Tiger Woods: a study in failing your unforgivingly adoring public; or why PR is important

If you have ever wanted a case study in how petty and fickle the American public and media are about celebrities’ fame, just look at the scrutiny and criticism Tiger Woods is enduring after what amounts to a wacky accident.  With little factual evidence to support it, every national media outlet from the Today Show, to the National Enquirer to the East Sheboygan Cougar newsletter is reveling in the wrecked front end of Tiger’s Cadillac SUV.

Few public opinion leaders consider this a private matter, despite the fact that it happened on private property, in a gated community, in the early morning darkness of Black Friday.  And despite the fact that it was a single vehicle incident.  And despite the fact that he has complied with Florida’s incident reporting requirements.

It seems clear to me that he has finally shown a degree of . . . humanness that his gleeful critics can swarm around and chew on greedily.  Unfortunately, his million-dollar handlers have failed miserably as they backtrack, stumble and grope, and otherwise flail toward a plausible explanation.

Perhaps because their own livelihood hinges on Tiger’s sterling public image, or their acquiescence with his demands, it seems his “team” is using tactics that only invite more scrutiny and distrust.

Whether the result of a domestic feud, or his body fat percentage dipping precipitously low, Tiger’s most recent weekend green-side duel shows that even he is susceptible to inferior guidance and public gaffes.  In the first public relations course most students take, sage past practitioners extoll the virtues of candor and quick control of messy PR issues.  Even by this elementary tactical decision, Tiger’s “people” failed him.  And ultimately, his delicate position atop the marketing mountain of gold may be modestly damaged by their inability to humanize their client, and give him an authentic, honest, human persona during this crisis.  That, he could survive.

And shame on them, because ultimately, an “adoring” but publicity-addicted public is likely to forget about, or forgive, Tiger for a domestic transgression against his wife.  But they simply cannot forget Tiger lying to them.  To violate a private trust can be understood.  But to violate the trust of your adoring public is unforgivable.  Heaven forbid the adoring public  should no longer enjoy the . . . intimacy of totally understanding the Billionaire Next Door.  I mean, we buy AT&T cell phones and Tag Heuer watches because of this guy.  Even a glancing blow at the real cause of the accident would allow us to let it go.  His PR team should trust the pace of today’s sports news cycle to relegate this to the middle of the trash heap within hours.  Instead, their antics are keeping right at the forefront.

Whatever public humiliation and financial setbacks Tiger will suffer because of this, his PR team should suffer the most for leading him down a path that takes him farther away from the supposed trust he has asked fans, wealthy shoppers and investors to share with him.

Tiger, so the public sentiment seems to say, can lie to his wife.  But he can’t lie to his fans.  The relationships at home are much more forgiving than those you share with the public.  That is what top PR pros get paid to tell high-profile clients, like Tiger Woods.

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One response to “Tiger Woods: a study in failing your unforgivingly adoring public; or why PR is important

  1. Postscript: As Tiger’s world continues to reshape itself, I wanted to add a closing comment: public relations is a way of communicating with the public, not a solution to fix egregious errors in judgment.

    Clearly, Mr. Woods has gone off the deep end of defensible with his behavior, but it points out even more that his is a personal battle with corporate and public implications.

    Once he has dealt with his personal foibles, I expect the public will welcome him — perhaps in escalating waves of acceptance — he will return to golf juggernaut status.

    On a personal level, the price he pays will forever be far greater than the financial divot made by his forlorn former sponsors.

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