Jennifer Hudson for Weight Watchers. Claire Danes for Latisse. Sally Fields for Boniva. Paula Deen for Victoza?
Celebrity endorsements for various weight loss programs and medications are nothing new in our society. But none of these partnerships has smelled of controversy quite like Deen and Victoza, a diabetes medication. Recently, queen of Southern cooking Paula Deen announced her diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes and her new partnership with diabetes drug company Nova Nordisk. It has been noted that Deen had known about the diagnosis for three years and was keeping it private to resolve what was best for health purposes and perhaps, her successful buttery business.
The public response to this situation has been wide ranging. A number of people were unfazed that a chef who includes a pound of bacon in a quiche would have health issues. At the other end of the spectrum were people angered that she would use this as opportunity to benefit financially from something that seems contradictory to her long term kitchen practices, and that she kept her condition under wraps for such a long period of time while still touting her Southern cuisine.
On January 24, it was announced that Deen’s publicist and spokesperson of six years, Nancy Assuncao, had resigned her position due to the new direction of the celebrity chef’s branding. “Although we had a great deal of fun along the way, I could not agree with the new business strategy going forward. Nonetheless, I wish them continued success.”
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) has a Code of Ethics, which is not mandatory for their more than 21,000 public relations and communication professionals, but “is designed to be a useful guide for PRSA members as they carry out their ethical responsibilities.” This code emphasizes things such as transparency, honesty, and integrity in the practice of public relations. Regardless of whether you agree with Ms. Assuncao’s decision to resign or not, it is positive for the profession to have someone so prominent base a business decision this big on ethics.
Public relations professionals have historically struggled with the negative label of “spin doctor,” a stereotype that has far too often been accurate. That school of public relations thinking is as dated as Ms. Deen deep frying breaded sticks of butter, covered in gravy, and wrapped in bacon. The time has come for public relations professionals to move beyond the old stereotypes and follow the example of Ms. Assuncao. Living by a strong code of ethics, no matter the loss of paycheck or public judgement, is a recipe for PR success.