PR lessons from Tiger Woods

I have been meaning to blog about the recent Tiger Woods and David Letterman affairs / sex scandals that made headline news recently.  By chance, today I read a guest column in the Globe & Mail written by a fellow PR industry colleague that concisely summed up my thoughts on the two incidents so I wanted to share it with you.  The brief analysis of the two gentlemen are excellent case study examples that compare and contrast what not to do and what TO DO when your personal or corporate reputation is at risk.  Rather than write a similar blog post, I’d like to direct you to her commentary here.

In the event this link dies in the near future (this often happens with newspaper websites), I have cut and pasted the story below for you.  One thing is for certain after the Tiger debacle, I no longer think golf is boring!

Small business lessons from Tiger Woods

Originally published on Thurs Jan. 14, 2010 8:26AM EST

Written by: Mia Wedgbury, president and co-founder of High Road Communications, headquartered in Toronto.

Have you had your fill of the Tiger Woods story yet? If not, you’re in luck. It continues to pop up in the news cycle even after all these weeks.

It didn’t have to be this way. If Mr. Woods had followed some basic communications best-practices from the get go, we’d be seeing a different kind of coverage. There’s an important lesson here for business owners on how not to handle a crisis, and the implications of letting others tell your story.

Many of you will recall (and you’ll note we don’t read much about it any more) the recent plight of U.S. talk show host David Letterman. He, like Mr. Woods, was caught up in an extramarital affair scandal. Mr. Letterman understood, however, that the No. 1 priority during a time of crisis is to take ownership of the issue, be pro-active, and answer questions before they’re asked.

Rather than waiting for rumours to take root, as they inevitably would have, Mr. Letterman broke the news of his affairs and subsequent alleged extortion attempt live on his show. He used another broadcast to apologize to his family. Mr. Letterman did not escape negative coverage, of course – that was never realistic. But he did not hide, nor did he try to spin the facts. From the start, reporters covering Mr. Letterman didn’t have to dig to get to the truth. He was providing it.

Responding to allegations with silence, no comment, or vague answers tells people, rightly or wrongly, that something is going on, prompting reporters to find the “real” story. For Mr. Letterman the result was a wave of public sympathy and little impact on the Letterman brand.

Contrast that with Mr. Woods, who said and did very little in the days following his car crash. To fill the silence, reporters and bloggers speculated endlessly on what happened. Mr. Woods only reacted after the women allegedly involved in any affairs were identified, and damning evidence surfaced. It’s still too early to tell where this will lead, but Mr. Woods’ brand is likely tarnished, at least to some degree and, as of this writing, he has yet to make any live, public statement. The frenzy continues.

Few of us have the profile or public allure of Mr. Woods and Mr. Letterman. But the lesson here applies to all business owners: If you don’t take communications seriously, you put your image at risk. Maybe you made a mistake, and customers are making statements about you or your brand on blogs or on Twitter. Or maybe your industry’s reputation is taking a beating based on high-profile incidents like a product recall.

Don’t wait for things to blow over.

If you have facts you want your customers to know, take action. Make yourself available to reporters as an industry spokesperson to provide your viewpoints, and be sure to build a strong online presence so you can respond to critics and clear up myths and misconceptions.

The bottom line – take a cue from Mr. Letterman and don’t run for cover when things get tough. It’s the best way to protect your image.

Special to the Globe & Mail

Maria’s note:   To add levity to David Letterman’s own situation,  he aimed jokes at Tiger on his show after his sex scandals hit the news. This was clever – he was able to make fun of himself and his own recent situation while cracking jokes about current events in only the way that David Letterman can.   For instance, on the show, David quips that if the Woods scandal had erupted three months ago, he’d “have material for a year.”  Letterman said: “President Obama is sending troops to Afghanistan. Hell, he ought to be sending them to Tiger Woods’ house.”

He then follows with:   Top Ten Ways Tiger Woods Can Improve His Image

10.  Crash a State Dinner at the White House

9.     Change his name from “Tiger” to more adorable “Puppy”

8.     Fix this whole health care mess

7.    Put on a scarf and a hat and sing Christmas carols with Regis

6.    Instead of sweatshops in Asia, have Nike merchandise made in a sweatshop right here in the U.S.A.

5.    Retire, then come back and play for the Vikings

4.    Safely land his golf cart in the Hudson river

3.    Release a list of women he did not have sex with

2.    Find Osama bin Laden

1.    Blame Letterman

Post by Maria Loscerbo