Tiger Tales – A Lesson in Crisis PR

by Tamika Morrison

Tiger Woods emerged from obscurity on Friday, February 19th at 11am ET to finally deliver a statement about his allegations of infidelity. For three months he allowed the media and his 10+ mistresses to speculate, assume, and address us, the public – the mogul brand that he was and the disintegrating PR mess that he’s become. Many a publicist wondered where in the hell was his PR team when he needed them?

The Tiger Woods PR story is a lesson in PR crisis management because it was a disaster from the start. How in all of Hades can an athlete like Tiger Woods logically explain how he crashed his luxury car into a tree in his own neighborhood, traveling at less than 30mph at 2:30am if he’s not drunk, fighting or running for his life? Let’s examine a few of these bloopers.

Unfortunately for Tiger, Hades can’t help him on this one. It’s obvious from the looks and sounds of things, there’s more going on than meets the eye (note: the details of the accident scene, the 911 call, the cancelled appointments with the Florida Highway Patrol, etc.) Tiger’s PR team let too much time pass before issuing a real statement. In fact, we’re technically still waiting on one to be released. This is lesson #1 – act quickly. It seems as if his lawyer has been acting as his publicist with all the silence going on. Attorneys will tell you to keep quiet or else incriminate yourself. But in this case, that wasn’t the right approach. I’m not here to ‘knock’ his PR people when they’re already down,  it’s not like PR pros go around asking for crisis situations to manage. But when a crisis arise, there’s no time to waste. Kevin Sullivan a PR veteran and ex-White House Communications director under former-President George W. Bush says it very plainly, “Tell it first, tell it yourself and tell it all. That is the tried and true formula for handling a messy public relations crisis in the smoothest possible way.”

Well as it turned out, there was nothing smooth about this mess. Before it was all said and done, there were 10 mistresses and counting that came forth with stories of scandal and infidelity. Even saying that, I’m not sure it would have been easy for Tiger to tell it all, but he should have told it first and in a timely manner. Being timely minimizes the rumor-mill from spinning out-of-control with allegations that make it harder to counter the truth. Who’s to say these 10+ women are really telling the truth, from the facts of the situation only two women seem to have credible stories. Again, if a timely message addressing the media was issued on the grounds of his infidelity, maybe things could have gone a little smoother?

In a Crisis situation you have to be quick and nimble, two elements the Woods PR team failed at terribly. A statement addressing his condition should have been released with thanks to his fans for the care and concern, he should have strategically planned a meeting with the Florida Highway Patrol (all the cancellations made things worse) and issued a gag order until his PR team had enough time to address the salacious matter, but not too long. It’s easy to say what should have been done when you’re not the one dealing with it, but I believe Tiger’s PR crisis is a textbook case to examine and learn from. In crisis, you must act quickly, logically and in a manner that keeps the brand intact.

Only time will tell the final outcome of this “Tale of the Tiger” and whether his marriage and image can be saved. He’s not only a text book case for PR pros, but a grave example to the rich and powerful that they too are subject to the laws of the land just as everyone else. As we say, “What’s done in the dark will come to the light.”

A very difficult situation for Tiger and his brand indeed.

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