The David Letterman Rule

My general philosophy when it comes to crisis communication has always been what I call the David Letterman Rule.

In 2009, in the midst of a blackmail plot involving the Late Show host’s extramarital affairs, Dave took to the airwaves and gave it to us straight. He explained that he’d been having relationships with several people who were not his wife and that he was dealing with someone trying to blackmail him over this information. He didn’t make excuses. He didn’t blame others. He simply admitted his mistakes and asked for some privacy while he and his wife sorted out the damage.

The popularity of the late night host remained intact because of a simple communication tactic: HONESTY.

How often have you seen a politician get caught in a web of lies while trying to cover up for another web of lies? It’s sadly as common as spring thunderstorms. What we tell our clients in times of crisis is this:

Be David Letterman. Do not be a politician.

Let me be clear, not every crisis is your fault. Not every crisis is the same as a celebrity’s seedy affairs. The general principle, however, never changes. HONESTY.

As we all deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, crisis communications have never been more important. HONESTY (there’s that word again) has never been more important. Clients and customers understand there are going to be inconveniences. They just want a clear explanation of what’s changed, why it’s changed and what you’re doing to help them out.

You might be familiar with a recent story involving a Georgia man who allegedly lied to his employer about the results of his COVID-19 test. It cost the company thousands of dollars and may cost the man some jail time. In trying to take a short cut, he ended up making things much worse. The business, on the other hand, from what I can tell, has communicated the situation in a straightforward way. They were dealt a tough hand by the lying employee, but they didn’t make things worse by trying to cover anything up or spin it in a different direction.


People respect it, it always works best in the end and it truly is the best policy.

When communicating, remember the David Letterman Rule. You’ll be glad you did.

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