Monthly Archives: July 2013

Paula Deen Scandal: Can PR Save This Strike Out Queen?

763px-Paula_Deen_-_Washington_NationalsWhen disaster strikes the outcome is often served up cold. Celebrity chef, Paula Deen is experiencing a deep chill from her supporters amid the release of a video where she admits using the N-word about 20 years ago. Adding salt to the wound: the video draws attention to a lawsuit in which Deen’s former employee accuses her of racial and sexual harassment.

Twelve organizations and counting have dropped Deen, as well as her books and products from their repertoire, including Walmart and Target stores.

How is she responding to the scorching of her entire brand? Well she’s cried on the Today morning show and stated, she is not a racist and that she used ‘that hateful word’ many years ago.

Now, we’ve all made mistakes in the past, some bigger than others – yet whether it is a personal or a business mistake, there are PR crisis management techniques that may help Deen make a comeback. Geez, Rob Ford is still in office with his approval rating increasing – so the public’s memory can be short.

Take positive action. The well-known statement, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’ brings to mind that words can only take you so far. Deen has to show the public with her actions how truly sorry she is about her racial slur.

She can create positive solutions by choosing to partner with an equal rights advocacy group thereby spreading the word that racism is wrong. To showcase how her restaurants are improving internally – she can initiate a program that ensures worker equality.

All the good Deen would be accomplishing, would require the media to take note. Positive media coverage of Deen’s social good activity would allow her to regain public acceptance. After all, who can knock a person down for doing the right thing?

Provide genuine statements. The public and most certainly the media can identify a canned statement when they see one. It is best to be honest and provided statements that showcase a human side to the company or person – with the admission of wrong doing.

Deen showed her human side while apologizing for her hurtful choice of words. Yet she can take her apology a step further. To prove how sorry she really is, Deen could discuss how passionate she is in breaking down equality barriers and what measures her restaurants are taking to ensure employees are working in racism-free establishments.

Prepare for the future. The Internet and social media through real-time posting platforms, such as Twitter have news happening 24/7, and so it is best for companies to respond to their crisis situations in a timely manner – preferably before the media takes full swing at it. The easiest way to respond quickly and with the proper detail is with a crisis plan already in place.

Deen may have not seen this particular crisis coming but she should have had PR professionals develop a response plan in the event of any scandal that would prompt a possible public backlash. With Martha Stewart in the rearview mirror, there is no excuse for Deen not having a plan in place to manage a controversy before it has a chance to take shape.


#SocialMediaMonth Kicks Off!

BK253 Social Med Month Cover Photo

Join Brickworks Communications as we celebrate #SocialMediaMonth: the time of year when we can reflect on everything social media has given us. Here’s what to look for…

A Social Media Ending

A series of digital comics that take famous movies and infuse Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn into the storylines: illustrating just how much social media changes EVERYTHING! New editions released every Wednesday throughout July!

Cutting Room Floor

An original Brickworks short that didn’t quite make the ‘cut’.


Good, bad, and ugly tales of social media user fails.

The viral nightmare: Taco Bell employee goes loco

iStock_000007705405MediumWhen was the last time you really thought about who’s touching your food before you eat it? If you are like most people, you try not to think about it. Yet recently, the limitless reach of social media let us know exactly what can happen behind the front counter of a fast food restaurant…and it’s not pretty.

A couple of weeks ago, a photo appeared on the Taco Bell Facebook page that showcased a teenage employee in a California Taco Bell licking a stack of tacos. The photo quickly went viral.

What’s interesting? Not many of the high-profile newspapers picked up the story but the public sure did, and with the power of social media, millions we’re left feeling disgusted by the photo and with Taco Bell.

Taco Bell tried to sidestep the issue by saying the taco shells were used for training purposes for the new Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos and that the tacos were in the process of being thrown out. But the public didn’t buy it, and kept speaking out online. And who can blame them?

Think about it. If you are a kid happily running through the school yard and you happen to be stopped and punched in the face by your friend – do you want to hear that friend’s excuses? Or sugar coated reasoning? I’d imagine that you’d rather want to hear how it is never going to happen again.

What Taco Bell’s initial response strategy failed to mention, was how they are going to avoid employees tampering with food in the future. After all, history repeats itself.

In this crisis, some customers were left wondering whether to eat at the fast food chain again. Others went, as far as to say they’ll never eat there. Wasn’t this the fallout that Taco Bell needed to anticipate? They needed to address the problem head-on and then communicate how they’ve fixed it, not talk about the incident as a “training exercise”.

While it is difficult for any organization to address these “one-off” incidents, Taco Bell could have addressed the situation by taking steps to improve their internal procedures and guidelines, thereby strengthening food handling standards and communicating those efforts clearly. Some would also suggest that it is often unhappy employees that make a negative impact on the organization. Perhaps Taco Bell could delve deeper and take a look at how employee incentives programs and opportunities for advancement can improve employee behavior.

The essential lesson here is PR 101. In the age of social media, don’t think problems like this will go away easily. Address the issue publicly and be clear about solutions. That will go a long way to building trust with your employees and with the public.