Did David Letterman get good PR advice?

If you haven’t heard, David Letterman is in the news this week after a CBS News employee blackmailed him for $2 million after gathering proof that Letterman was having sexual relations with female staff members. On Thursday, Letterman addressed these allegations during his monologue.  He admitted to his relationships with female employees while throwing in some jokes, in typical Letterman style.

David LettermanI suppose you could say that Letterman did just the opposite of the dreaded “no comment”; a complete over share.  Transparency and honesty are important in public relations, but could Letterman’s publicist really have advised him to do this?

Letterman has already caught a lot of bad press earlier this year for some comments he made about Sarah Palin’s daughter that many felt were in bad taste. People even protested and demanded that he be fired.

Since Letterman’s mouth is already known to get him in trouble, you’d think his publicist would be on high alert for a crisis situation to arise. Counseling him to spill his guts during the monologue of his show probably is not the best way to diffuse the current situation.

By announcing his indiscretions like that, it opened him up to several criticisms.  The first is that he is disrespectful to women. Many women will not find it funny that a married man is cracking jokes  about having sex with employees on national television. The staff members in question most likely will not think this is amusing either, nor will their husbands or families.  Also, the lawyers and others involved in the legal precedings won’t be thrilled that details from the case are being talked about freely.

If I were Letterman’s publicist, I would have counseled him to be open and honest but in a more tasteful way.  Although it’s his nature to be funny, right now is not the time for jokes. If he gets past this gracefully, that time will come.

Letterman needs to show remorse over his actions to win the forgiveness of female fans.  He could take notes on this  from Kobe Bryant. Bryant made a public apology to his wife when his affair was made public with what seemed like a genuine display of emotion.

Instead of airing his dirty laundry on the show, he could have made a more subdued statement.  I would have recommended releasing a statement to the media prior to the airing of the show. He still needed to admit that he had done something wrong, but by providing the media a statement prior, he would have given them something to use that would have been at least slightly more positive then the buzz he created by making jokes on his show.

Late Show with David LettermanHowever, I’m not disagreeing that something needed to be said on his show.  A simple statement, either at the beginning of the show or after the monologue,in a serious tone should have been made.  Something to the tone of “This is what I did, I’m not proud of it, I’m sorry to those involved” would have been sufficient.

But, Letterman did it his way (or his publicists way). It will be interesting to see what kind of backlash this creates for Letterman.  He’s recovered in the past, and he still has a lot of fans rooting for him. Hopefully, although I’m not a huge fan, this wasn’t a career ending move for him.


1 Comment

  1. As it turns out, Letterman’s management of a negative situation was textbook crisis management. He admitted his mistake (he had to), he apologized and now he’s trying to move on. Dave can be thankful his missteps didn’t lead to a harassment complaint.

    Important lesson for PR professionals is that reputations grow from behavior. Dave slept around and was unfaithful to the woman he’s spent the past 23 years with. Tough behavior to defend — even when you’re the victim of extortion. Makes you wonder if he’d have been better off paying the $2 million, eh?

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