Today Show Scores a Great “Get” With Deen

 Today Show Scores a Great Get With Deen

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) to The Today Show. (Pictured: Paula Deen and Today Show host Matt Lauer)

How quickly PR fortunes can change. Last month, NBC’s The Today Show was facing a PR fiasco, with falling ratings, a scathing cover story in New York Magazine, and a tell-all book that painted a rather unflattering picture of host Matt Lauer. At the same time, Paula Deen was enjoying success with shows on The Food Network, her own magazine, many cookbooks, and heading a multi-million dollar empire. This month, everything has changed for both.

Last week, Deen’s PR began to flame out amid allegations that Deen used racist terms and condoned a racist atmosphere at her restaurant. She quickly scheduled a damage control interview last Friday on The Today Show, which she then blew off, citing exhaustion. After being dropped by The Food Network and one of her sponsors, Deen rescheduled her Today interview for this morning.

Ratings are sure to be high, and it’s a great “get” for Today, even if it’s a “re-get.” In addition to having to answer questions about the allegations, Deen must address blowing off Matt Lauer, as well as her apology videos that have been criticized as widely missing the right PR mark. The only better “get” would be missing NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – and no one will be surprised to see Today get him first.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to The Today Show for reversing their poor PR.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Nothing kills bad PR like success. The Today Show took its lumps, but it kept right on going, and when opportunity knocked, it pounced. Having been a friendly interrogator in the past – Deen chose Today when she revealed she had Type 2 diabetes, known to be caused or aggravated by the high-fat cuisine she’s famous for – Today was a natural choice for Deen’s public mea culpa. The lesson presented: When hit with bad PR, you can’t afford the luxury of pain. Get up and find every opportunity to get back to what you were known for.

Another Bad Week for “Today” Show

 Another Bad Week for Today Show

is THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Today Show publicists.

There hasn’t been a truly good morning for NBC’s Today Show in months. Ratings have been slipping steadily, advertising millions have been lost, and the media seems not to tire of reporting both. Then, this past week, a behind-the-scenes feature in New York Magazine threw a harsh glare on the morning show’s troubles.

For PRs reading the article, the dilemma becomes apparent quickly: grant access to a reporter who is starting from a negative place, or refuse access, knowing the story will be written anyway? In this case, access was granted and control of some sort established via the presence of two PRs in the interview with Today heavy hitters.

One can only imagine the amount of prepping the PRs did with hosts Savannah Guthrie, Al Roker, Natalie Morales, and, in particular, Matt Lauer. He has been in the media’s sights, portrayed as the architect of former co-anchor Ann Curry’s ouster, and everything from the cornerstone of the program to a controlling tyrant. Also last week, a former Today Show intern tweeted that Lauer was “not so nice,” and a story circulated that co-host Guthrie gave Lauer the finger after he teased her on set. Access or not, Today‘s negative press is turning into a bad dream the show’s PRs can’t wake up from.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Today Show publicists. Damage control is being handled, but with the issue of falling ratings and whispers of host changes, PR options are limited.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Choose battles carefully, and know when to fight. Negative press was inevitable due to the ratings slide, the revelation of Lauer’s negotiations with rival network ABC, and Curry’s awkward departure. In this case what was needed was new news to change the conversation. This article might have begun the turnaround that Today needs, but in the absence of a big bright idea, sometimes a PR just has to hope things look better tomorrow.

To read the New York Magazine article, click here.