What Paula Deen Could Learn from Reese Witherspoon
Maybe Paula Deen’s sit down on the Today show wasn’t Oscar worthy and Reese Witherspoon can’t match Deen’s peanut butter cup brownie s’mores, but each do share a commonality reaching beyond the movie screen and kitchen.
Both Paula and Reese, though respected in their industry, have fallen into a space reserved mostly by politicians for the past few years. In just the past two months, each had their hand in a career-determining crisis.
Reese, building her career off her Southern charm and persona like Paula, was charged with disorderly conduct after she disobeyed instructions from the arresting officer to remain in her vehicle after her husband was charged with a DUI. Most controversial, though, was when Reese blatantly asked the police officer, “Do you know who I am?” and seemingly using her celebrity to discredit the officer.
Paula, just days ago, has been in the forefront of public scrutiny after admitting to using racist remarks. She then explained that she was planning a plantation-themed wedding reception in her deposition against a defamation lawsuit by a former employee.
Although both Reese Witherspoon and Paula Deen suffered a conflict that many public relations professionals cite as a crisis situation, Paula remained distinctive from her movie star Southern Belle counterpart Reese. And it’s for all of the wrong reasons.
For starters, Reese made frank and honest remarks about her incident within 24 hours of its occurrence.
On the other hand, Paula embodied what any introductory public relations course professor would lecture of what not to do in conflicts that require crisis management. Paula cancelled her previous engagement on the Today show. She created a video of herself apologizing. Then she took it down. Then she created a new video of her apologizing for ditching Matt Lauer. Then Today show producers realized it would benefit them the most and they posted it onto their website to circulate to viewers.
Reese’s controlled, simple written language came across as apologetic and sincere. She acknowledged what she had done and realized the repercussions. She had an interview on Good Morning America already scheduled, like Paula, but didn’t choose to cancel it. Instead, she spoke with interviewer George Stephanopoulos about how apologetic and embarrassed she was. Reese didn’t mind taking ownership for what she did.
In between the time of Paula’s apology YouTube disaster and her actual interview on the Today show, The Food Network and Smithfield Foods dropped her from their brands. Had Paula released a written, controlled statement absent of scrutiny from a live sit-down with the already scrutinized Matt Lauer, she may have been able to save some of her business relationships.
Precise crisis communications and public relations begins with a strategy and requires a dismissal of any type of hysteria that even Paula admitted to having initially. She came across worried, frazzled and disillusioned in the days following her incident. She initially acknowledged, though then rejected that acknowledgement and eventually ignored the public.
Reese, just days after her incident, was photographed wearing an Atlanta Police hat in the airport, a very strategic acknowledgement of her conflict with the institution.
Reese, rumored to have hired a crisis management agency, clearly knew that she needed guidance immediately. Paula, after allegedly trying to handle the situation internally, hired a firm much later in her conflict.
As Paula Deen said in her Today show interview, “I is what I is,” relaying a stark contrast to Reese Witherspoon’s outcry of remorse, regret and clear strategy and guidance following her public crisis.
At the very least, Paula could always teach Reese how to make peanut butter cup brownie s’mores; I hear she loves butter.
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