Paula Deen Is Cooked

Celebrity chef Paula Deen is cooked.  And there’s only one person to blame.

Since her admission of using racial slurs during a recent legal disposition, Deen has gone from being toast of the town to being toast.

Her sponsors and business partners can’t run away from her fast enough.  This week alone Wal-Mart, Ceasars Entertainment Group, and Smithfield Foods – and, of course the Food Network — all have announced the termination of their relationship with the cookbook author best known for infusing her dishes with tasty but unhealthy amounts of fat, salt, and sugar.  Yum.  I’m sure QVC, Sears and Target will be making similar announcements shortly.

Deen, as countless others in the entertainment, sports and business world have done before her, made matters even worse (if that’s possible) by failing to apologize and mean it.  Instead of humbly apologizing, instead of being genuine in admitting her error, instead of asking for forgiveness and assuming complete responsibility, Ms. Deen attempted to play the victim.  Particularly damaging was her rant about young African Americans’ use of the N-word and her implication that if it’s ok for them, it should be ok for her.

So what’s next for Ms. Deen?  Her appearance this week on TODAY certainly isn’t going to help her cause.  For example, when Matt Lauer asked Deen if she agreed with the Food Network’s decision to fire her, she said:  “Would I have fired me? Knowing me? No,” she said.   With every statement, Deen digs a deeper and deeper hole.

We’d like to think that people in the public eye, whether they be entertainers or CEOs or politicians, have an instinct for the right things to say in times of crisis and to say them with conviction.  But, alas, this is not always the case. The poster boy for this, in my opinion, is Tony Hayward, who was CEO of BP during the disastrous 2010 Gulf oil spill.  It was on May 10, 2010, when after thousands of gallons of oil had spilled from a BP-operated drilling rig into the Gulf of Mexico, Hayward lamented: “I’d like my life back.” 

For organizations and individuals, apologizing during a time of crisis is rather easy, actually.  First and foremost, the offender has to take responsibility for their actions, to be genuine and to speak from the heart …and to never lose sight of the true victims.  If the offender is incapable of this, then the best bet is to simply shut up.

Art of the Apology: just a few steps

  • Apologize to victims and families first – privately and publicly.
  • Issue a blanket apology.
  • (if an organization) Have the CEO issue the apology and empower employees to do the same.
  • Keep the channels of communication open – keep restating the apology at every opportunity.
  • Keep the public posted on the progress to solve the problem and/or to address the issue.
  • Restate the company or individual’s intent to take responsibility; fix the problem and do what is right.

Am I missing anything?