How a well-established reputation can be ruined in no time

Crisis communication Reputation management

At the end of 2019, American TV personality Ellen DeGeneres was listed as one of the most influential and powerful women in the media. Barely six months later, her most important brand, the talk show ‘Ellen‘, balances on the brink of collapse. The reason? More and more people openly stated that the beloved TV host suddenly turned out to be “one of the meanest people alive”. This rapid decomposition of her reputation shows that reputation management and communicating truthfully are anything but a luxury.

Since 2003 Ellen DeGeneres has charmed millions of American viewers every day. Stars of all sorts took a seat for a casual chat. But also those who were having a hard time in life, always found a comforting place on her sofa. Exactly because of her peaceful and humorous approach, DeGeneres was almost cuddled to death.

Yet at the beginning of this year things suddenly went pear-shaped. The first big dent in the image of the TV star came when the Dutch YouTube star Nikkie de Jager, aka NikkieTutorials, expressed great disappointment about her introduction to Ellen behind the scenes. Nikkie was surprised: ‘Ellen’ turns out not to be like Ellen at all. In the weeks that followed, social media spilled over with negative testimonies of (ex-)employees, who also portrayed her as one of the meanest people alive. Result: plummeting viewing figures and possibly even an early end to the show.

Now what does this have to do with me or my company, we hear you think. Well, more than you’d suspect. Because no matter how you look at it, at the end of the day Ellen DeGeneres is a company with an annual turnover of $84 million and its ‘shareholders’ are losing out due to some serious reputational damage.

Communicate truthfully

There are at least two lessons to be learned from this saga. First of all, ‘Ellen’ should have stayed Ellen. She had shown herself more often openly as a person of flesh and blood, with strengths, but sometimes also with flaws. Sooner or later, brands and business leaders who pretend to be different from what they really are collide will hit the wall. That is why it is important to always communicate truthfully. Both internally and externally. Sincere leaders and brands usually enjoy the most trust from their employees and the public. And they are your most important ambassadors.

In addition, the ‘Ellen’ case also teaches us something about crisis communication. When you allow things to drag on and you don’t react appropriately, it quickly becomes fashionable for quite a few others to jump on the critical bandwagon. Sometimes with stories that are just invented. And once that train has left the station, it becomes very difficult to get back on track. A well-designed crisis communication plan can already prevent a lot of damage.

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