Monday, June 22, 2009

Gordon Ramsey’s PR Nightmare, and How to Fix It

by Stephen Abbott

British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey, star of the hit TV shows “Hell’s Kitchen,” “The f-word” and “Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares” is facing his OWN nightmare after a disastrous few days in Australia earlier this month.

There to tour the country and promote himself, Ramsey trashed (in his usual, potty-mouth way) a beloved national TV interviewer during a cooking demonstration. It had devastating ramifications for his reputation throughout the world.

On Friday, June 5, Ramsay participated in a pleasant, on-air interview with Tracy Grimshaw, which was broadcast nationally. She’s like a Katie Couric and Barbara Walters rolled into one. She’s 49 years old.

But during a food and wine fair in Melbourne the next day, Ramsey suddenly tore into her, calling her a pig and intimating that she was a lesbian. To back it up, a picture of a naked woman was shown on a huge screen behind him with the head of a pig and multiple nipples Photoshopped onto it. He also said her face was badly in need of Botox.

While he tried to laugh the comments off as a “tongue-in-cheek joke,” no one was laughing, least of all Grimshaw, who publicly attacked Ramsey on her program the next night, calling him a bully and narcissist, and coldly denying she was a lesbian.

“Truly, I wonder how many people would laugh if they were effectively described as an old, ugly pig,” she said, on-air. She also revealed that she’d agreed not to question him about his alleged extramarital affair during the interview.

She continued: “But I’m not surprised by any of this — we’ve all seen how Gordon Ramsay treats his wife, and he supposedly loves her. Obviously Gordon thinks that any woman who doesn’t find him attractive must be gay. For the record, I don’t and I’m not.”

To make matters worse (and yes, it got worse) Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called Ramsey’s comments something that might come from a “low life.” Ouch.

While some have speculated that this all was a publicity stunt to increase his, or her, ratings (both strongly deny it) it would hardly be a positive stunt for either one. Ramsey’s reputation in Australia is in tatters, and as we all can see, this story is by no means limited to that continent in the Internet Age.

Stories in the London Times and various less reputable papers, as well as TV stations around the world, covered the flap. Google Tracy Grimshaw and the second entry is a video of her responding to him.

Reputation Management to the Rescue
So, what, if anything, can be done to repair Gordon Ramsey’s reputation?

Ramsey at first handled this reputation crisis badly. During a morning jog, he told reporters swarming around him that her comments were made to increase her ratings.

But later, he did take the first step by rather sincerely apologizing, on camera, during an interview that was focused only on the subject of his nasty comments.

However, much more must be done to repair Gordon’s tattered reputation - bearing in mind he still bears wounds from the aforementioned affair allegations, along with recent revelations that, hypocritically, all the food in his fancy restaurants isn’t freshly prepared and anger from disgruntled chefs in restaurants he has critiqued on his “Nightmares” show.

Ramsey could, though it’s a bit of a cliché, donate to, or attend a class with, an organization that builds respect for women. He can repair his marriage, if its not too late, and get his wife on his side - and by his side.

This can’t be seen as phony, and in fact, he must treat women with more respect, both in public and in private (though with video cameras, what’s truly “private” these days?)

He can also tone down his act a bit, and use maybe 50% less offensive words during filming. British television allows the “S-word” to be used on the air, and ALSO the “F-word.” Although he has faced censure from the agency that regulates TV in the UK for using the “F” word gratuitously - sometimes up to 150 times an episode. Check out YouTube for the uncensored shows.

Being seen as less abrasive, less nasty and less foul-mouthed will be part of the media narrative. The media love to see a comeback and that’s how it will play out - IF he takes these and other steps, as his own PR people direct him.

Let’s be honest, it will be a long slog back for him, and he’s probably lost fans, especially in Australia and especially among women around the world. But with a proper Reputation Management Plan, Ramsey could once again gain all of that respect back he’s lost in this horrible episode.

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