The irony has not been lost on the public. That's bad for those
of us in the business of helping build such brands, personal or
It's the kind of thing that gives our industry a black eye --
the reputation that we'll do anything, sell anything for money.
That at best we operate in a gray area and at worst our ethical
compass isn't well-calibrated. That our most marked characteristic
is not creativity but cynicism.
Having spent the past three years cheerleading for the
consumption of what surely is a diet unfriendly to diabetics --
Twinkie Pie, Gooey Butter Cake, Deep Fried Cheescake -- Deen will
now presume to tell us how to treat and avoid the disease.
Don't get me wrong. I've got no problem whatsoever with Deen's
decadent style of cooking. I will eat just about anything that
comes out of a pot of boiling fat.
And I don't object to her speaking out about diabetes or even
getting paid for it. Yeah, the twinge of hypocrisy rankles a bit.
But it's the PR choices she is making -- colossal missteps, in my
opinion -- that bother me and cast a pall on her and the image
The biggest dents in her credibility are due to timing. Just
being smarter, more patient in this area could have saved her a lot
First, there's her claim that she waited nearly three years
after her diagnosis before going public because her "knowledge
about the disease was limited." That's a story with some big
stretch marks. She could have completed a medical residency in
diabetes in that amount of time. If she was that uninformed, then
her doctors are worse than her publicists.
Deen goes on to say that she decided to tell people "in God's
time." That's a particularly cynical dodge. As if Deen didn't
really have a say in the matter.
Since she made her announcement at the same time as revealing
her endorsement deal, I guess God's messenger came in the form of
someone from diabetes drugmaker Novo Nordisk bearing a lucrative
contract. Mysterious ways, indeed.
I'm usually not a fan of celebrity endorsements of any kind, but
there are many that are genuine and effective. Situations like this
though, that smack too much of blatant opportunism, run the risk of
eroding the confidence of spokespeople for any brand.
It wasn't just the timing of the announcement that bothered me.
It was also her cavalier attitude about it. Here's what she had to
"Talking about money is garish. It's tacky. But, of course, I'm
being compensated for my time. That's the way our world works."
Really, Paula, that 's how it works? Would Christopher Reeve have
agreed with you? Would Michael J. Fox? She's being compensated
because she chose to. That's the way the world works. To
imply that it was out of her hands is insulting.
Criticism of Deen has been swift (and so has support). One of Deen's
first responses has been to pledge an unspecified portion of her
Novo Nordisk earnings to the American Diabetes Association. A fine
gesture to be sure, but even that comes off as a knee-jerk reaction
to the negative press.
She didn't get here on her own; there have been plenty of people
helping create the Deen brand. And they did her wrong this week.
Deen just wasn't prepared, and in the PR business at least, that 's
a cardinal sin.
She should have started by doing something as simple as putting
some distance between the diagnosis revelation and revealing the
Novo Nordisk partnership.
Deen and her team have had three years to anticipate public and
media response to the announcements, to figure out how to position
that vis a vis her endorsement arrangement and to
generally map a strategy for what amounts to a re-branding. Instead
they just dropped the meat in the dirt.