Say the name Paula Deen and even the McDonald’s tried and true, those that consider cold pizza a gourmet meal, know enough about her to say “the butter lady”.
And then one by one like ten little Indians, they were gone.
She is not like you or me. She has “handlers”. Her handlers have handlers. If she can so mishandle a situation, what does that tell the rest of us mere mortals about the challenges of communication?
There are three simple (but not easy) lessons we can learn from her mishandling of the media firestorm surrounding the “N” word.
#1: Own your mistake. America is very forgiving but first you have to fall on your sword. A few years ago when David Letterman first addressed the studio audience and the audience at home about his infidelity, he said he would not talk about it again.
Three nights later he talked about it again. The first time he did not fall on his sword. Your audience decides when they have seen enough blood, not you. The second time he fell on his sword and drew blood. Then the public was ready to forgive.
So far Paula has blamed young people and her accuser for this misstep. She has not owned her part in this real life soap opera. What we learn is, as Dr. Phil says, you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge”.
#2: Ignorance is not an excuse. She said she did not know what words were offensive to others. REALLY? What she missed was that she should have known what was offensive. Ignorance is not bliss. Just ask anyone who has paid a speeding ticket. Ignorance of the speed limit does not reduce the fine for most of us mortals that can’t talk their way out of a ticket.
#3: There is no crying in baseball. Not in baseball and not on national TV. Especially when you have had a week to prepare for an interview. This one by far was the worst from a woman’s standpoint. To just cry and try to be sympathetic is not a successful strategy. The advances made by women in the last few decades take a giant step backwards when crying is the strategy to overcome an obstacle. She said in her self-made video that she was going to learn from this. Where did that Paula go?
#4: Hire the best. In an action analogous to locking the barn door after the horse is out, Paula Deen hired Smith & Co. The CEO is the muse for Kerry Washington’s character on SCANDAL. In a better late than never move, she finally hired what she needed all along. An outside, objective voice to navigate through the land mines. John Galliano fell from grace three years ago and has not fought his way back to the top of the designer heap. Marv Albert fought his way through every late night joke and came back to sports TV. Whatever happens with Paula, we can all learn lessons for our challenges from the Queen of Butter.