Gini Dietrich

Tiger Woods: A PR Disaster

By: Gini Dietrich | February 21, 2010 | 

alg_tiger_woods_pressA lot of people have asked me what I think about Tiger Woods and the apology he gave on Friday. I’m never one to react with a knee jerk. I like to let it all soak in, discuss opposing sides, and then tell you what I think. But this one is a little bit different…mostly because the incident happened three months ago (so I’ve had plenty of time to let it sink in) and my opinion of how he should have handled this is no different just because he read a scripted apology on Friday.

Tiger Woods should have apologized no less than 48 hours after the car accident. At that point, he had a huge network of supporters who would have said, “He’s merely a mortal man and this can be fixed.” My friend Dave Van de Walle wrote a blog post (Tiger Woods vs. David Letterman) about it in December, even going so far as to say that if Tiger had used social media to help enhance his support, he wouldn’t be where he is at this moment. I agree

Having a personal brand is not any different that a corporate brand. Remember when Domino’s went through the social media crisis when two of their employees posted a YouTube video of them sneezing and spitting in food and then serving it to customers? The only thing Domino’s did wrong, in that case, is it took them a few days to respond and the video had, at that point, already made its way across the world via the Web. But they responded almost immediately…not three months later. Their CEO made a public apology in front of a camera and they put it on YouTube. The franchisee, whose employees made the video, also created a video apology. Then they used their networks to amplify the message and help dilute the crisis. A crisis, yes. But one handled very swiftly and very well in order to not hurt the brand’s reputation.

Fast forward through speculation and months of the tabloids and their headlines, “We think that is Tiger in a hooded sweatshirt leaving a sex addict clinic!” and he finally gets in front of ONE camera, reads a script, and doesn’t take any questions. A friend asked on Facebook, “So why not just release a video then?” Indeed. Why not just release a video then?

His scripted apology was read, it was disjointed and discombobulated, and his emphasis on going back to Buddism (which didn’t really fit) and spending time with his family were hurt by his family not being there with him. Look, I’m a woman. I get why his wife didn’t want to be there. But, from a PR perspective, if they truly are going to fix their marriage and she’s going to support him through this, she should have been there. But this isn’t about her; it’s about how a man handled a crisis terribly wrong and how it will take him years (if ever) to get his endorsements back. A crisis that could have been averted with a swift apology three months ago.

What do you think?

Photo credit: New York Daily News

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • While I agree with you as a case study in poorly managed PR, my sense is that the majority of us don’t care anymore. Here’s a guy’s personal crisis played out in front of everyone. Tiger has been a poor sport for a long time before this happened, he slams his clubs when he hits a bad shot, he curses, he rolls his eyes at little kids asking for autographs. He lost many of us back at the first time we saw these displays of “supreme diva’like” behavior, so I am not sure the apology does anything at all.
    Not for me.

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  • Tracy

    I agree, the majority of us don’t care about Tiger or the affair anymore, I’m disillusioned with him for exactly the reason mentioned by Gini. He waited so long to respond that now we dont even feel bad that he is losing his endorsements, it’s not even a shock.

  • I was on a four hour car ride back to Albuquerque and was picking up the Tiger Woods reaction on various Satellite radio channels. It is clear to me now that they had no clue what they were talking about. Gini, you hit it right on. When I saw the news conference, rather infomercial, I was sad to think that there were any “PR” professionals involved. I initially addressed Tiger’s PR misstep a few months back here I won’t update it because it isn’t worth it, he took things from bad to worse with that sham of a briefing.

  • You would think after three months, he would of had a better focus on where his career would be specifically headed, but he did not. This poor move alienated and left hanging the few PGA followers he did still have. Bad PR all around.

  • Too little too late. If he truly wanted to apologize it should have been immediately following the incident. Tom – you are right, this was basically an informercial. The right people were in the audience, nodding and showing sympathy at all the right moments. The press were left to watch it from a mile away, that’s not a press conference.

    Can’t help but think that this was more about getting endorsements back and getting back on tour than actually apologizing.

  • For someone whose brand has been so carefully cultured over the years, this apology seemed such a slipshod affair you have to question if it was by the same team. Like you say, Gini, 2 days is a lifetime in today’s world; three months is an eternity. Not sure where he goes from here, especially since there is so much apathy around him.

  • Tiger initially fell foul of poor professional advice. His lawyers told him to stay quiet, resulting in a media frenzy and a hack fest as he stayed quiet. It’s easy to point the finger and say “he should have done this, that or the other” but the man is/wsa a corporate brand that got caught up in an individual human breakdown. Polishing the ads and deciding on what product to endorse is one thing; dealing with your personal life being torn to shreds in public is another.
    The whole sorry saga has been badly managed by his team/s and they should take as much responsibility for that as he should fore his infidelity.

    If the apology and planned rebuilding of his marriage is part of his team’s plan, I suggest he would be better advised to ask if there is real hope for his relationship; if not, then cut it clean dead and move on. I think the public would respond better to a couple who admit their marriage has nothing left to work on and that they have decided to go their separate ways.

    This reliance on “family values” and the importance of staying together is just flim flam – no one is fooled by that any longer.

  • Gini Dietrich

    I’d like to think there weren’t any PR professionals involved…that he wasn’t listening to any professional advice. But, then again, there was some crazy woman on CNN on Thursday night claiming to be a PR strategist that said this is exactly what he should be doing. I was in the airport and I actually said out loud, “You are crazy!” Of course, who was the crazy person talking to a TV in the airport?

  • Jill Sites

    It’s funny, I was so wrapped up in HAPPO on Friday that I chose not to listen to any of it in real time, and listened when I got home from work that day. My husband and I KEEP talking about it, and yes, I agree with everything that has been said above. Moving away from the time frame and the horrifyingly bad speech, the whole thing made ME feel like Tiger doesn’t feel any remorse, and was put there by his legal/pr/agency team, and felt no emotion connected to the (really bad) speech he was reading. Which, I guess, is fine? But if you’re going to be that much of a robot about it, I would prefer not to see anything at all. It brought him back to the forefront of the “conversation” but I think he would have done better to actually disappear if he’s not planning on returning to the game any time soon.

  • What a disaster. I too would hope that he is not being given “professional” advice in the handling of this fiasco but I know that the chances of that are slim to none. A sad comment on the profession.

    Tiger’s recent public apology has done more harm than good because as Gini so aptly put it – it is crazy. When faced with a crisis management situation you must respond FAST and the response must be well thought out and strategic.

    That is why you should have a crisis management plan in place so that if the crap hits the fan then you know what to do and guess what we live on planet earth and people do stupid things so crap is gonna hit a few fans now and then.

  • Gini: As usual, I’m in about 99% agreement here.

    The 1%? You didn’t mention his arrogance toward the news cycles and the world of sports. Accenture, a former sponsor of Tiger, is holding one of the largest non-major golf tournaments of the year at the exact same time as Tiger’s announcement. NBC, the network that he relies on to make him look like an All-American during the US Open AND an All-American Team Player during the Ryder Cup, has its entire staff in Vancouver for the Olympics.

    The Olympics! Tiger has the gall to time his announcement during a quadrennial gathering of the world’s best Winter Sports athletes – many of whom get only a few minutes of fame, then go back to their daily grind schlepping packages during the day and training at night so they can have a chance at a podium.

    This continues to be a train wreck of bad advice followed by even worse advice – and devoid of all authenticity.

  • Gini Dietrich

    AND at the same time as HAPPO – we’re trying to help our industry peers find jobs and he has the gall to go on at the same time!? 🙂

    It sounds like we’re all in agreement that there is no authenticity or remorse. He seems to be treating this the same way he does when he loses, like a poor sport.

  • Here is how I would have handled it. I would have made Tiger go to sex rehab within a week of the incident. I would have had him make a statement saying that “I am not perfect, I made some mistakes and it is time for me to learn from them.” I would have already had him playing golf by now. The quicker he is playing golf, the quicker people will shrug it off. The press was already lingering off the story and then he apologies and brings all the scrutiny back. I wouldn’t have ever had him make a full blown apology because he never had to. We watch him for his golf ability, not is marriage ability. He has basically invited the press into his personal life even more. He should have make a quick statement and then just tried to move on. His PR person is an idiot.

  • Gini Dietrich

    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is coming from a man without a communication background. Thank you, Nick! That pretty much sums it all up!

  • Hi Gini,

    I agree that this has been a PR disaster and we have had a lot of discussions about it in the office from a PR point of view. I’m sure he is being advised by PR professionals but, as we all know, we can only make recommendations; we can’t force our clients to do anything. I watched his entire statement on Friday morning and, while I’m not a body language expert, I didn’t see genuine contrition. What came across to me was a guy who is really sorry that his life has changed for the worse and he has to dig himself out of a hole, not a guy who is genuinely remorseful. The fact that he read from a prepared statement, dictated the media list and didn’t take a single question says this is a guy who still feels the rules do not apply to him. It’s good that he finally came clean and admitted what he did for the first time but the statement should have been a pure apology. Peppering it with accusations and blame towards the media was a bad decision.
    Finally, I think that, if his wife is staying with him, she needed to be by his side, whether she wanted to or not. It was great that his mother was there and that she forgives him, but she is a mother. Of course she will forgive him. It should have been his wife that he embraced after the statement.

  • Gini Dietrich

    Louise – I TOTALLY agree! I know it can’t be easy to stand up there with a man who had as many affairs as he did, but if they’re going to make the point that he is working on his marriage, she absolutely needs to be there. Otherwise, do as Graham says above, admit the marriage is over and move on.

    But, like a few of you have commented here, this shouldn’t have been about his marriage. This should have been a quick swift kick in the pants to get back to golf and leave the media out of his personal life.

    It’s a disaster, all around. I really hope a PR person, or two, fired him for not listening.

  • He’s like the NCAA or NFL of personal brands–top-down, out of touch, egotistical, and control-freaked. OLD SCHOOL, missing the whole point. He is also letting the press set the agenda. Bad move. As Nick said–apologize, go golfing! The sponsors will be back as soon as he wins his next major. Until then, he can afford to let that part slide for awhile.

  • Gini, can I hire you as Dashal’s PR person? Well as soon as we can pay you more than Diet Mountain Dew, Pizza and queso. lol

  • Gini:

    As a PR case study I agree with you, it’s a disaster. As a case study in pride and arrogance it’s also instructive. He didn’t do a presser 3 months ago because he believed the normal rules don’t apply to him. He didn’t take questions, and wasn’t more open now because he is still holding onto some of that. I’m Tiger, I can do what I want.

    All of that said, he’s still a man in a bad situation, who’s learning a lot and paying a high price for that. I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt. Getting back to golf may be the best PR move for him, but might also lead to further mistakes, heartache and chaos. Maybe he’s doing the best he can navigating some very real challenges (of his own making) and trying to make change to be a better person. Doing that might mean he needs to be away from the limelight, and golf.

    Making that kind of change is hard, and messy, and doesn’t fit well into the “rules” of PR. Yes his agency should fire him because he’s making a mess of it. But that might be just what he needs to do in order to find his way to a better Tiger. As much as I’d love to see Tiger out on the golf course, I’d be happy to never have him back in golf if he can heal his marriage and raise strong sons.

    I’m not being as articulate here as I would want to be here, Michael Hyatt published his reaction this morning too and it’s worth taking a look at what he said,


  • It was painful to watch because it was so scripted and stilted. I was embarrassed for him. The man is messed up – he didn’t get that way overnight; therefore, his recovery will take years and can’t be “hurried” by a control apology. Yes, he said the right words, but timing and authenticity are everything. Finally, it appears that he’s being advised by his agents, managers, etc., not seasoned PR counsel, but what do you I know?

  • Gini, Tiger is still displaying that he is above normal rules. In that way, he’s acting as one who is showing remorse because he got caught. It certainly has been a disaster waiting all this time for Tiger to make a comment. But given that he did, one would expect there would be fruits of repentance–not just words–that he truly knows he is not above everyone else. However, how he handled the presser shows that it’s much of the same old thing.

    The only point I disagree with in your post is this insistence of having the “good wife” standing behind her man at the presser. I think that PR strategy should be retired because most people now see through that. How in the world does a man under fire for cheating on his wife look better if he is humiliating his wife by having her there? That Elin was not there was one of the few things Tiger got right, IMO.

    Good post. Thanks.

  • spin, spun, sunk. I have to agree that in the absense of bing in the conversation the conversation will go on without you. Tiger should not have missed any golf, should have taken questions, kept up the conversation and taken this smaller hits as he went along instead.

  • I am so over the whole Tiger Woods ordeal, but this I think is the first editorial I’ve seen on the subject that really addresses what seemed so “off” to me about how he handled it. I’ve seen it said that his rehab schedule called for him to apologize now and then return for more treatment, and I believe that, it seems about right given the general schedule of 12-step programs. But he didn’t have a rehab program preventing him from apologizing immediately after the mistresses started crawling out of the woodwork, nor did his rehab program now demand that he apologize the way he did.

    If he wasn’t going to take any questions, why didn’t he simply meet the rehab requirements by apologizing privately to his family and business associates, then release a prepared statement saying he’d done so and extending a generalized apology also to his fans? Why monopolize the television networks, interrupt other coverage, for a one-camera “press conference” that wouldn’t include any questions or reveal anything we didn’t know already?

    In Tiger I still see someone playing by special rules, from scooping paparazzi by releasing the photo of his jogging excursion to secluding himself from the press at a “press conference” to refusing to give any real information on his plans for his future as an athlete or a husband. Okay, Tiger is a sex addict, Tiger is very sorry(ish), Tiger would like to stay married, Tiger would like to play some more golf. Great. What about that couldn’t we have just read on TMZ?

  • One of the biggest takeaways in what is yet another great post by you Gini is that he is a brand. A personal brand.

    The brand was okay when things were going “well.” But to duck and hide, then when you finally address the issue to do it scripted with no interaction at all. Well, really poor.

    You are right on target.

  • Gini: This is not an issue that I care much about. I did not seet the “apology” but have seen bits of it as reported in the media. I think that people do the best they can. I was disappointed that it had to be read. I believe that this is just one step that he took infurtherance of the “program” that he is following at the clinic. There may have been or will be other private apologies. I think this was crafted as an apology to fans and that questions and answers in a news conference format do not apply. So, I would agree — why not just release a video? The only answer that I can ciome jup with — is that the hug with Mom seems too “scripted” that way.


  • Gini – Right after I read your post, I saw this post in my reader.

    It’s interesting, because it looks at Tiger’s apology from the lens of the Asian American experience. The article concludes by positing, “The press was miffed there was no Q&A – well, the press was just a minor necessity. The real focus were those people sitting in the front row. The apology was less a PR stunt (though it served as one, too) than a necessary step in repairing his bonds with his Asian identity and upbringing – embodied by his mother, in particular. Seeing him like this, almost like a brother, made Woods less of a joke to me; family traditions and cultural obligations are never a joke.”

    I agree that the apology was a PR fail, but I enjoyed reading a very different perspective on the cultural influences that may have played out in front of us.

  • Ces

    Great topic!

    If I recall correctly, Tiger did release statements 48 to 72 hours after the initial BOMB dropped! I think he had to wait for the “dust to settle”, because of the sheer number of women that were coming out of the woodwork and the various companies he was working with on endorsements. Some dropped him immediately, no if and or buts. And, some stayed with him. Once the dust settled, he and his team could begin the PR campaign … which included his admission to SEX THERAPY in January, so I think he has been handling it both on a personal side with Elin and a business side from the very beginning.

    I can’t begin to walk in his shoes, but for me I’m just big into forgiveness. That is if he sincerely walks the walk, and is not just talk.

    I wish him well for the sake of Elin and the kids. I know that the game of golf will miss him. And, when he comes back and begins to win again, his endorsements will comeback.


  • Alex Parker

    “PR Gold” is how this communications pro put it:

    What do you think? He cites Tiger’s squashing of rumors and leaving the media wanting more as reasons Tiger nailed the apology.

  • Gini Dietrich

    Alex, I read that as a very snarky post, not one of thinking he really nailed it…

    “He also managed to apologize to sponsors and even discreetly pat himself on the back for all the good works of his foundation. He did not take any questions, which could have ruined the moment. His wife was not there since a camera shot of her rolling her eyes would have ruined the mea culpa.”

    Brigitte’s and Brad’s points about looking at family values and traditions is interesting, but we could argue both sides of the coin on everything from the 12 step process to who he was apologizing to.

    My point is this, from the very nature of it not being honest or transparent, and that it took him three months to appear, is a PR nightmare. Through and through.

  • Sorry I just don’t get all this “PR advice” over an apology. Why exactly do you think Tiger Woods should apologise to you or any other member of the public? It is just naive to think that an immediate apology would have prevented all the tabloid stories – there are papers to sell, news needs attention to sell adverts, and plenty of women who were able to make a fast buck or grab 5 minutes of fame. This really isn’t even a PR issue – it’s just about publicity. And, when you’re as famous as Tiger, you’ll get that in spades, good and bad, no matter what approach you take.

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  • Tiger needs to deal with this with his wife. He doesn’t owe me an apology or an explantion, no more so than I owe him one for any of my behavior…….I never planned to select my auto, accounting firm or anything else based upon Tiger’s opinion or endorsement of any product, never had and never would, regardless of his behavior. This is an issue between him, his wife and his savior.

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  • I am pleased that Tiger Woods is back playing. It makes the game exciting yet again.

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