Top Publicists Weigh in on Ariana Grande's Donutgate: 'It Was Sort of the Definition of Icky'
Since the donut-shop security video of Ariana Grande appearing to lick display-counter donuts before loudly proclaiming "I hate America" went viral on Tuesday, July 7, the pop songstress issued an apology statement on Wednesday (in which she said her comments were about the country's nutrition habits) and then posted a YouTube apology video on Thursday night.
Was the second apology necessary?
Howard Bragman, Fifteen Minutes PR chairman and founder: The second apology was a direct result of her first apology being so pathetic. I always tell people it should be about 100% responsibility, not a long, rambling, equivocating apology.
Jim Bates, Sitrick & Co. senior executive: As a rule, one apology is enough. You just need one that hits the right notes and the right messages. Think about what you want to convey to people and move on.
How should she have handled the situation right off the bat?
Bragman: "I screwed up, it's not going to happen again, I've learned and I apologize." Then follow it up with some sort of action: Go volunteer at a food bank, work with Michelle Obama on teenage obesity, do a concert to promote awareness.
Bates: I think a statement or interview would probably have done it. Generally speaking, once you begin apologizing, you give [the controversy] more life and keep it going.
What was worse: the donut-licking or the comments about America?
Bates: People are so sensitive about patriotism. We're in a political season now, and people are much more likely to jump on something like that. [At least] she is American. If she'd been a foreigner, it would have been much more damaging.
Bragman: The whole thing was skeezy. Some people were offended by the America comments, some by the donut-licking, some by the fat-shaming. It was sort of the definition of icky.
Would it have been better to say nothing and wait for it to blow over?
Bates: I don't know, it was getting a lot of traction. The easiest thing to do is just let it blow over, but that's more what the person wants to hear than what needs to be done. Some people don't do anything about it, and [the situation] gets worse.
Bragman: No, she needed to apologize because it was out there and it was so public. And because she's huge on social media, anything she does becomes huge on social media.
How does this impact her career and public image?
Bragman: It's not fun for her and her team to be dealing with, but it's not a huge deal. It's a big social media story, but it wasn't racist and it wasn't homophobic. In other words, this was more "controversy" than "crisis."
Bates: She can very easily let her talent speak for itself. It's not like she committed a horrible crime or did anything really drastic. It was a youthful experience and nothing more.
How would you grade the handling of Donutgate?
Bragman: C-minus. It was well below-average. She tried harder at the end, but she's hoping this story goes away over the weekend and someone else does something stupid.
Bates: I don't want to second-guess things. Her team needs to focus on what to do next. She's gonna get asked about this in interviews, and she'll have to be ready with a response and not go beyond what they want to say.
This article originally appeared in THR.com.