Can Paula Deen Make A Comeback?
Image expert says it's possible, but response must be better than last week
Over the last five days, celebrity Southern cook Paula Deen has lost her contract with Food Network and at least one major endorsement deal after her admission to using questionable language in the past. An image expert in Indy says whether she comes back from this depends upon how she handles the situation from now on.
Listen to Ray Steele's report:
Ms. Deen made the admission while giving a deposition last month in a discrimination lawsuit filed by a former manager of Uncle Bubba's Oyster House, a restaurant in Savannah, Georgia operated by her brother, Earl "Bubba" Hiers, and which is part of Paula Deen Enterprises. When asked by the attorney for ex-manager Lisa Jackson, Deen said she had used the 'N-word' some in the past, though she denied using it when describing how she would like to use black waiters at the reception for Hiers's wedding in 2007, as was alleged in the lawsuit. Jackson, in her deposition, testified that she had never heard Deen use the 'N-word', which appears to contradict one of the arguments in her lawsuit.
After the National Enquirer published Deen's testimony last week and other media outlets picked up the story, Food Network announced that her contract would not be renewed at the end of the month. On Monday, Smithfield Foods, maker of pork products endorsed by Deen, announced that it was canceling its deal with her. Ironically, it was Deen's association with Smithfield that last brought protestors to her flagship Savannah restaurant The Lady & Sons in December 2007 over Smithfield's alleged treatment of employees and animals at its processing plants. Smithfield recently agreed to be bought by a Chinese company - the sale awaits federal regulatory approval.
Deen was scheduled to appear on NBC's Today show last Friday, the day after her testimony was made public, but canceled at the last minute. Instead, she released two videotaped apologies - one heavily edited, and the second done in one take without the presence of a production crew. Starla West, founder and president of image consulting firm Starla West International in Indianapolis, says even if Deen was sincere with her apology, her cancellation of the Today appearance and what appeared to be the clumsy issuance of back-to-back apologies could easily lead one to question them.
Deen is now scheduled to appear on Today this week, and West says she can help herself simply by being herself. "If she's going to go on TV, she needs to do so with a plan," said West. "Unfortunately, in her off-the-cuff videos that she did, there appeared to be little coaching behind the scenes." Despite what appear to be dire circumstances, West says our society is generally forgiving if Deen is sincerely sorry for her past remarks. "If that is the message she can get out there, most of us are going to understand that, allow her to move on and allow her to re-brand herself."
Before the controversy, Deen had restaurants in casinos across the U.S., a plethora of best-selling cookbooks (with another due out later this year), and endorsement deals on everything from butter to furniture. West says the entire empire is unlikely to withstand the souring of some, though not all, public opinion, but says this does not have to be the death of the Paula Deen brand. "She probably needs to take a good hard look at what that brand is going to look like going forward. It's possible, but it's going to take some time to figure out what the community and the rest of the world will accept," West said.