Tiger Woods has now spoken publicly about the incident at his home and the activities that led to it. Woods was a P.R. success story whose image was cultivated very carefully over the years by some very good handlers. Unfortunately, they made some huge mistakes this time. But, they’re mistakes we can learn from if we ever find ourselves in a crisis communications or reputation management situation, no matter how big or small.
DON'T PLAY THE WAITING GAME
The media spent most of the first day speculating about what led to the incident and why it happened. It also spent the day pointing out that it didn’t have many details and that Woods wasn’t saying anything. This is important, because in today’s 24 hour news cycle, there’s a lot of time for commentators to fill with speculation when bad news breaks, and for newscasters to point out they know very little about why or how an unfortunate situation occurred.
Commentators love to speculate, so in any crisis communications situation, issuing one statement or a series of brief ones can help eliminate the speculation, and also allow you to begin controlling the story, or present your case/side of the story, so that your message gets out to the public and you begin minimizing or eliminating negative publicity. .
Another option for Woods (and in any crisis communications situation) is to let the press know a statement will be issued at a specific time. This tells the press it will have something new to report at that time, and can immediately reduce commentator speculation and news reports that no more information is available. The media may still cover the story, (it absolutely would have in Woods’ case), but it’ll also be much more likely to start giving more coverage to other important stories taking place at the time, and less to your story.
Given what we now know about why the incident occurred at Woods’ home, it’ s understandable that his handlers didn’t want to say something that could come back to haunt him in a courtroom. That’s always a legitimate concern, but in the end, carefully timed and worded statements are better than speculation and non-stop reporting of the fact that there’s no information about a sensational and negative story.
DID TIGER SAY THE RIGHT THINGS?
Tiger Woods was essentially forced to finally say something publicly… to quell rumors about steroid use and to ask the paparazzi to leave his family alone.
The rumors and the invasion of his family’s privacy may have happened even if he’d said something publicly back in December, which he should have done. But, let’s look at what he said in his “public statement”. (The Insider won’ t call it a press conference because it wasn’t.)
Woods said the right things. He admitted to his indiscretions, apologized to his wife, family, his fans, and the game of golf. He accepted responsibility for them, and acknowledged the reasons that led to his decisions. In this case, his lifestyle and sense of entitlement to behave the way he did. (His words, not The Insider‘s)
These are critical statements, and the right ones to make. The trend among news commentators and newscasters at the local and national level, in situations such as this, is to talk/write about whether someone will issue an apology and accept responsibility. Note that the media did the same thing with David Letterman and his comments about Sarah Palin‘s daughter.
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS
Tiger Woods also checked himself into rehab.
Sometimes in a crisis communications situation, actions speak louder than words. It’s not enough to say your company will clean up the contamination. In today’s society, you need to actually do it. The media and the public will demand it, and all of the right words won’t change public perception if you don’ t act on your words.
From a P.R. perspective, Tiger Woods did the right thing by checking himself into rehab. But, he could have saved himself a lot of negative publicity over the past few months, by issuing strategically timed, carefully-worded statements that updated the press and public about his situation. Doing so would have eliminated a lot of speculation and rumors.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Tiger Woods’ image will recover. It will take time and he’ll be under the media and public microscopes for a while, but his image can be repaired.
Every crisis communication situation is different. The legal implications of certain statements do need to be considered in some cases, but in situations such as the one Tiger Woods is in, here’s the basic formula.
Acknowledge that the situation occurred. Apologize and take responsibility. State the corrective action that will be taken Take the action. Update the press and public with strategically timed, carefully worded statements as needed