Ellen DeGeneres — Time for a Crisis Management Lesson

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David E. Johnson, CEO, Strategic Vision PR Group

Talk show host and comedian, Ellen DeGeneres is the latest celebrity that could be cancelled.  Both she and the top management of her hit talk show, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” are under an internal investigation by the show’s distributor, Warner Brothers.   There are allegations of intimidation, sexual misconduct, and racism.  DeGeneres attempted to stem some of the damage by issuing an apology to staff but also denying direct knowledge of the alleged misconduct and shifting the blame to senior staff.  This brought forth allegations by previous guests on the show including actor, Brad Garrett, actress Lea Thompson, and Dutch beauty blogger Nikkie de Jager that the misconduct was common knowledge.  The Ellen DeGeneres story offers some key lessons for celebrities and brands in terms of crisis management:

  1. Be authentic to your brand.  Ellen DeGeneres long had the reputation among the public for being funny, kind, and compassionate.  She was portrayed as a ‘woke’ celebrity before people talked about being ‘woke’.  These allegations, particularly in this climate shattered that image and go against everything that people believed about her brand.
  2. Offer a sincere apology that takes responsibility. Ellen issued an apology last week.  But the apology was seen as shifting blame for what happened on to senior staff.  She never took responsibility for anything.  It was seen by many as a non-apology, apology.  People were looking to see her take responsibility and offer concrete steps for moving forward.  Rather it was seen as being evasive and actually created more controversy and criticism.
  3. Have defenders ready to come to your defense.  What is shocking so far is the total silence of Ellen’s numerous A-list celebrity friends to these allegations.  Indeed, what has been most notable is the number of actors and actresses, along with other guests that are stepping forward to confirm the allegations and condemn Ellen.  Lack of support is always an ominous sign.  
  4. Have a strategy for moving forward.  Ellen and her team have appeared to have no strategy on how to move forward and change the narrative.  Rather there has been a constant back and forth of will she quit, or won’t she quit the show.  This is the time she should be charting a course for the future.
  5. Have a social media strategy.  Beyond the allegations against her and her management, most of the damage being done to Ellen is occurring on social media.  So far, her team has not been proactive in dealing with this.  Failure to address social media is fatal during a crisis.

The dog days of summer are the worst time for a crisis to occur just ask Paula Deen about that.  But it is especially lethal in the social upheaval we are experiencing.  In failing to have dealt with the five key points I have mentioned, Ellen has ensured her ultimate cancellation.


David JohnsonAbout the Author: David E. Johnson is the CEO of Strategic Vision PR Group.  Additional information on him and his company may be obtained at www.strategicvisionpr.com

2 Comments

  1. Robin Cohn on at 11:25 AM

    Good article.

    The DeGeneres response is a good example of how stories grow if a problem isn’t quickly addressed.

  2. Kevin Mercuri on at 1:47 PM

    Bravo, David. These thoughts are on-target and I will be using this article in my next guest lecture on crisis communications.

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