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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tiger fails Image 101

Before I get to the meat of today's post, I wanted to give you guys a little something to spice up your hump day. I went back and forth about actually posting this link, but the more I thought about it, and the more I went back to read the postings, I realized that it really is a little glimpse into the world of journalists.

Don't get me wrong, not ALL journalists are grumpy, cynical, alcoholic, lazy pessimists; just most of them (and trust me, I also meet most of those requirements), just most of them. If you go to the site, you might be tempted to think that the postings aren't real, or made up or just plain mean. While I'll agree with you that some of the comments might seem tasteless, or gallows humor, it's the world I lived in for nearly two decades and I can tell you that not only did I hear these types of comments every day, I also made more than a few myself. What can I say.

Anyway, check out www.overheardinthenewsroom.com. It's a lot like Overheard in New York, only with a newsroom spin. I hope you enjoy.

Image 101


Tiger Woods is in trouble. I'm not talking about his issues with his family, or even potential issues with law enforcement. No, I'm talking about his ongoing image disaster. This article by David Wharton and Jim Peltz of the Los Angeles Times (courtesy of the Business Mirror site) does an excellent job in pinpointing what Mr. Woods has done wrong in this fiasco, which is, basically, everything.

Tiger is without a doubt one of the most popular and well known athletes in the world. And he has had a few image issues in the past, most notably his infamous demeanor when not performing well and his penchant for littering courses with obscenities, tossing them around like two-putts. But up to now, his unrivaled success has helped him smooth over any ruffled feathers those issues might have caused.

But now he's facing a much bigger image problem with the reported accident outside his Florida home. Even though Woods is a generally universally-loved sports figure, not even he can overcome this current problem without some smart public relations handling.

As Wharton and Peltz note in the article, "So far, he has responded with brief statements on his web site, saying the accident was 'my fault' and 'obviously embarrassing,' adding: 'This is a private matter and I want to keep it that way.' His comments have raised more questions than they have answered, and he has repeatedly turned away police seeking a follow-up interview."

Ken Sunshine, President of Sunshine, Sachs & Associates in New York deftly points out later in the article why this is a problem. "It looks like you're covering up something, and it just adds to this feeding frenzy that's developed in the last 72 hours."

On one hand, this is a classic case of proper crisis communications, which his team has failed miserably at. We'll get to crisis communications here soon, but in the meantime, here's what you need to know about handling any crisis situation. Admit, apologize, Fix. While Tiger has apologized, kind of, in a release sent out Tuesday, people still don't know what he's apologizing for. This leads to all kinds of speculation and wild rumor-mongering.

In Tigers' case, this is where his success really hurts him. On the tail of super-celebrity faux-pas by Kobe Bryant, Brittney Spears and others too numerous to mention, the public will always let their imagination run wild, thinking the worst of a person they see as more of a character than a real person.

In the aforementioned article, Wharton and Peltz correctly point out that Bryant managed to eventually put his ugly incident behind him and begin restoring his image by allowing people to see him as a person, not just a basketball superstar. Up to this point, Tiger has been relatively private about his personal life, leaving most people with the image of Tiger as golf hero, not Tiger as human being with all the flaws that go with being just a person.

Even with all his dominance and commercial appeal, Tiger has always remained a bit distant to the average person. He's good, he knows it, and he'll tell you how good he is whether you ask him or not. This kind of hubris works if you're the best golfer of all time. Not so much when you're the best golfer of all time embroiled in a domestic and legal scandal. Think about it, in the context of everyday life and other celebrities, what happened, reportedly running his SUV into a hydrant and a tree outside his home, isn't really that bad. There was no alcohol involved according to police. So why all the attention?

Because there are still too many questions left unanswered and that leaves the door wide open for journalists and everyday folks to focus on. Combine that with this legendary ego, temper and obscure private life, and you have a potentially explosive PR disaster.

Compare Tiger to another famous sports figure who may have actually improved his image even while in the throes of utter failure. Charlie Weiss, formerly known as the head coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish blew into North Bend sporting the kind of cocky confidence usually reserved for coaches named Osborne, Switzer, Meyer or Carroll. He boasted, taunted and made promises he ultimately couldn't keep.

A disclaimer here before I move on. I hate Notre Dame, nearly as much as I hate Nebraska (I'm a CU guy, what can I say?). I also despise the Patriots. So it was natural I would enjoy watching Weiss fall flat on his face during his tenure at ND. But, as was recently noted in Sports Illustrated, something funny happened to Weiss while he was doing all that losing. He actually became more likeable, much to my dismay.

How did he manage to turn his image around, even while losing nearly half his games? He opened up. He became less of a blowhard charicature, and more of a human. He admitted his mistakes, he apologized for them and he offered a blueprint for fixing the problems, a classic PR crisis communications strategy.

When he was fired, we didn't see the massive ego that promised to "change the face of college football." Instead we saw a humble, hurting man that seemed genuinely heartbroken he couldn't succeed at the one job he'd coveted his entire life. Hey we can all relate to that. We've all been humbled and we've all had our heart broken.

Tiger would do well to take a look at how Weiss changed his image, or, even better, take a look at Kobe Bryant and learn something about letting people see him as a person, not just a sports icon. If he doesn't, sadly, this current situation could haunt him for a lot longer than just a week or a month, it could become a distraction for a long time to come.

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