Louis CK’s PR strategy — honesty is the right policy

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By Darren Johnson
Campus News

First off, as a human being, let me disclaimer this by saying that what Louis CK has admitted to is despicable. That said, as a communications professional, I can say that he is taking the correct PR path, whether he’s doing it to clear a guilty conscience and seek true forgiveness; or if he’s just being strategic.

To the latter, it is true – PR code of ethics aside – it’s our duty as communicators to give sound advice to our clients, especially when they hit rock bottom. Whether CK is being coached or not, who knows; though the guy is obviously self-realized and bright.

In this case, the sound advice is also the most ethical advice – admit what you’ve done is wrong immediately. For CK – unlike for the recently accused who used their power to belittle and physically rape vulnerable people – even allegedly children in at least one case – what he did likely won’t result in an arrest; even a civil trial may not result, let alone an award.

People often think of PR as “spin,” but, actually, instant and absolute honesty can be the best form of damage control when everything’s falling apart.

This is not to say that his actions weren’t disturbing, but what we know is that CK is a troubled guy who puts out an R-rated show. And he’s also a spendthrift – the money comes as quickly as it goes for him, so even if he were to lose a big civil case, that may not bother him as much as his conscience.

By just admitting to everything he is accused of now, this whole episode can now play out — honestly. The Court of Public Opinion can move on to someone else. And this may prevent the issue from snowballing, as it has for others; as some honest victims, and perhaps some opportunists, start to come forward in the future. He can admit blanket guilt now and then see if any of this results in a real penalty.

One example of this strategy working in the past: Let’s look at two former New York Yankees pitchers – pals Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens. Both were accused of steroid use around the same time over a decade ago. Pettitte copped to it right away and went back to baseball after a short hiatus. To this day, fans barely remember the episode. Clemens vehemently denied everything, and was run through the media and courts for years. He never recovered. In fact, his stats scream that he should be in the Hall of Fame, but he’s so tainted that isn’t going to happen any time soon. How much PR corrective work would that take?

Yes – again, a disclaimer – what CK did was vulgar and sexually abusive for sure. From a PR perspective, it may or may not be recoverable, though we know his “brand” is off-color and maybe many of his fans can accept that he pretty much acts like a monkey at the zoo in the green room. In his self-produced shows he portrays himself as a perverted Charlie Brown, who always loses in the end. Perhaps most of the people angry at this right now aren’t the ones who watch his shows anyway.

In this era where one can be a “celebrity” by finding a niche that’s 0.01% of the country’s population, maybe someone like CK can follow in the Teflon tradition of Woody Allen, who married his ex-wife’s young adopted daughter and went on to continue making self-produced films of some acclaim.

Regardless, CK’s and other recent celebrity sexual bombshells are just the tip of the iceberg for Hollywood in general, where hypersexuality was celebrated for so long that finally now we’re being shown its dark side. It’s starting to resemble how the Catholic Church abuse allegations started out with a trickle, and then the levy broke.

CK’s quick apology is him tapping out, giving up, before he becomes the poster boy for all of this. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the smart thing to do. The two goals don’t have to be mutually exclusive.


Darren Johnson has been writing “It’s New to You!” since 2010. He’s also has had a successful career as a PR person and a publisher.