It’s not easy being Tiger Woods today. His personal life is a shambles, his family is shattered and his public image is DOA. While it’s easy to feel absolutely no sympathy for the golden boy whose sins cost him dearly, we need to remember something important.
Tiger Woods is not an individual. He is a $100 million marketing corporation that provided for the livelihoods of marketing people, advertising professionals and consumer product manufacturers – not to mention the business of golf itself. Without Tiger’s ability to drive endorsements and commercial viability, many people may even lose their jobs and some firms may be forced to cut back.
So, what could Tiger Woods possibly do to control the devastation of his image? Well, the simple truth is that he is way beyond damage control. The goal posts on his potential rehabilitation have been moved a few thousand yards away from its original line of scrimmage. The best he can hope for now is to set up a comeback a year or more down the line.
Still, it’s not impossible. Like many celebrities fallen from grace before him, there is a chance he could re-emerge as the powerhouse he once was. First, he needs a strategy.
The secret to Tiger’s potential comeback isn’t the golf fans, the media or even his fans – it’s women. I would venture a guess that many men are, unfortunately, less likely to think about the immorality of his actions than about how stupid he was to get caught. Of course, these men likely keep their opinions to themselves when in the company of their wives and girlfriends who wouldn’t take kindly to the idea that their men are in any way sympathetic to Tiger.
Which is why women are the key to his rehabilitation. If he can get back in the good graces of women, who are shocked and outraged by his lack of fidelity to his wife, he actually has a chance at making a comeback at some point.
The key to getting women to respect him again is to get in front of the media and perform a sincere, heartfelt mea culpa. He needs to have at least an hour of airtime, if not more, to answer questions and reveal everything that happened in his own words. He needs to be interviewed by a female journalist for the interview to carry any credibility with women – Oprah Winfrey, Diane Sawyer or even Barbara Walters. These are women of substance who will be sensitive enough to his need to tell his own story, but stand firm on their need to ask tough questions and not allow him to skirt the tougher answers.
He also needs to do the interview without coaching or any previous knowledge of the questions. His answers need to sound sincere, but more than that, they need to be sincere. Any level of rehearsal will be detected by the interviewer and the viewing audience. He needs to be genuine, and any guilt or remorse he displays needs to be real and palpable. He won’t win anyone over with that interview, but he will set the stage for an eventual comeback. Moreover, the interview will feed the media beast. As long as he continues to decline interviews and only communicate with the media in a one-way fashion using printed statements, the media will persist. He can hide behind the gates of his home in Orlando, or on his yacht in Palm Beach, but the media will not go away until he feeds them the real story. The interview can be the last word on the issue, much like interviews given by former President Bill Clinton and actor Robert Downey, Jr. who were then able to move onto continued success in their respective fields.
But that’s not all Tiger has to do. Internally, he needs to clean house. He has a staff of handlers, attorneys, and PR people who completely failed him. Granted, as the client, Tiger probably still called all the shots from the start, but it is their responsibility to guide their client to success, and they failed.
He also needs to align himself with a group that teaches values. He needs to talk to young men about the consequences of infidelity and the virtues of commitment. Whether it is faith-based or not doesn’t matter. Tiger was of such superstar status that access to him was very limited. He was on a pedestal created by the media, but that pedestal is gone. Much like a political candidate, he needs to talk to real people, face-to-face and discuss his failings as a way to help others defeat their own inner demons.
At the end of the day, it will be a long road for Tiger Woods, but it doesn’t have to end there. He still has the ability to turn things around and to stage a comeback at some point. But that will never happen unless he honestly changes his ways, faces the music and takes responsibility for his actions in a very public way.
Corporations who failed to do so suffered similar fates. After the Exxon Valdez oil tanker crashed and spilled millions of gallons of oil across Prince William Sound, they tried to hide the fact they put an alcoholic captain at the helm of the ship. As a result, people drove past Exxon gas stations and the company’s earnings and stock price suffered for years. It took them much longer to regain the lost market ground because they failed to take responsibility and get past the media storm. It’s basic crisis PR management, and the rules are as immutable as the law of gravity itself.
The media only delivers against the expectations and desires of its audience, and as long as people want Tiger to answer the question of “why?” the media will continue to ask the question until it is answered by the only person who knows.
I debated whether or not to share my thoughts on this sad tale…but with two decades in the public relations field, I felt there were important lessons for companies, as well as other high-profile individuals, to take away from Tiger’s fall from grace. PR is much more than simply the creation of fame. It is also crisis management when a corporation – or individual – makes a devastating mistake.