David Letterman “gets it”.
On his show last night, David Letterman admitted to having been unfaithful to his spouse with a woman who had worked for him.
Newsworthy? Likely for some. But the way he handled it turned the story on its head – and proved why it’s good PR to get out in front of a negative story.
As Letterman alleges in the video below, he was being blackmailed by someone who demanded $2 million in exchange for not going public with the proof of Letterman’s affairs. Letterman had two choices:
1) Pay the money in the hopes of keeping the embarrassing news quiet – though there’s no guarantee the blackmailer wouldn’t come forward anyway.
2) Turn the tables on the blackmailer, and out the story himself.
He chose the second option, involving legal authorities to set up a sting and get the guy arrested in the process. [Note: unfortunately, the videos I had found on YouTube showing the full segment have been taken down. Will get a new one up as soon as I can find one.]
Is this embarrassing information? Yes. Does it make me think he’s a great guy? No. But he really did have sex with staffers – so he brought this on himself.
What he did with the issue from there, though, was textbook PR: he was the first to get the information out, and that gave him some control of the story. As a result, instead of all this morning's headlines reading “Staffer reveals Letterman cheats on wife,” or “Letterman has sex with employees,” headlines include:
"Letterman Reveals Extortion Attempt"
“Letterman says he was victim of extortion attempt”
“Letterman reveals affairs, $2 million extortion plot"
"David Letterman: Affairs led to extortion plot"
"David Letterman Reveals Extortion Plot and Confesses to Sex With Staffers"
Good PR doesn’t try to convince you that a bad thing is actually good – but, as Letterman showed us last night, it does help to mitigate the damage.