Tiger Woods might have written the book on how to make squillions from a tiny white ball.
But he – and most importantly his advisers (or should that be ill-advisors?) – won’t be penning a guide on handling a crisis in the media any day soon.
It’s true that keeping a stable of cocktail waitresses when you are a famous, married, sanctimonious, golfing family man is probably always going to be a tasty global media meal.
But Tiger Woods didn’t need to screw it up quite so badly. That goes for both the crisis management and, presumably, the marriage.
Even though some laughingly suggest Tiger Woods has suddenly become a whole lot more interesting, his reputation, “Brand Tiger”, is trashed. For now, at least.
His mea culpa in late February might have answered a few questions, (Yes he had a fondness for cocktail waitresses. No, he should not have had a fondness.) but it raised many more questions.
But it raised many more questions. Why did it take him nearly three months to poke his head up? And when he sheepishly did, why do it in such a stage-managed fashion? Was he even sincere?
And why speak – if haltingly reading a script and not facing questions can be described as speaking – on the same day as the Accenture golf tournament? (You’ll remember that Accenture was the first sponsor to drop Tiger). Surely he wasn’t being mischievous?
Three months after his car (lucky it wasn’t a Toyota, but more on that later) ran into a fire hydrant, triggering the media maelstrom, people are still talking about it.
As one American website pointed out, didn’t married David Letterman bed several members of his production team? When he heard word was set to be leaked, he took the initiative, fessed up, copped flak for a day or two. And everyone moved on.
RMIT marketing expert Dr Con Stavros says Tiger’s eventual statement only came due to commercial pressures.
“He had to (apologise) for branding reasons. If I was his PR advisor, I would have done it two months ago,” Stavros told Radio 3AW in late February.
Even though companies and individuals often have sound strategic and legal reasons for issuing a statement as opposed to fronting the media, hiding in a crisis is never going to cut it.
Take Toyota for example, eight-and-a-half million cars have been recalled (2,000 Prius Hybrids in Australia) and all the media was being fed for a week was statements. No human face, no human voice.
The recalling will cost well in excess of $2 billion. The damage to the brand’s reputation is incalculable.
“Silence can elicit a deafening response, especially in today’s wild west of free-wheeling media, when anyone can megaphone commentary globally on the internet,” complained one American communications website.
Media Manoeuvres’ Managing Director Sam Elam says the absence of accountability can become as lethal as the problem, which caused the crisis in the first place.
“By failing to engage face-to-face with the media, a company sends the message it doesn’t respect its audience enough to turn up in person and has something to hide,” she said.
Elam recommends that, should your company find itself in the centre of a media firestorm, the following guidelines should stop you making a Tiger or Toyota-esque stuff-up.
- Plan your Strategy – engage your comms specialist and assemble your risk management team
- Engage early – what you say and do in the first hours sets the tone for the entire crisis
- Scope the problem and the solution. Keep the media (and public) informed of your timeline for communication, even if you aren’t in a position to comment yet
- Make sure your spokesperson has been media trained, knows the company’s media policy and knows the company’s key messages
- Express empathy and apologise (if in legal boundaries)
- Be proactively accessible throughout the crisis
When in doubt remember the old axiom, you’re only as good as the advice you can afford. Or that other little saying: Remember, you can run … but you can’t hide!
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