Netflix Has Reached a P.R. Inflection Point

Reed Hastings
Photo By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Matthew Belloni
October 17, 2021

Netflix co-C.E.O. Ted Sarandos has taken most of the heat for Dave Chappelle’s anti-L.G.B.T.Q.+ special, The Closer. But an underrated aspect of this communications and employee relations disaster actually takes its root in the business philosophy of the company’s other co-C.E.O., Reed Hastings.

From the beginning, Hastings has operated Netflix like his employees are part of a small family in a quiet Silicon Valley utopia. It’s all in his management advice book from last year: Everyone’s an adult here, he says. Direct and brutal honesty is rewarded. “Sunshine” your problems so everyone knows about them … and can learn. Give employees access to their colleagues’ salary information and strategy documents, just tell them not to get jealous or competitive. And company communications—even on controversial topics or with sensitive information—should be delivered directly to staff with the expectation that they not be shared outside the company. We trust you, so you trust us.     

That’s nice, especially for a company that also uses data as a sledgehammer and fires people so often it’s become an internal joke. But it doesn’t appear that Hastings’ comms strategy is tenable any longer. Or at least there will be consequences for clinging to it, as Netflix saw last week with the Chappelle flap. A media darling suddenly found its employee uprising on the front page of The New York Times, with a digital walkout forthcoming. And who knows what’s next?