Celebrity chef Paula Deen’s public relations crisis since admitting she used racial slurs at her restaurant has led the Food Network, Target and many other companies to cut ties with her. Yet, some small-business owners are standing by Deen, risking their own reputations.
Tim Harris, owner of Knoxville Wholesale Furniture in Knoxville, Tenn., said he planned to keep selling Deen’s products in his store. "We fully support Paula Deen and our partnership,” he told WATE 6 News. “We do not condone what she said, but plan to continue to carry her line. We have received many phone calls of support from customers.”
One travel agency, Alice Travel, that books celebrity cruises has even “doubled down” on Deen in hopes her controversy will spark more business, according to The Huffington Post.
At least nine companies went so far as to issue letters of support for Deen. “We personally endorse Paula Deen and what she stands for,” wrote Tasty Blends Foods of Frasiers Bottom, W.Va, according to USAToday. “We are very saddened that she is being judged by her past, everyone has made a mistake sometime in their lives. We look forward to our continued partnership with her.”
For a small businesses, the decision to support a publicly disgraced business partner or celebrity spokesperson is a risky one. While it may seem like a good way to win over sympathizers or generate publicity, there’s also risk of upsetting loyal customers or damaging the business’s reputation. The last thing a small-business owner wants is to let another person or company’s scandal detract from their own company’s credibility.
Many PR experts say big companies that dropped Deen, such as Wal-Mart and QVC, were wise to do so quickly. In most cases, the risks outweigh the potential benefits. And there’s always the risk, of course, that Deen’s fiasco will continue to unravel.
However, the decision to stick by a celebrity facing a PR crisis may not always be harmful. It really depends on the business model, its customer base and how vital that celebrity is to the business’s success. "I think it comes down to how important are they to that brand,” Abbey Klaassen, editor of Ad Age, told "CBS This Morning." “Nike Golf stuck by Tiger Woods, for example, but others left."
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