Current Events through the PR Lens

By Amy Ouellette, Chapter President

Have you always been a news junkie?  I have, even as a little girl.  When I was younger, I went to the Needham, Mass. studio of WCVB, the ABC affiliate for Boston.  I would classify that as the coolest field trip I’ve ever been on, especially since we got to watch the noon news live in studio.

Because I have always loved news and current events, a major in communications with a public relations concentration was a natural fit for me.  However, I look at the media very differently since returning to school.

Aaron-HernandezThe big news around New England recently was the arrest of Patriots tight end, Aaron Hernandez.  He was arrested on Wednesday, June 26, and the Patriots cut him within an hour.   They also announced that any Hernandez jersey purchased at the Patriots Pro Shop could be exchanged for another player’s jersey for free.  I have to admit, as a public relations major, I was watching this story unfold through a PR lens.  As the investigation into the murder began and it became clear that Hernandez was at the center of it, I became fascinated.  Because of how the Patriots tend to handle sensitive subjects, I was not surprised that they cut Hernandez so quickly.  They want to protect their brand, one that they work hard to maintain.  Oh, how I would have loved to have been a fly on that wall during those PR meetings.

rs_300x300-130621132426-600.PaulaDeen.jl.062113Another big story—this one with national buzz—was the Paula Deen controversy.  Paula Deen, American celebrity chef, former cooking show host, restaurateur, author, actress, and Emmy Award-winning television personality, apparently used a racial slur 30 years ago, and admitted this during a deposition in May that took place because of a lawsuit.  Deen denies that she is a racist and appeared on the “Today” show in tears to refute any claims that she is.  However, she has been dropped from many companies and has lost millions in endorsements and sponsorships. The Food Network also did not renew her contract at the end of June.  Her publisher, Ballantine Books, has also stopped publication of her newest cookbook due in the fall, despite pre-orders of the book soaring to the number one spot on Amazon.

I have seen a lot of debate on social media about this controversy.  Some seem to feel that people are making a big deal over something that had happened once 30 years ago.  Others feel that the companies involved did the right thing to not want to be associated with Deen.  I even saw someone ask why companies don’t go nuts every time Alec Baldwin has one of these PR meltdowns.  I think the answer is simple: people expect Alec Baldwin to be the center of a controversy, but Paula Deen is trying to maintain a different image, one of a sweet, charming lady, and this controversy doesn’t fit that mold.  The companies with which she is affiliated didn’t expect this and from a PR perspective, I think they did the right thing.  They are in crisis mode and are trying to prevent further damage to their brands.

Controversies such as this spark a lot of discussion, both in real life and through social media.  I can only imagine the discussion that would take place in a classroom if classes were in session, but that doesn’t mean that the discussion and debate can’t take place.  Embrace it and encourage it with your family and friends as you get together with them this summer, and impress them with your perspective as a future PR pro!

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