Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tiger Woods - what damage control looks like

(This just in: Tiger Woods has handled the tabloids and his critics with today’s written apology posted to his website.  By acknowledging his “personal sins,” most people believe that Tiger is confessing to adultery, which is still considered a serious breach of integrity. Integrity is a sibling of credibility, and credibility means everything in the product endorsement world.)

Tiger Woods’ domestic issues aside, what are the marketing implications of his weekend “incident?” It depends.

First, remember that most endorsement contracts have a “morals” clause. If you get caught chasing children with lollipops, or torturing animals, don’t expect you will still be able to endorse anything. (Denver area radio talk show host Peter Boyles asked his audience if Tiger should rise above such tawdry business because “golf is a gentlemen’s game.” Have you ever heard the language on a PGA golf course? Never mind that professional athletes on the road are assaulted with all manner of temptation.)

Second, Americans are extremely forgiving of its sports heroes. For goodness sake, it took years for people to finally tire of Bobby Bonds’ steroid use and turn a disapproving eye, and that was after he eclipsed Hank Aaron’s home run record. There persists a campaign to get admitted gambler Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame. We’ll even put up with colossally bad judgment from Kobe Bryant or Alex Rodriguez, if they play for our team.

All that to say, in a few months, no matter what happens to his marriage, or for what reason, people will watch Tiger whenever and wherever he plays. If he keeps winning, his fan base will endure. (Winning is everything.)

If he patches things up at home, and if he goes on Oprah or 60 Minutes with a sufficient amount of mea culpa, he will be entirely forgiven, and he can hold on to most of his commercial largesse. (CNBC’s Darren Rovel grades Tiger’s major endorsement deals with Accenture, American Express, AT & T, Buick, Electronic Arts, Gillette, Nike, and Tag Heuer.)  Besides, the target audience for Tiger’s products are mostly adults and mostly men, and every guy in the room TOTALLY understands the issues in play.

Crisis communications is about speed (getting out in front of the story) and accountability. Here is what a full apology includes (not the “I’m sorry if anyone was offended”). The offender must:

• acknowledge that he has not met the public’s reasonable expectations (don’t run in to fire hydrants in the middle of the night),
• explain why he crossed the line (anger issues, substance abuse, temporary insanity, etc.), and
• what he will do to not repeat the offense (rehab, restitution, accountable relationships, good friends and strong family).

This public display requires looking into at the interviewer, eye-to-eye, and expressing both regret (which looks like sorrow) and responsibility (manning up, owning the issue, not flinching or deflecting or excusing). Don’t blame the tabloids.  Don't go on TV to plea for privacy.  Your job in this interivew is humility and contrition, and maybe some talk about golf. The lawsuit is for later.  The privacy debate is for later.

The speed factor: I would retreat with the family to get through the holidays and try to book an appearance early in 2010, far enough ahead of his first tournament so that the two events to not look connected.

A word on Mrs. Woods: yes, inquiring minds want to know (about everything), but really, she is legitimately off limits. I hope our society gets over its attitude that it is entitled to all the details of anyone’s life. Someone must say no to TMZ, no to the National Enquirer, no to the Daily Tattler and the Weekly World News. The Woods family might be the ones to do it. Mrs. Woods should NOT appear on any interview show anywhere, at any time. Do NOT open that door. (I’m counting on the Woods family for one huge lawsuit against the tabloids. The Enquirer’s story now appears faulty, but it flushed out another woman’s story in US Weekly. More women will get paid by the tabloids to tell their story.)

Yes, Chavis Crew Communications handles crisis communications. I hope you never need my services, but if you ever do…

By the way, do you ever wonder why celebrity endorsements sway our buying patterns in the first place?

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