Three Tips for Crisis Communications: Calling Paula Deen!

Screen Shot 2013-06-27 at 9.07.30 AMWhen The Food Network’s Southern cooking guru Paula Deen fell on her own sword during The Today Show I was actually on a family vacation at the beach. (Although I was basking in the sunshine and not near a TV  I began getting tweets saying the rotund Savannah, Georgia chef needed MarketingMel’s Crisis Communications help!)  So I popped up The Today Show interview on my laptop, watched with horror, and came up with the following hints for any client in crisis. Here’s what I would have urged Paula to do if she had been my client:

1- Have three (3) talking points and stick with them: People remember in threes. It’s an old writing and public speaking trick and it works. Example: I’m here to apologize, I’m here to make things right and I’m here to move forward. Then elaborate briefly on these.

2- Do NOT let the interviewer get you off track: Wow! Matt Lauer came out with guns ablaze but Paula should have been ready. After all she blew him off the week prior (see Bonus Tip.) However, you Paula, already have your three talking points prepared ahead and you will stick with them. Remember, the main thing’s the main thing! Stick with your key messages.

3- Show empathy: This is huge in any crisis. Someone or something is obviously hurt. Therefore show empathy to the one who has been “done wrong.” Example: “Years ago I made a mistake. Since that time I have ______ (fill in the blank to show how you have righted the wrong and you are now moving forward.) We’ve recently seen some politicians do this but guess what? At least two of them are back and running in New York City elections. If done right, the American people are pretty willing to accept a sincere apology. Last time I checked we all make mistakes.

Bonus Tip for Paula: Don’t blow off The Today Show the first time! You are a celebrity so your moves will be watched closely. Don’t arouse curiosity.

If you need help with your company’s crisis communications plan please contact me! I have years of experience, including my start in public relations in the nuclear industry, and would be glad to help you. 


  • bill Painter says:

    Thanks for the tips. It’s hard to believe that people still try to hide instead of “ripping the bandaid off in one good pull” and getting out in front of a PR disaster. If Paula is sincere, she will come back. Witness Martha Stewart.

    • maryellen says:

      Good analogy Bill! Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. I too wonder if Paula will return as Martha did but she sure could have used better advice along the way.

  • Great tips, Mel! Too bad Paula didn’t hire you to help her manage this mess. Her interview was a bit of a train wreck. It was definitely cringe-worthy. I hope she’ll hire a PR expert in the future.

    • maryellen says:

      Tiffany, it is my understanding she has a P.R. firm (cringe!) You would not have known it by that interview however!

  • Sue Painter says:

    Paula got reamed in the press, and you’re right – she could have handled it much better. You can always prepare to be bullied by press, you’ve got to be ready and steady.

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