Inspired: Own the story like Letterman

So, you’re the CEO of a highly visible and highly successful company. Your personal reputation is almost irrevocably linked to your corporate brand. You’ve been at the top of your game for years with a loyal following of customers.

But here’s the rub: you’ve also been having sex with members of your staff for years. Worse, someone has found out and is now blackmailing you for 2 million dollars. They’re threatening not just to go public with the information but to write a screenplay about it, which they will tout around your industry and amongst your peers.

By any measure, this is something of a communications challenge. The facts are personally embarrassing but – worse- could damage the crucial rapport you have have with your customers. Perhaps you should issue a denial? Pay the man? Mitigate the story by getting your wife and friends to issue statements of support?

What do you do?

Well, if you’re David Letterman, you take the bull by the horns – or rather you reclaim ownership of the story. What Letterman did last week on live television is a classic example of inspired crisis communications.

There’s no changing the facts – nor should you try – but claiming control over how and when those facts are communicated is vital. And the best way to do that is to tell the story yourself. Letterman didn’t shy away from the facts, he didn’t try to cover anything up, and he certainly didn’t try to spin them. He told the story, factually, and where appropriate with humour and self-deprecation.

The story isn’t going to go away as a result but, by telling it himself, he dramatically shortened its news cycle, giving other commentators nowhere to go with it, cutting out the days or weeks of speculation. More importantly, by communicating with his customers first, he reinforced the relationship of trust he has with them.

Inspired.

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