Please Stop Talking: How to Navigate A Public Relations Nightmare



Paula Deen does not need a crisis manager, nor does she need a media strategist to help her re-brand her tarnished reputation. What she needs is common sense. Were Paula Deen my client, my professional advice would be this: stop talking.

I understand her initial reaction, but please, please, please, stop. Just stop. The majority of people who work in entertainment or public relations/branding are hyper aware that how damage control is employed is often a major factor in determining whether a high-profile person (or brand) will fly or flounder following a scandalous walk of shame.

So how does one go about managing a PR nightmare? Here are a few tips from the pros.

Crisis Management Rule #1: Stick to the plan.

Ideally you’ll have a crisis strategy in place before you’re faced with a PR nightmare. It isn’t a matter of whether you will have a PR crisis, but rather a matter of when.

It may seem hyperbolic to entertain the worst-case scenario, after which you devise a plan detailing how to react, but trust me it’s not.

Paula Deen is a prime example of what can happen if you are blindsided. You can’t turn back the clock, which means how you handle the situation is crucial to keeping your brand afloat.

Crisis Management Rule #2: Determine the issue.

Obvious as it may seem, it is common for people to base their response to a PR crisis on the premise that they must stop the bad press ASAP, all else be damned. It may be an understandable reaction, but it’s a bad idea.

Ideally you can control brewing trouble before it becomes a national headline, however, when you find yourself in the middle of a scandal, taking a step back to assess the issue being presented is critical.

You saw just how awkward Paula’s YouTube apology came across. Then when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, she was back with another. As you saw, the whole thing quickly spiraled out of control. Had Deen or a member of her team assessed all information being reported and determined the real issue, chances are public reaction may have been quite different.

Crisis Management Rule #3: To the best of your ability, ensure all information is accurate.

While the speed with which you address the issue is critical, you cannot present anything less than accurate information. Although you genuinely may not know about ‘The Issue/Event’ surrounding your brand that caused a scandal in the first place, consumers, advertisers and other members of the public require transparency. Why? Because it’s a critical component to helping public opinion align in your favor. If you are not fully truthful, the risk of being caught in a lie, even if only a matter of conjecture, can be even more damaging to your brand.

Look at it this way: in the event that further evidence surfaces, you won’t contradict yourself later, and the majority will likely respect you for addressing the problem head-on rather than trying to bury it.

Crisis Management Rule #4: Take Ownership

Own your mistake. This is particularly important when dealing with social media. Do not make a statement littered with false clichés; people see right through it. Be humble, keep it short, and don’t over share.

As a whole, people are fairly forgiving when an apology and/or genuine effort is made to correct an error in judgment or right their wrongs. Being on the receiving end of that good will makes taking ownership a key component of effective crisis management.

A PR crisis demands an urgent response…

Make no mistake; urgent is never code for, ‘Say anything at all, ASAP!’ it’s the how that deserves your immediate focus. How you handle a PR crisis is a game of level-headed strategy, so don’t wait until it happens to you. Develop a PR crisis management plan now so that when it happens, you have a plan in place that will make navigation of a potential minefield easier and safer than flying by the seat of your pants.

What crisis management advice would you extend to Paula?

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