By Geoffrey Stackhouse, Managing Director, Clarity Solutions
I’m really struggling with the apology given by TV host Ellen DeGeneres this week. It’s flippant, evasive, and borderline offensive. But here’s my problem - while it seems to have done the trick and changed the conversation I wouldn’t try it at home.
According to Forbes, the show generates US$35 million a year for Warner Brothers and the NBC network. There's a lot at stake so Ellen had to apologise to keep her loyal viewers and advertisers sweet. But if this twaddle is acceptable then what does it mean for your crisis response?
Before I deconstruct Ellen’s apology, let us take a step back. Traditionally an apology is a circuit breaker designed to disperse outrage. A textbook apology will name the offence, show you get why the action has caused offence, and offer some changes to ensure it won’t happen again.
At face value Ellen seems to be doing this, but a deeper dive shows she’s glossed over the outrage, is ducking any responsibility and makes no specific commitments to change.
It’s a bigger deal in the US, so if you missed it the outrage is that dozens of former employees have made allegations of a toxic workplace with sexual misconduct, racism and bullying by top executives – all while working for the ‘be nice’ lady. But Ellen just glosses over the details like they don't matter.
It’s pretty serious stuff. In a previous apology Ellen said her only fault was to trust her employees to do the right thing and they let her down. She tones it down for this video but still implies she was completely ignorant of her workplace culture so she’s actually the victim here.
That argument just doesn’t hold water.
But not only is the content wrong, the delivery is, to say the least, non-traditional.
Ellen’s delivery is on brand – she opens ironically about her 'super terrific' summer, and uses her trademark deadpan tone throughout. She undermines the idea that she takes it seriously by adding a joke about her name being on underwear (which is technically a product plug since she actually flogs branded unmentionables).
Despite these communication crimes, Ellen seems to have got away with it. While we don’t have viewer numbers yet there are no calls for an advertiser boycott and the US media has given her a good wrap.
Perhaps all the Karens are loyal fans, or maybe her popularity carried her through. Either way, it would be a brave CEO to put his or her company’s share price on the line with this approach when a crisis has triggered public outrage. I hope Ellen won’t be an example you have to contend with when you’re trying to get a Crisis team to act to protect your firm's reputation.
We’re doing online training and coaching for crisis workshops and all our media training programs. Drop me a line if you’d like some more info, or you might also like to read:
Horsegate - Tesco's textbook crisis management
Potgieter and the fake apology
How Byron Burgers killed a £100m brand