Mario Sundar

LinkedIn's 2nd PR hire. These are my thoughts on products, public relations, and startups.

Handling a personal crisis like Letterman

We’ve seen this before. An executive’s fall from grace over a workplace dalliance. The world loves stories like this and the media just can’t have enough of it.

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The tech world, which is usually insulated from such drama, just saw earlier today the second of such stories in recent times. Keith Rabois, second in command at Jack Dorsey’s Square stepped down in his role as COO because of sexual harassment claims.

There’s definitely gonna be a lot of “He Said, He Said” over the next few weeks but Keith’s response to these allegations both on his blog as well as on his Twitter page, is a textbook case immediate response in crisis communication. It reminded me a lot of David Letterman’s handling of a blackmail over dalliances he had with his employees. Here’s Letterman addressing those allegations:

The key is authenticity. Letterman address was precise:

“The creepy stuff was that I’ve had sex with women who work for me on the show. My response to that is ‘Yes, I have.'”

“And would it be embarrassing if it were made public. Yes, it would. Especially for the women!”

Keith’s response has been somewhat along similar lines, though a tad more nebulous:

“In May 2010, I met someone via mutual friends. With increasing frequency, we hung out, drank wine, and I helped prepare him for interviews with tech startups. As our friendship deepened, we spent more time together, and our relationship became physical. We regularly worked out at the gym, occasionally hung out at my home, and exchanged intimate, personal information, as people in similar relationships often do.

Several months after our relationship began, I recommended that he interview at Square. He went through the interview process and was ultimately hired. I had no impact on his potential success at the company. At no point did he ever report directly to me, and I have seen his work product less than a handful of times.”

This may not be as cut-and-dry as the Letterman example, but the immediate response in all such cases is the same: an honest appraisal (see above) and a sincere apology (see below).

I deeply regret that I let my personal and professional lives to become intertwined, and I apologize to my colleagues and friends (at Square and elsewhere) who I’ve let down, and who will bear the brunt of some of the unnecessary, negative attention this situation will likely bring.

You may think it’s easy but very few people have been able to handle these situations right (Just ask Bill Clinton) and it takes a lot of courage to watch your dirty linen washed in public.

But at the end of the day, people are willing to forgive and forget as long as your work counts for something.

Just ask Bill Clinton of the Clinton Foundation, or David Letterman who was recently honored at the Kennedy Center for his contribution to pop-culture.

Filed under: Crisis Communications, Leadership Communication, Public Relations, ,

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