F. Scott Fitzgerald wore many hats. He was the chronicler of the Jazz Age; author of “The Great Gatsby;” a charter member of the so-called “Lost Generation” and inveterate boozer. He also coined one of the most enduring quotes: “There are no second acts in American lives.” Well, no one is perfect.
In America, second acts are a dime a dozen, and we can’t get enough of them.
To wit, Martha Stewart barely missing a beat as America’s homemaker following a five-month prison stint for insider trading; Robert Downey Jr., now the embodiment of box-office mojo after spending the middle part of his career in and out drug rehab, and the ultimate second act, Richard Nixon, who was left for dead after losing the California gubernatorial race in 1962 only to be elected president six years later.
The latest second act to emerge is cooking queen Paula Deen. It was just last summer that Deen acknowledged using the “N word,” according to her deposition in a lawsuit, and other racial slurs.
Sponsors dropped her like a hot potato. The Food Network dumped her. Then she went on NBC’s TODAY Show for a weepy sit-down, where she exclaimed, “I is what I is,” and was subsequently written off for all eternity.
Now comes word of the newly formed Paula Deen Ventures, which is being funded by a reported $75 million to $100 million investment by private equity firm Najafi Cos.
Jahm Najafi, who heads the firm, told The Wall Street Journal he believes that “the Paula Deen brand is alive and well.” Sounds like a man who wants solid return on his investment. So, how long before Deen reemerges with her own show on cable or, at the very least, online?
However things shake out, the Deen saga holds important lessons for communicators whose brands may have taken a hit from which they have yet to recover or may be foundering amid myriad changes in the marketplace.
With that in mind, here are a few tips for PR pros who are grappling with how to revive their brands or organizations and win back the confidence of consumers and constituents.
> When emerging from scandal or controversy, make sure all of the company’s key players get a fat slice of humble pie. Don’t let the company pretend that the scandal never happened. Don’t harp on it, of course, but make sure that your spokespeople are prepared to answer questions from the media and other stakeholders about why it happened and what you’ve done (or are doing) to remedy it.
> Without being mawkish, try and make amends to the person or persons who may have been offended by your actions. Embrace those communities that have abandoned your brand. Don’t window-dress, but demonstrate that you won’t take any audience(s) for granted.
> Make sure your employees are in the loop regarding any changes stemming from a scandal, and can serve as brand messengers. If you don’t get buy in from the rank-and-file, it’s unlikely that consumers will believe that you are trying to do the right thing.
What would you add to the list?
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1