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Archive for December, 2009

Tiger’s PR shank

The questionable PR management of an innocuous automobile accident has thrust Tiger Woods into the one place he had fought so hard to avoid – the tabloid spotlight.

If ever there was an object lesson in media and public relations bungling, then this was it. When his reputation landed in the rough last week, he was found wanting.

Throughout his career, Woods’ alienation of stakeholders has become legendary. Broadcasters were told to dance to his tune, promoters were required to fork out large chunks of appearance money, police escorts ring-fenced him on the links of St Andrews.

And, all the while, Joe Public was regularly snarled at and instructed to respect his privacy.

Well now we know why.

Now we know that Tiger had turned cheater. And when the lurid allegations began to fly, the tabloids gorged themselves, figuring that it was payback time.

By turning away the Florida State Troopers on three occasions and fobbing off the public, Woods and his handlers created an information vacuum into which wild speculation flowed.

Theories abounded that his wife had pursued his car armed with a three-iron, taking out several windows of his Cadillac Escalade as he attempted to make good his escape only to collide first with a fire hydrant before his inglorious progress was halted by a tree.

In the hours and days that followed, the disdain with which the media was treated by his spin surgeons and legal counsel, served only to ignite the desire to dig a little deeper.

Willing accomplices were unearthed. A society glamour puss here, a cocktail waitress there. Taking succour from tabloid cheque books, they emerged by the day. The count is now nine and rising.

Buying off one or two of the consorts in question was never a smart tactic by Woods’s people. Not when those negotiations put his lawyers head-to-head with tabloid editors.

As one tacky tale followed another, Woods, acting on poor advice and misguided logic, cowered behind bland statements on his own web site, rather than confront the imbroglio head on.

“I am dismayed to realize the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny really means,” he wrote.

“But no matter how intense curiosity about public figures can be, there is an important and deep principle at stake which is the right to some simple, human measure of privacy.

“For me, the virtue of privacy is one that must be protected in matters that are intimate and within one’s own family. Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn’t have to mean public confessions.”

Fair enough Tiger but the moment you chose a little extra-curricular night putting over your family, it was no longer a private matter. It was a media matter and by extension a very public matter.

Woods is a richly talented golfer, with 14 majors in his locker. In 2008 he earned over US$100 million from winnings and endorsements. He is the world’s foremost individual sports brand with personal worth of US$1 billion. He is icon and role model. It is on this last point that the world feels let down.

Woods is not a crisis communications pro, nor is his attorney. That is evidenced by them breaking all of the fundamental rules of crisis communications in the build-up to and aftermath of that 2am accident.

On three main counts they failed. 1. Have a plan for when crisis strikes; 2. Tell your side of the story – quickly, honestly and accurately; 3. Establish and control messaging.

The warning signs were there at least a week before it all started to unravel. The tabloids had linked Woods to New York nightclub host Rachel Uchitel, who was reported to be in the same Melbourne hotel as Woods while he was competing in the Australian Masters.

Woods had time to ponder the impact of the two issues – first that the media sharks were circling over claims of a dalliance, and second the confrontation with a fire hydrant and a tree near his Orlando home.

Woods ignored at least three opportunities to talk with police investigators about the incident. He delayed, losing opportunities to take control of the messaging. The delay aroused suspicion and media speculation grew.

To compound the situation, Woods’s statement about a car crash hinted at wider issues, possibly even alleged personal indiscretions. The sharks scented blood.

“This situation is my fault, and it’s obviously embarrassing to my family and me. I’m human and I’m not perfect. I will certainly make sure this doesn’t happen again.

“This is a private matter and I want to keep it that way. Although I understand there is curiosity, the many false, unfounded and malicious rumours that are currently circulating about my family and me are irresponsible.”

Light the blue touch paper.

Woods’ evasiveness and stonewalling rendered his personal web site a shooting gallery.

One comment read … “The longer you procrastinate, the more spin – negative or otherwise – there is out there. If you need to tweak the truth, so be it. But you should fire your PR advisors now. They’re doing a horrible job, and if you don’t have any, I suggest you pick a good one up from here on out. Step up – take control – move on.”

The duck-and-cover ploy didn’t work this time. It only contributed to the widening sentiment that Woods had been hiding facts, not to mention avoiding the authorities.

Woods employs an armada of advisers – charitable foundation communicators, personal spokesman, IMG luminaries. Either they didn’t offer the reputation management he needed or he didn’t listen.

Sometimes no news is bad news.

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