7 Lessons on Branding from Paula Deen that Can Save Your Business from a Scandal

brand, branding, branding lessons, branding lessons from Paula Deen

Image source: Bigstock Photography

In case you don’t know, southern chef, Paula Deen, is at the center of a lawsuit that seems to have spun out of control.

The stories that are being told about her do not match her branding: a peach of a woman who loves to cook down home southern cuisine for family and friends.

To be fair to Ms. Deen, the details surrounding the lawsuit filed by a former employee, change faster than you can say Mac & Cheese!

What’s interesting is that Ms. Deen has been painted as a lewd and vulgar woman.

How can this be?

She seems so warm and personable on TV. Maybe that’s problem.

Not only does the camera add 10 pounds to your body, but it can distort you and your brand. You and your brand become out of focus.

But I have to wonder…

Wouldn’t the Food Network have known something about Ms. Deen and her brother’s lawsuit?

Let’s say the stories are true.

Wouldn’t the Food Network have thought twice about giving a woman who uses derogatory language and allegedly likes to make sexual references and innuendos a multi-million dollar contract?

This kind of seems like a no brainer.

Then again, it’s just business.

Sadly, Paula Deen’s empire is crumbling faster than a batch of blue cheese.

The Food Network, Kohl’s, QVC, Random House, and countless others have dropped her like a hot potato.

Is this fair or can Paula cry “foul?”

Whatever the case may be, CEOs, entrepreneurs, authors, and artists can learn many branding lessons from Paula Deen’s debacle. I’ve  outlined them below and in no means is this meant to be a comprehensive list. These are the most important lessons for you to learn NOW.

What Paula Deen’s Scandal Can Teach You about Branding?

1. Your brand is a reflection of you. Do they match?

Everyone has a story about Paula Deen. From the woman who filed a lawsuit against Paula and her brother to people who’ve attended her cooking/speaking shows at their local home and garden show.

Whose story do you believe?

Paula’s? The woman who filed the lawsuit? Or a trusted friend.

For example, would you believe your friend if she said to you, “We went to the home and garden show to see Paula’s show and were told that children were not allowed at due to strong language.”

What kind of strong language?

Could it make you blush faster than hot sauce?

Paula Deen has an image of a nice southern lady. The kind of woman that would make you a home cooked meal accompanied by a pitcher of sweet tea. Desert would be a slice of peach cobbler. Yummy!

And then there’s the fact that Paula uses the word “y’all.” and it’s enough to make your heart melt.

The bottom line is that Paula’s brand image does not match the one that’s front in center online and on TV, in addition to magazines and newspapers.

Your brand is a reflection of you. Make sure they match!

2. Shut your mouth!

If you’re an entrepreneur, author, CEO, artist, or high powered executive within a company, please SHUT your mouth!

Like it or not, you live in the technology age.

Your conversation and picture can be recorded in less than 2.5 seconds and then uploaded to YouTube just as fast.

Before you know it, you’re on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks.

The best thing to do is to shut your mouth when you’re in public.

Do not get into conversations about politics or religion. Of course, if you’re a politician or member of the church, this may be unavoidable. However, you need to choose your words wisely because you never know WHO will be listening to you.

Remember… if you can’t say anything nice, do not say anything at all.

3. Surround yourself with people who understand you and your brand.

If you’re looking for partnerships, make sure you partner with companies and people who understand you and your brand.

Don’t sign a contract for the sake of being paid a boat load of money. Make sure it’s the ‘right’ decision for you and your brand.

Ask questions such as:

  • How does your product/service align with my product/service?
  • Does your audience match mine? How?
  • How does your company handle customer complaints?
  • Why should I partner with you?
  • What is the risk? (ask yourself this)
  • What happens if we suffer a PR nightmare? How will it be handled?

Gather as much information as you can before your say Yes!

Also, you may have to weed out family and friends.

This can be tough to do, especially when people have been in your lives 20+ years; however, you need to be surrounded by trustworthy people.

You don’t want to be surrounded by people who’ll sell you out to the highest bidder. It’s unfortunate that this could and does happen, but you need to prepare yourself. Some people won’t be able to appreciate your success and be happy for you.

4. Put your message where your mouth is.

If you message is “XYZ,” it better match the words that come out of your mouth.

One of the most important aspects about branding is your message.

Let’s take Paula Deen for example.

Her message is/was one of warmth and family. When she melted butter on her Food Network cooking show, you couldn’t help but feel warm inside.

Also, Paula could have reminded you of your grandmother. You know how grandmas are. One way they show love is through their delicious cooking. And if Paula looked/looks anything like your grandma, you would have been hooked immediately.

Your brand’s message better match yours. For example, if you say your brand is “X,” but you’re “Y,” this will cause a disconnection between you and your audience.

Most people are skeptical by nature, and some don’t trust easily. If your message is way off from who you are, you’ll find yourself in a heap of trouble.

5. If you screw up, in one way or another, your brand can suffer.

Like it or not, you live in a society where it’s kind of persecute now, find out the truth later.

I don’t agree with this because I believe in “innocent until proven guilty.” But the fact is most people want swift justice without knowing the facts. This alone causes trouble, especially in the form of lawsuits.

Should you screw up by saying or doing something that doesn’t match your brand, be prepared to take a hit. Even if your branding is strong, you’ll feel the sting.

The good news is that you have a choice in how you deal with a branding nightmare. You can either, a) deny everything, b) run and hide, or c) take the high road and admit that you’re human and made a terrible, terrible mistake. I recommend choosing option C.

Admitting your screw up humanizes you. Let’s face it; NO ONE is perfect!

Everyone says or does something stupid at one point or another.

Learn from your mistakes. Empathize with your audience. Understand their point-of-view.  For example, look at companies such as Tylenol and Nike. Both of these companies have faced their fair share of missteps. However, their branding has never been stronger. Why? In the case of Tylenol, Johnson & Johnson, makers of Tylenol, put consumers first and product second.

If you or someone in your company screws up, deal with it from the start. Don’t bury your head in the sand. Admit any wrong doing and your brand should weather the storm.

6. Having a branding crisis strategy in place is good PR.

What’s your branding crisis strategy? Do you even have one?

Even though you may not want to focus on the negative side of business, such as a crisis, it’s important to be prepared.

If your branding is strong, you may or may not bounce back in record breaking time. This is why you need a crisis strategy and team in place.

Your marketing and PR and legal teams should have created a strategy in case your company has to navigate the murky waters of a scandal.

If you’re a solopreneur, it’s not a bad idea to create a branding crisis strategy. You want to protect you, your brand, and customers.

Strong branding is important.

I know what you’re thinking, “Didn’t Paula have a strong brand and branding?”

Maybe not.

If Paula Deen has been projecting an image that doesn’t match who she truly is (who knows for sure), it makes sense that perhaps, her brand was built upon a faulty foundation that is now cracking. It’s in crisis mode.

Of course, the best way to avoid having to use a branding crisis strategy is to avoid having a crisis.

7. Be authentic.

This seems like a no brainer but CEOs, authors, entrepreneurs, artists, and executives are HUMAN. Sometimes, you wear a mask to cover up who you are.


Because you’re ashamed of you are for a number of reasons.

The best thing to do is to get clear about WHO you are.

If you’re a geeky artist, embrace your geekitude. Don’t change for anyone.

If you’re a CEO who drives a Mustang GT instead of a Mercedes, own it.

Clients and customers can see through B.S. If you’re not being authentic, it will show. If you’re trying to manipulate people, you’ll give off a strong odor.

Embrace who you are. There is no right or wrong answer.

You are who you are. Quirks and all.

Will the Paula Deen Brand Bounce Back? 

It’s too early to tell, but I will say this…

I don’t know what to believe about Paula Deen because the story changes daily. Plus, I never met the woman.

What I do know is that it’s important for the media to sensationalize news and stories.


Ratings and magazines and newspaper subscriptions are important to those in radio and TV and publishing.

The higher the ratings and subscriptions the more money for organizations who employ thousands of people.

If Paula bounces back from this, it will be one expensive brand and branding lesson to learn.

I recommend Paula hire an HR firm (if she doesn’t have one already) to screen all applicants who apply for positions within her restaurant. She could hire a life coach and/or counselor to help her process this ordeal; Paula could hire a business coach too.

I also recommend that Paula thinks before she speaks and chooses her words wisely.

Take it from me a writer…

Words are powerful and can go viral in no time.

Over to you. What are some branding lessons you can learn from Paula Deen? Share them in the comments below.

CLICK HERE for free email updates!


  1. Great post. I learned a lot with those things that affects the brand. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Wonderful post, Amandah:

    There’s so much we all can learn from the whole Paula Deen thing. I think the biggest lesson though is to be authentic and consistent, both in public and behind close doors.

    You can’t be phony, especially when you’re doing business and are in the public eye. Your audience and following has to be able to trust you and to get them to trust you they have to believe that you’re being real with them.

    I embrace everything about my quirkiness; I wear it proudly on my blog and in the way that I write. As you mentioned, you have to be sure of WHO you are and the image/message you want to convey. Once you’ve got that figured and begin to own it you have a true solid foundation to build upon.

    This is my first time visiting your blog, Amandah, and I’m really loving what I’ve read and seen so far. Your blog design is beautiful, especially the font that you use for your comment box. 🙂

    I’ll be sure to share this piece with my social circle. I’ll also comment and share it on BizSugar,

    Keep the great content coming and I look forward to connecting more with you soon,


  3. Hi Ti,

    I’m glad you liked the post.

    There are many lessons one can learn from Paula Deen and others who’ve been in a similar situation. Being authentic is one of them. In this day and age, you never know who’ll take out the smartphone and snap a picture or record a video. Before you know it, you’re all over the internet.

    If you have employees working for you, you better make sure your public image matches your private image.

    Thanks for the feedback on my website. I’ve decided that it’s time for a redesign and have been speaking with web designers. I need to focus on writing instead of trying to ‘tweak’ my website.

    Thanks for the retweet! I appreciate you sharing this post with your social circle.


  4. Like so many others, I am quite disappointed in who Paula Deen is, “unmasked.” I realized something was amiss when she announced she’d been diabetic for a while — yet had kept pumping the poison in her recipes.

    So many celebrities have authored diabetic cookbooks. She could have gone this direction and remained “in the light.” But she only came out as diabetic when there was a lucrative endorsement deal placed before her by an artificial sweetener brand.

    Her subsequent racial inappropriateness was just icing on an already toxic cake. I never got over the diabetes debacle. All told, a disheartening PR story — a crisis case study, 101-style.

  5. Hi Vicki,

    Paula’s PR nightmare is one for the textbooks.

    As far as her diabetes goes, I have people in my life who are diabetic and eat whatever they want, even though it’s not good for them. I think when it comes to the food industry, anything goes, right now. Look at the Food Network. I haven’t seen a vegan and/or vegetarian food show, although, I have plenty of ideas for them. But, you can’t pitch the Food Network directly. You need a production company to back you.

    It pays to work on yourself (from the inside out) before you step into the spotlight. If you don’t, the skeletons in your closet will tumble out and then you’re left picking up the pieces.

    Thanks for the comment and reading Savvy-Writer! I appreciate it.

Comments are closed.