away. Let other news and entertainment stories bury her infractions. Because we live in a 24/7 news cycle, this shouldn’t take too long. Tomorrow, Kanye and Kim could poll-vault to the top along with more important stories like the Egypt crisis and Trayvon Martin trial; in a week, people may not even remember Paula Deen.
- Paula Deen is loved because she if folksy, appears to be very down-to-earth, and speaks to “regular” people. With that in mind, I would suggest to Ms. Deen to pen a series of Op-Ed articles to be published in local newspapers across the country dealing with racism and growing-up in the South. These have to be carefully written, with her own voice, but also convey to people who language she used years ago, was language she heard everyday as a little girl and young woman. It also has to show her growth as a woman and her realization that such language is not appropriate and demeaning. Having these articles published in local newspapers will give an appearance of talking directly to her target audience. It will also bypass, for the time being, large market and national news outlets. This can show her fans and target audiences a more personal side to Ms. Deen.
- After those articles are published, the national media will be clamoring to get the first interview with her. I would suggest skipping a live morning interview in favor of a “special” prime time event interview. This should be conducted with Ms. Deen at her house, with her family and friends and employees. Let the good, the bad and the ugly come out. As for who: my top choices would be Barbara Walters, Oprah Winfrey, Robin Roberts, or Soledad O’Brien. This should be an all-encompassing interview. It should tell the story of a white woman, growing up in Georgia during the height of the civil-rights movement. It should not make excuses for her language or behavior, but should show the nation a mindset and a transformation. The audience should see growth on the part of Ms. Deen. It is imperative that in the interview Ms. Deen does not come across as “poor me,” or “look what’s happened to me.” She must be contrite, apologetic, strong, and human. She must acknowledge her misdeeds without placing blame on her background. She must also appear transformed from this entire experience. People love to see a comeback. She must show herself to be rehabilitated, sensitive, and genuine.
- After the airing of this interview, Ms. Deen should go on the road and visit localities where her op-ed was published. She should sit down with local reporters for short interviews. She should do cooking demonstrations at local grocery stores. I would recommend a 15-20 city tour, over the course of a month. She should go to places outside of the south.
- Finally, Ms. Deen has to do give back. She should tape a public service announcement relating to the use of hateful words and bullying. She should make donations to various minority organizations and speak to youth organizations or high schools about hate speech and the impact it has on someone.
I believe, if these steps are followed, her public image will be rehabilitated and Ms. Deen will be able regain the standing she once had with her fans.