03.21.2010

Owning it

by Robin

I’ve blogged here before about Tiger and hope to not do so going forward. He’s announced he’s coming back to the tour, and I’m sure the media will be ruthless in its pursuit of him.  But I’m impressed with the interviews he’s conducted as part of his “re-entry,” especially the one with Kelly Tilghman of The Golf Channel.

In it, he answers tough questions and admits his faults. He doesn’t dodge questions, but he also doesn’t provide details that he’s said all along he will not provide. Good for him. The worst thing would be if he starts to provide any of those details or hints at it even. Because with that little bit of blood in the water, the media would be relentless. 

Many of the comments following stories about Tiger are becoming much more sympathetic to him. Many question why this is a story at all. As I’ve said earlier, the sooner he gets on the course and starts winning, the sooner all the questions will go away.  But I totally respect him for taking his time and dealing with his issues through therapy. Hopefully it will save his marriage. Hopefully it will save him, too.

02.19.2010

A few months ago I blogged about Tiger “doubling down” on his personal and professional crisis by not being honest, open, and transparent. I was watching closely today to see if he would be able to pull out of his steep dive and begin to right his course.

I was asked to join Terri DeBoer and Rachel Ruiz on the set of WOOD TV8’s “eightWest” morning talk show to provide live commentary about Tiger’s address to the nation. Not only was Tiger’s address nearly unprecedented, since media were not permitted any questions, but it also was an atypical morning for eightWest, normally taped a few hours before its broadcast at 11 a.m. Thank you to everyone at WOOD TV8 for your professionalism and the opportunity to chat with Rachel and Terri.

Last night, preparing for my stint as analyst, I thought about what I wanted to hear from Tiger and created my checklist. Of course, everyone wanted to hear he was sorry.  I wanted to see emotion from Tiger, who normally can be quite stoic. I wanted to hear him express concern for Elin and his children. I wanted him to acknowledge that he was viewed as a role model, and that he had failed in that regard. I wanted to hear him apologize to his fans and to golf and to his sponsors.

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods

I think Tiger was prepped well by his handlers to hit all of these marks. He did show some emotion at the beginning, and the embrace of his mother at the end was nice. Although he was a little stoic for the latter tw0-thirds of his speech, you could tell he was uncomfortable. With good reason.  He was standing in front of tens of millions of people admitting infidelity, poor judgment, broken values.

My wife sometimes says you have to “own” your decisions — good or bad. I think Tiger owned his decisions today. He placed blame only on himself. He had made the bad decisions. He was wrong. He had gone against the values he’d been taught.

Elin, he said, had been nothing but graceful in her handling of the situation and deserved praise, not blame. He acknowledged he also had let down his family, friends, “business partners,” fans, and children who had viewed him as a role model. He acknowledged he had broken the rules, somehow thinking he was above them.

And he asked for our help, to “find room in your heart to someday believe in me again.”

It is an important first step in the right direction. I don’t agree with those who believe he should have allowed media to ask questions. He actually provided a lot of information and answered most questions that should have been asked. If there were questions beyond what he shared, they would either have been inappropriate or not questions Tiger desired to answer.

As a public person who has received truckloads of cash to endorse products (of estimated $110 million he earned in 2008, only $6 million were golf earnings, according to Forbes), the public does have a right to know when that person isn’t what he says he is. It’s kind of a truth in advertising thing. You can’t be held up as a shining symbol of dependability and success when, in actuality, you are cheating (by taking steroids, or taking shortcuts, or taking liberties that are not generally accepted).

BUT, that does not mean Tiger has to answer every question the media asks. He does not have to share his conversations with Elin or details of his affairs. His PR people probably scoured the web and prepared him well to address the biggest and most pertinent concerns out there.  And the media will still get their opportunity to ask Tiger questions, but at this time he is a recovering addict and is not ready to have that kind of dialog.

The brand of Tiger may never recover the full value it once enjoyed, but I believe he’s on the right path.  If he returns to his winning form on the links and avoids future salacious sandtraps, he will be forgiven. He just needed to ask for it.  And now he has.

12.05.2009

My friend Bill Salvin of Signal Bridge Communications wrote a great piece on Tiger’s flawed approach to his PR problem this past week. I know that I earlier said it was probably a good thing Tiger was seeking privacy and supporting his wife and not sharing more information. Of course, at the time I didn’t know there was going to be texts and voice messages produced as proof of his infidelity. Maybe Tiger didn’t think so either.  And, as Bill points out, in his brief statement on November 19, Tiger lied. He called the rumors “false, unfounded and malicious.” Some of them, at least, were true! That’s “doubling down” on a mistake, which should never happen.

I believed he probably did have an affair, and I believed his wife may very well have have chased him around with a club and maybe even got a few licks in on him before taking out the back window of his SUV (was it before or after he crashed the vehicle?). But I didn’t think sharing all the details was going to help him, his wife, or any of us, for that matter.  The fact is, however, the dogs would not let this bone lie still.  And if there was any way to tell the story without Tiger “outing himself” first, it was going to happen.  Despite other financial problems traditional media may have, there are no shortages of budgets to reward any person willing to share photos, videos, or text/voice messages helping to show Tiger cheating on his wife.

I’ve always stated that it’s better for an organization (or person) to out themselves on issues rather than wait for someone else to do it. At that point, you’ve lost the ability to frame the story in any way. I don’t think there is any way for Tiger to share this story in a way that earns sympathy.  Even if he was a victim of spousal abuse as a result of his infidelity, many would think it was justified. Not only that, potentially getting his beautiful, cheated-upon wife put in jail for said abuse would have created a media circus.  It’s a mess.

Does Tiger owe us explanations? I’ve thought about that for a couple days now. If his sole source of income was winnings from golf, I’d say he doesn’t.  BUT, because Tiger makes the majority of his income from product endorsements — selling us on the stuff his face sells — then he does have an obligation to talk to us about what’s going on, provide explanations (if there are any) and, most importantly, apologize.  Apologize for the bad example he was for our kids.  Apologize to his wife for abusing her trust. Apologize to all of us for lying in his statement.  There are times we don’t need the full story. But we never deserve to be lied to.

Tiger has a lot of work to do to earn back people’s trust. Without that, his endorsement deals will evaporate and he will have to get used to living off his winnings alone.  :-)

12.01.2009

We all make choices–good and bad.  Often there are consequences for those choices. Fortunately, for most of us, those consequences aren’t played out in the tabloids (print, web or TV variety) as they are for Tiger Woods right now.

Choices Tiger made throughout his life yielded tremendous success in golf. Apparently, although the full truth is not known and is probably none of our business, his personal relationship choices may have placed him in a difficult position.

His accident this past weekend and the resulting scrutiny – fair or not – may have knocked some of the lustre off his sterling reputation and possibly nicked his bankability as an endorser.  The brand of Tiger has been hurt. Tiger’s response to all of this is critical. So far, seeking privacy and defending his wife against rumors have probably been wise choices.

Companies and individuals make bad decisions all the time and have to pay the consequences. How one responds to the negative consequence, however, is just as important.     

Too often corporate decision makers don’t pause to consider all potential consequences before pushing the button, whatever that button might be.  Too often they don’t bring in the right people to talk about possible consequences for any business action. Considering all of your stakeholders is important when making a business call, and too often a single decision maker within a large organization doesn’t know enough about all of the stakeholders. A quick review by a PR counselor can ensure that all of the important questions have been answered before proceeding.

Bad decisions happen and they can lead to problems for an organization. But what happens next is really important. Do you double down on your bad decision? The worst consequence might not be a drop in next month’s sales when you consider a damaged reputation can affect sales for years.

Bad decisions can lead to bankruptcies and even government bailouts, damaging reputation. A decision to then grant executive bonuses probably isn’t involving good PR counsel.

Major business decisions should involve some PR counsel, just as they require legal review. That holds especially when the decision is a response to a problem resulting from an earlier bad decision. Not someone who can help “spin” the story positive.  Rather, someone who will tell the decision makers what they really need to hear to make the right choices for their organization — choices that will serve the organization well for years to come.