It’s been a roller coaster of a summer for comedian, TV host, and paragon of “Geek Culture,” Chris Hardwick. After being accused of sexual abuse by a former girlfriend, Chloe Dykstra, through a viral social media post, it looked like Hardwick might see his brand severely damaged. He was suspended from his TV roles and voluntarily chose to avoid San Diego Comic Con this year, a massive event where’s he’s been a fixture in recent years.
As Hardwick tried to walk the fine communication line of proclaiming his innocence and protecting Dykstra’s feelings, Hardwick’s messaging was clear but empathetic. Still, it was a rough few weeks for the TV personality. In that time, AMC, the network that broadcasts programs in which Hardwick is the host completed an investigation.
While the investigation did not proclaim that Hardwick was definitively innocent, the network did determine that there was not enough to go on to keep Hardwick on the bench, calling his return to work “the appropriate step.” So, recently, he was back on the microphone, hosting Talking Dead, the show that recaps episodes of AMC’s The Walking Dead and discusses plot points in detail.
Hardwick grew emotional when he broke from the planned script to address the allegations, the suspension, and his return to work. “I want to thank you, ‘The Walking Dead’ community, for all your support over these past couple months… This show is not just a job to me, this is a vital part of my life, this has been a sanctuary these last seven years we’ve been here.”
Hardwick’s message, delivered directly to and about his fans, struck a good chord. He did not directly address Dykstra. Instead, he spoke in a way that raised the bar on how viewers may have perceived their importance, both to the star and the program they enjoy.
The host drew his audience in with his message, not just to the program, but into his life, letting them feel an important part of who he is, not just what he does. This aspect of personal connection is a significant facet of regaining brand credibility after a PR issue, especially in the entertainment industry.
For an entertainer, the audience is both the customer and the reason for the product. Without their deep connection to the work and to the creator, the brand struggles and the product doesn’t sell. A strong connection creates a stronger perceived importance, which, in turn, feeds that connection. That Hardwick ended his message with a collective pronoun emphasizes that, at least on some level, he understands this dynamic.
Ronn Torossian is the CEO and Founder of 5W Public Relations.