A year ago, if you asked me to name a celebrity who has been successful in building a strong and positive reputation, Ellen DeGeneres would have come to mind fairly quickly. In her rise to fame, she has sung, she has danced, and she has made many people belly laugh with her quick-punch jokes and witty humor. She has told inspirational stories, given to the needy and worthwhile causes, treated unsung heroes like superstars, and has become best of friends with more Hollywood A-listers than can be counted.
Bottom line – people generally like Ellen. She has been on top of the world for quite some time. And for that reason, it’s possible that she and her producers never worried too much about reputational risk. After all, she’s ELLEN. Talk about a big assumption, a significant oversight, and gigantic lesson learned.
What actually happened in Ellen’s production studio? How aware or involved was Ellen? Good questions, but at this juncture, likely also moot points. The damage is done. Think about how many people out there are feeling different about Ellen, the celebrity they respected and idolized today? The headlines are no longer about the check she presented to a school, an amazing guest who wowed Ellen enthusiasts on her afternoon show with some kind of jaw-dropping talent, of the 12 Days of Christmas Giveaways. Today the headlines are about a toxic and abusive work culture that was created, with Ellen at the helm. In turn, Ellen DeGeneres is very clearly in crisis, with a future that is incredibly unstable. In fact, her reputational piggy bank is realizing daily withdrawals like never before.
I always stress that you don’t spin your way through crisis, you lead your way through. The decisive moves Ellen (and those with a controlling interest in her entertainment property) makes and the messages she delivers in the coming weeks, as a leader, are absolutely critical. They will factor in heavily as she continues to be judged in the court of public opinion, and her potential for recovery becomes defined, in tandem. Whoever is guiding her from a crisis and issue leadership standpoint has a gigantic responsibility, and a million and one challenges to tackle … not the least of which is marketplace trust in alignment with Ellen’s motto: Be kind to one another.
Ellen’s story reminds us all that no one’s reputation is so solid and strong that it should be considered invincible. This story reminds us of Warren Buffett’s famous quotation: “It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” It is the precise reason why Fallston Group exists, and serves as the trusted resource and partner for so many who need to be prepared for crisis, who need guidance and support during times of crisis, or who need direction and solutions to recover and move on from crisis. Management of your reputation during times of adversity is one of the wisest investments you can make. Just look at Ellen. And if handled properly, Ellen can be bigger, faster and stronger after this defining moment than she was before.