David Letterman: Good PR?

By: Scott Stein, Sr. Account Executive, Leonard & Finco Public Relations, Inc.

If you haven’t seen or heard much lately about David Letterman and the alleged plot by a TV producer to extort money from the late night talk show host you’re not alone. It’s been rather quiet on that front since the story broke, due in large part to the way the situation was handled.

While it’s not often that you’ll hear the name David Letterman mentioned during a discussion of crisis management, the Letterman situation is actually a pretty good example of how to deal with a crisis situation.

It started when Letterman went public in early October, telling his audience that he has had sexual relationships with female staff members and that he was being targeted by a related extortion plot. The situation is very interesting from a crisis management standpoint.

Letterman followed one of the basic tenets of crisis management – if you’ve got bad news, tell your story before someone else goes public and tells the story for you. Letterman also chose to publicly apologize to his wife and his Late Show staff a few nights later, showing a very human side. While the story continues to receive some attention, particularly as the court case unfolds, Letterman’s proactive approach has gone a long way to minimizing the impact.

There are lessons in the Letterman case that can be applied in many crisis situations. It’s a demonstration of the importance of telling the truth. In most crisis situations, getting out front, accepting responsibility and being honest with your audience will minimize the negative attention. The key is you have to mean it and be sincere. If you don’t follow through by being a “changed person” your credibility will be gone.

Celebrity scandals certainly aren’t anything new, particularly in today’s technology savvy world. But the way Letterman handled the situation is rare and a solid example of proper crisis management.