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Lessons to Learn from Paula Deen’s Three Crappy Apologies

24 Jun

paula-deen-failed-apologyIn a crisis, you get ONE chance at an apology. One chance, not two and most certainly not three! This is something that Paula Deen, and especially her crisis management and PR firm should have understood before making the mistake of publishing a half-assed apology… three times!

As you may have heard, Paula Deen, a Food Network celebrity, is in the midst of a full-on crisis due to accusations of racial discrimination against her former and current employees.
Read more about this crisis here

Within her first attempt at an apology, Deen and her PR firm attempted to blame the discrimination on her southern upbringing and her age – basically the fact that she is “old” and was raised in a time and place where races were socially separated. A part of the statement reads:

“[Paula] was born 60 years ago when America’s South had schools that were segregated, different bathrooms, different restaurants and Americans rode in different parts of the bus …”

Pfff! Can we say crisis PR fail!

Oh but wait, Deen’s failed apology attempts don’t end here!

As a second attempt at an apology, Deen’s PR and crisis team published the below short video. It’s only 45 seconds long but apparently that was too long for it to go unedited.

In her opening words, Deen appears to not fully understand what it is that she needs to apologize for:

“I want to apologize to everybody, uhh, for the wrong that I’ve done, uhh [too long of a pause], I want to learn and grow from this < CUT/Transition > inappropriate, hurtful language is totally, totally unacceptable < CUT / Transition > I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way but I beg you…”

“Uhhs”, “ums”, transitions and cuts within a 45 second statement, excuses and “buts” do NOT make an apology.

Have a watch for yourself:

Paula Deen’s second failed attempt at an apology

Read: A more in-depth analysis on the Paula Deen Crisis here

In her third apology attempt, Deen and her PR and crisis team STILL don’t get it. In fact, in this third failed attempt, it’s clear that Deen believes herself to be a victim in all of this.

“I’ve worked hard and I’ve made mistakes, but that is no excuse”

… so why are you mentioning it? What does working hard have to do with unacceptably discriminating against your employees and others? I’m sure they were working hard while you were publicly discriminating against them.

“The pain has been tremendous that I have caused to myself, and to others”

Nobody cares about the pain you’ve caused to yourself in this situation. It’s the same as when companies say “we regret this situation ever happened”. Of course you do! You’re in a crisis because of it! By putting herself and the “pain she’s caused herself” above the pain she’s cause to those that she discriminated against and disappointed, Deen is clearly showing her lack of remorse and comes across as completely insincere and self-centered.

Paula Deen’s third failed apology attempt

What is an apology?

An apology is supposed to be a sincere statement of “I’m sorry”. That’s all. Don’t try to defend yourself. Don’t try to make yourself seem the victim. If people are upset with you or your company for something you’ve done wrong, if you say you’re sorry then do so whole-heartedly, sincerely and show that you mean it. This means not issuing a half-assed apology that attempts to make the viewers pity you. Own up. Apologize. Take responsibility and move forward … And do it once, not 3 half-assed times.

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23 Responses to “Lessons to Learn from Paula Deen’s Three Crappy Apologies”

  1. Melissa Agnes June 24, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    EXCELLENT addition, Rich! You're absolutely correct in saying that even a heartfelt apology done right would not have been enough. This is a very real example of ignorant actions having consequences and what the betrayal of trust and values can do to destroy a brand.

    People may be making excuses, but that won't save her reputation, or her career.

  2. Duncan Matheson June 24, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    Well done blog Melissa. Great example of an apology(s) that fall short. Contrast this with the one Jason Alexander made after his gay slur on late night television. It's the opposite of Paula Deen's approach and stands as an example of how to do it right, and like you note, it revolves around sincerity. Here it is, offered for comparison. http://www.glaad.org/blog/actor-jason-alexander-a

    • Melissa Agnes June 24, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

      Wow! Now THAT's an apology! Thank you for sharing the link with us, Duncan. And bravo to Jason Alexander, who's sincerity and true realization shine through and leave you feeling reflective and forgiving towards his mistake. Well done!

  3. Rich Klein June 24, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    Melissa – Great points about this major crisis fail. Reports are also surfacing that she created a hostile work environment, something businesses everywhere need to pay attention to.

    The media focused intently on the “N” word but here’s an excerpt from her deposition:

    “Most — most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks. Most jokes target — I don’t know. I didn’t make up the jokes, I don’t know,” said Deen. “They usually target, though, a group. Gays or straights, black, redneck, you know, I just don’t know — I just don’t know what to say. I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person.”

    Paula Deen needs to do much more than apologize, even if she got the words right in her first video. She needs sensitivity training and should spend the next six months to a year talking to kids about the dangers of stereotyping (admitting how ignorant and hurtful she was) with the support of a respected civil rights organization. She should also donate $$ to projects that educate people about slavery and bigotry.

    Then MAYBE a year from now she can show that she’s learned how she truly hurt many people with her words and actions. What bothers me the most, though, is that too many people who have shown up on social media think she did nothing wrong or excuse her because she grew up in a different time and place. That’s lame. Finally, public figures like Deen are held to a higher standard on issues of civility and tolerance but she ignored that responsibility.

  4. Patrice Cloutier June 24, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    First rule of an apology: be sincere … a leader never hesitates to be direct, honest and address the issue head on …here's a perfect example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQwo6TBozsg

    • Melissa Agnes June 24, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

      Nicely said, Patrice. And funny that you should link to this excellent crisis communications example, as it's precisely what tomorrow's blog post analyzes ;)

      Though it's not an apology, it is a stellar example of excellent leadership and communication in a crisis.

  5. Duncan Matheson June 24, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    Maybe it's a matter of great minds thinking alike ;-) but actually I just posted a blog around the Lieutenant General on our website today. In fact I haven't publicized it yet – planned to do that in the morning – but since it was brought up here – for anyone interested, the blog can be accessed from our website.

    • Melissa Agnes June 24, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

      Awesome! I'll be sure to check it out, Duncan! Stay tuned for my analysis tomorrow. I include a really great commentary from a friend of mine in the U.S. army, a woman soldier.

      Looking forward to reading your post :)

  6. Duncan Matheson June 24, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    And I yours.

  7. KC Saling June 24, 2013 at 7:16 pm #

    What a disaster. Not only was she insensitive enough to think that these comments and her actions would be acceptable in ANY venue, but she turned all of her "apologies" into a "poor me" pity party. I'm sorry, Paula. I don't even need to get my meat thermometer out, I can tell you're done!

    • Melissa Agnes June 24, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

      Haha! Nicely put, Kristin! She did indeed and it was totally pathetic.

      • Duncan Matheson June 24, 2013 at 10:15 pm #

        And now I see the Food Network has announced it is not renewing her contract.

        • Melissa Agnes June 24, 2013 at 10:21 pm #

          Yes, they announced it on Friday, if I' not mistaken. Hopefully they won't succumb to peer pressure and retract their decision. We shall see…

          • Stewart June 24, 2013 at 11:56 pm #

            I don't understand most of you, Paula admitted to using a word that most people have used sometime in their life. Why can Dave Chapelle and other black entertainers get by with it? She could have easily lied like most people would do but she chose to tell the truth and look what happened. We're teaching everyone that honesty is definitely NOT the best policy. Everyone that claims to be offended by the word should stop using it themselves before pointing the finger at someone else.

          • Melissa Agnes June 25, 2013 at 12:03 am #

            Hi Stewart,

            I can honestly and easily say that the majority of people in this world, do not mistreat their staff or discriminate against others, nor do they deem it acceptable. However, what we are referring to here is the poor crisis communications / apology that was published by Ms. Deen and her crisis and PR team. As I do on a daily basis, I have examined Ms. Deen's messaging and evaluated it for others to learn from. Unfortunately in her case, it is a lesson of what not to do.

            Honesty is always the best policy and it is Ms. Deen's poor judgement and apparent self-pity and lack of remorse that has people disappointed, not the fact that she was honest about her mistakes.

            Thanks for voicing your opinion.
            Melissa

          • Stewart June 25, 2013 at 12:09 am #

            Thank you for publishing my comments and for your very professional reply!
            I just think that some people are making more out of this than is really there. If I whined every time that I was offended in public or at work, I'd be crying an awful lot. But I realize that you are commenting on her apology (if you can call it that) so I'll quit my whining now. By the way, I really like this blog. Thanks again, Stewart

          • Melissa Agnes June 25, 2013 at 12:31 am #

            Thanks for your kind words, Stewart!

            I'm glad you took the time to share your thoughts here with us.

  8. andreas andreou June 26, 2013 at 5:44 pm #

    Hi Melissa,
    There is no apology, no regret, no answer or response to the issue. What kind of communication is that?
    The worst is that the people thought they were trying to hide something there.
    Thanks for share it with us.
    Regards,
    Andreas

    • Melissa Agnes June 27, 2013 at 10:11 am #

      Hi Andreas,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and you're right, there is no apology without regret or sincerity. Ms. Deen is suffering the consequences of her poor crisis communications, that's for sure.

  9. Chen October 24, 2013 at 1:42 am #

    Hi Melissa,

    Sometimes, one's reaction may outweigh the incident itself, as you have demonstrated in this case. Especially in the crisis, one’s response will have a great impact on the drift. Apology, always considered as the first step when the crisis strike, may lead one to another calamity. I definitely agree with you and some of other commentators that she should issue my apology without any excuses and fix this problem with behavior (donation and education). But besides all these above, do you think a third-party endorsement during a crisis is a good idea? I mean, if some of Deen’s celebrity friends voice their support (definitely not to her discrimination but to her promise and correction) out in the public, will this help her?

    • Melissa Agnes October 24, 2013 at 11:15 am #

      Hi Chen,

      Great question. I definitely think that having supporters come to your defence *organically and authentically* in a crisis is an asset. However, in this case, I would have preferred to see minority communities rise and share how she has helped them in the past, rather than celebrities. It would have had more depth and a "realness" to it that would not have come from celebrities, since Deen's target audience and customers are everyday people. Of course these claims and support would have had to be true.

      • Chen October 25, 2013 at 12:40 am #

        Hi Melissa,

        Thank you for your reply. It is really persuasive and keep me nodding. But I don't know, is it our fault to lump Deen's moral "negligence" with her business together? Her career suffered a lot during this crisis because she didn't withstand our moral scrutiny. I mean, her books didn't change–if not bettered–her sponsored commodities didn't change either. The only change here is that people stopped buying it. I definitely don't want to make any excuses to save her from reasonable criticism, but how many CEOs of other companies can pass the public examinations? They keep their company safe and successful by hiding from public eyes. Does our increasingly stricter judgement–especially after the advent of internet–really help us create a more standard society or just intimidate people?

        • Melissa Agnes November 4, 2013 at 7:41 pm #

          Hi Chen,

          Paula Deen is her brand. She's built her enterprise on her name. Therefore, the foolish mistakes she makes will definitely have a negative impact on her organization and brand image. It's just the way it works.

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