She Built A Media Empire On One True Thing: Herself
ADWEEK|October 15, 2018

Adweek media visionary Ellen Degeneres specializes in what the world needs now-authenticity.

Lisa Granatstein

When you talk to Ellen DeGeneres, what you see is what you get.

Offstage, away from the cameras, Adweek’s Media Visionary is as genuine and thoughtful as the likable persona she’s cultivated during her long, remarkable career as an entertainer, writer, producer, and LGBTQ and animal activist.

Her signature credo is “Be kind to one another” and she has been true to it, despite weathering a devastating backlash right at the height of her initial fame. Following her steady rise as a comedian, DeGeneres headlined HBO stand-up comedy specials, guested on TV shows and, in 1994, landed her eponymous sitcom on ABC. Then, three years later, she made history in 1997 with the simple words, “Yep, I’m Gay” on Time’s cover and shortly thereafter became the first leading character in prime time to come out. America was a very different place 20-plus years ago than it is now, and some tough years followed for DeGeneres, to put it mildly.

But she persisted. She landed a daytime talker, now with a rabid following and in its 16th season, hosted the Emmys and Oscars (and blew up Twitter with her star-studded selfie) and was a judge on American Idol, and along the way scooped up 59 Daytime Emmy Awards, a Prime-time Emmy Award, 20 People’s Choice Awards and the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom, among many other accolades. Somehow, DeGeneres finds time to produce several TV shows via her A Very Good Production company, including NBC’s Ellen’s Game of Games, Little Big Shots and ABC’s Splitting Up Together.

DeGeneres in recent years has made the successful transition to the third screen, using social media as yet another platform to entertain and inspire, but also to tackle controversial issues, from school shootings to #MeToo moments, most recently taking to Twitter in support of Christine Blasey Ford during Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate hearings.

With her tens of millions of followers, DeGeneres in 2014 launched Ellen Digital Ventures, and its hub ellentube became a digital destination for curated show clips and user-generated content submitted by fans. Two years later, DeGeneres teamed up with Warner Bros. Television Group to launch the Ellen Digital Network, which rolled up all her digital assets, including ellentube, her YouTube channel and digital game Heads Up!, along with original programming, on an ad-supported cross-channel platform. EDN now boasts more than 1 billion monthly views and counts a combined 188 million social followers. Of course, with an engaged audience like that, marketers have become fans, too. DeGeneres has her own lifestyle brand, ED, and last month she struck a deal with Walmart to create EV1, a women’s clothing line that’s styled with optimism and inclusion in mind.

If that weren’t enough, DeGeneres is going back to her comic roots with Relatable, a Netflix stand-up special in December—her first in over a decade. On DeGeneres’ 60th birthday, her wife, actress Portia de Rossi, surprised the big animal advocate with The Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in Rwanda as well as the Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund to protect endangered species.

Here, despite juggling her daytime show, her TV and digital projects, conservation efforts and caring for her three dogs and three cats (all rescues), DeGeneres took time out to reflect on her evolution from stand-up comic to media icon.

Adweek: You say on Twitter that your “tweets are real.” How important is being real to who you are as a brand, as an entertainer? What’s your appeal?

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