Tiger’s apology today from the PGA Tour Headquarters near Jacksonville, Florida, was the first step back in a long road to recovery. We heard what we expected to hear. By now we are all more or less “Tiger’ed Out” and people are going to see what they want to see. But as a crisis PR professional, here are my thoughts on how he did:
1. Overall Presentation
Although his problems will not blow over with this mea culpa, it seemed that Tiger was trying to speak from the heart with his statement. Clearly, this was not a statement that was prepared by a seasoned crisis PR person and if so, it was definitely augmented.
Tiger looked and was nervous. Who wouldn’t be? Although he clearly gets his point across, Tiger is not and never has been a great public speaker or interview. He’s always been a little stiff and his non-verbal communication isn’t the greatest.
But he did set a tone of deep regret. He took responsibility and held himself accountable for his actions. He apologized profusely. He owned his irresponsible and selfish behavior. He didn’t place blame on anyone else or make excuses. He repeatedly stated that he is the only person to blame.
It was three months late and the room was filled with supporters. That makes it feel a little less genuine and sincere. Had Team Tiger dealt with the situation immediately following the November 27, 2009 incident, the media circus and tabloid frenzy that ensued would have (and should have) been nullified. There were a significant number of bad decisions made with respect to how the scandal was not handled, all of which could have been avoided. He said some really valuable things, but the longer you wait, the harder it is to come back from a reputation standpoint.
He showed a range of emotions – anger, frustration, sadness, regret, embarrassment, contrition, etc. Did he show remorse? Yes. As for those who say he did not? They are choosing not to see it because it was there, primarily in what he said and how he said it.
It was a little awkward when he stared straight into the camera and his speech didn’t “flow” throughout its entirety. His range of emotions were okay, but again, Tiger is a little stiff in front of the cameras and that may appear to those who don’t know this, that his apology was less than authentic.
Should he have worn his wedding ring? I’m not sure he wears it to begin with, but it certainly would have sent a ‘positive’ message today.
4. Lashing Out at the Media with Respect to His Family
Tiger is right about this. As a parent, I understand you do whatever it takes to protect your family. I cannot imagine having paparazzi following my child to school and harassing him. He is a child. Kids don’t ask for this. And Tiger, like Sarah Palin and her recent “Family Guy” incident (yes, I said it, Sarah Palin), is absolutely correct. Leave the little ones alone. Kids are and should be off limits to the media. Nothing good can come of this. Let them be kids and leave them alone. Good for defending your family, Tiger.
5. Being Accountable and “Owning It”
The best part of what Tiger did today was flat out own the fact he doesn’t get to play by different rules.
He owned the fact he brought this shame on himself, he hurt his wife, his kids, his mother, his wife’s family, his friends, his foundation, all the kids all around the world who have looked up to him, his sponsors, those who work for him, etc.
He owned the fact that he felt “normal rules didn’t apply” and that he deserved to enjoy all the temptations around him. That he felt he was entitled because he had worked hard all his life and thanks to money and fame, he didn’t have to go far to find the trappings of celebrity. Stop for a moment here. This is a huge statement. To the best of my recollection, I cannot remember any superstar athlete, politician, celebrity, high profile financial executive, or other, who owned it at THIS level and said absolutely and unequivocally, “I felt the rules didn’t apply to me.”
THE ROAD TO RECOVERY
Today was step one on the road to what I call “Reputation Rehab.”
He is working on repairing his family life, and yes, that is a private matter and it should come first. He knows he’s let down his family, friends, fans, and those that work for him. He is focused on his marriage and his children and relying on others for help. He stated that he also understands that when he returns, he needs to make his behavior more respectful of the game, which shows that he realizes he needs to change his life on a bigger scale, not just his relationship with his wife. These statements portrayed a person who wants be a better man in every aspect of his life.
Tiger has a long way to go and at some point, more than likely when he returns to golf, he will face the cameras, microphones and questions from the media. So what is the best way at this juncture for everyone to move forward and put this behind them? Let Tiger deal with his family matters privately, get back on the course once his home is in order, start winning again, and allow time to run its course.
The PGA Tour has many great golfers on it. But with Tiger, its ratings skyrocket. Without him, golf essentially is a niche sport that loses some of its universal appeal.
THE LESSONS LEARNED – PUBLIC FIGURES TAKE NOTICE
- Make sure you have a seasoned team of strategic and crisis PR experts on your team – from the outset. When faced with controversy, scandal or crisis, engage that experienced team and deal with the issue head on, quickly, strategically and immediately.
- When faced with crisis, DO NOT try to cover it up, lie, spin or twist the truth. You will (in the words of my esteemed colleague and friend, Melissa Graves) “FAIL” every time.
- Timing is everything. Do NOT think it will go away or that you can handle it by yourself with the help of your lawyer and/or agent. Lawyers and agents deal with the legal process and making sure your deals are done. Crisis PR people deal with the court of public opinion. And good ones know how to guide you strategically through the process, not “spin” your story. Think you can handle it on your own? Think again. You’re only going to make it worse for yourself.