Monday, October 5, 2009

What PIOs and Commanders Can Learn from David Letterman

For those who may not know, David Letterman on his Thursday night show revealed to his studio and national audience that he had numerous affairs with the women employed by him in his office. He was forced into this embarrassing confession by an extortion plot. A CBS news producer, deep in debt, had requested $2 million from the tv host for him to keep silent.

PR pundits have declared David's confession a text-book case of crisis communication and public relations management. Some have even suggested that the whole story will have big benefits for CBS, especially as they fight a ratings war with Jay Leno's new show.

There are certainly some positive lessons to be learned from this event useful for those in crisis communication. The most obvious one is if there is bad news to tell, tell it yourself. Don't wait, don't let it leak out slowly, control the message, the timing and everything about it. That can be hard to do and you can see from the confession itself that it was hard for Letterman to do.

But, frankly, I'm disgusted with the PR professionals who are swooning over David's wonderful confession, and also a little disgusted with the idea that a salacious story like that involving celebrities always creates good news for those concerned about ratings. After all, it was while employed as a host for a CBS show that David carried on his numerous activities with staff. Is this the image that CBS wishes to communicate, that it is good news to have one of their celebrities caught publicly in this kind of behavior?

Let's not forget that we are talking about a man, now married, who it appears might have been carrying sexual harassment to entirely new levels. I suspect the story on this might not be done. All it will take is for one of those women to ever so gently suggest that the sex was less than consensual or that she felt any sort of pressure related to her job. We seem to have dual standards about moral behavior. This is painfully evident in Hollywood right now as the luminaries flock around one of their own, despite his conviction for sex with a 13 year old. If you are a famous funny man, the rules for sexual harassment, let alone rampant promiscuity, don't seem to apply.

While noting the positive of what Letterman did in confessing his "creepy" behavior to an adoring audience, let's note that he violated the first rule of building trust. The two rules are: do the right thing, and communicate well. He communicated well, but he clearly did not do the right thing as it relates to his personal behavior. He acted like a creep. Fact is, his behavior shows he is a creep. At least in the moral judgment of most of the world outside of Hollywood and network executives who seem to think that ratings cover a multitude of sins.

Lessons learned--if you've done creepy things, do as Letterman did and come out with them fast. But if you want to be trusted, don't do creepy things.

No comments:

Post a Comment