Ms. HON-derstood?

Denise Whiting has a PR problem. Here’s why.

By Edward Ericson Jr. (Baltimore City Paper, 2/2/2011)

Denise Whiting shows a guest to her cozy breakfast nook. The kitchen is retro-stylish yet unfussy, with old-time tile, a big double oven, and stainless-trimmed counters. She seats a reporter across from her son Thomas Whiting and next to her public relations consultant, Paul Jaskunas. “I was gonna clean things up,” she says of her kitchen, “but then it would be pretending.”

She pours coffee and graciously but guardedly answers questions for two hours.

That Whiting’s public life has come to this is shocking to those who know and like her. The owner and creator of Café Hon and impresario of HonFest, Hampden’s popular summer street fair, has for nearly two decades built her brand with a creative flair and a brassy but generous persona, seemingly without effort.

Then, in early December, disaster struck in the form of a throwaway line in community newspaper The Baltimore Messenger. Whiting acknowledged she had trademarked the venerable Baltimore endearment “hon” and asserted her right to approve the “hon” image used in a new Maryland Transit Administration advertising campaign. The uproar was immediate, inspiring boycotts and protest pickets. Writer Rafael Alvarez likened Whiting to infamous Colts absconder Robert Irsay in a dress.

Stung by the vitriol and personal attacks, Whiting repeatedly told reporters and listeners that she meant only to protect her brand. But the more she explained, the hotter the ridicule got.

Continue reading “Ms. HON-derstood?” at the Baltimore City Paper.

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