Crisis Communications 2010 and the Tiger Woods PR Scandal

By Gerard Braud

It’s hard to believe that in 2010, people can still screw up public relations, crisis communicationscrisis management and media relations, as much as Tiger Woods and his handlers.

Friday’s statement by Woods was old school. It was bad. It was too little. It was too late.

The Gerard Braud school of crisis communications says you should issue a public comment within one hour or less of the onset of a crisis going public. That means a statement should have been issued the day of the accident.

It’s 2010 and we have YouTube.com. I would have had Woods post a short YouTube video the morning after the accident. Nothing fancy; a simple point and shoot video camera with Tiger on camera saying, “Hi, this is Tiger Woods. Last night I did something really stupid and embarrassing. While backing out my driveway I hit a fire hydrant. I over reacted, pulled forward and hit a tree. You can imagine how embarrassing this must be for me. I’m okay. I’m not injured. I appreciate the concern of my fans. At this time I simply need to repair my car and my ego.”

When you say nothing, you open the door to speculation. When Tiger said nothing, he opened the door to all of his affairs. Had he issued a statement, there is a good chance none of this would have ever gone public and he could have dealt with his infidelity in private.

Waiting three months to make an appearance is unacceptable in 2010. Also unacceptable is the idea that Woods had to do the statement live, reading from a script, and taking no questions from reporters.

Here are my observations:

• His statement could have just as easily been video taped.
• The live statement left him open to poor delivery.
• The live statement left no control over audience reaction.
• The front live camera failed 9 minutes into the statement, forcing the director to resort to a horrible shot over the golfer’s left shoulder, showing an uncomfortable audience of females.
• The body language of the audience was horrible, especially his mother’s crossed arms as she looked down in complete disgrace.
• He could have used a teleprompter.
• There was no need for an audience.
• Woods looked like a deer in the headlights.
• Apologies should be from the heart and not from paper.
• When you give a speech to a live audience, you can look left and right, but when you have a video camera in front of you, looking left and right make you look shifty eyed. Your eye contact needs to be with the camera, because that is where your audience is.

While there are times when I support the crisis communications strategy of not taking questions from reporters, to do this successfully you must tell all that you know in your prepared statement. In the planning stages, you must script out all of the questions that reporters will have and then script out all of the answers.

As for chastising the media, you should only admonish the media not to speculate on unknowns, when they are still unknown. If there are facts that you are intentionally withholding, then you invite speculation. There are many facts in this story that Woods has not addressed, hence the story and the speculation will continue.

Furthermore, Woods may be within his bounds to ask for privacy for his wife and children while he lives his life as an athlete, but once he has entered a world of scandal that is of his own making, he is grossly naive to expect his wife and children will be off limits to the paparazzi.

Too many people in public relations fail to do proper crisis communications. They try to fix issues with media relations after the crisis has exploded. I often rail against Virginia Tech, because their PR team applauded themselves for how they dealt with the global media after their crisis. But the fact is, crisis communications in the first hour of the Virginia Tech shooting, when only 2 people had been killed, might have prevented 30 additional deaths; it might have prevented the larger crisis. There would have been no need for media relations had the crisis been averted through proper crisis communications.

Likewise, a short video by Tiger Woods might have kept the media from pulling on the threads that caused his life to unravel.

Check the calendar my friends. It is 2010. A new age of communications is upon us. It is time to throw out the old school ways of the past and adopt progressive strategies using the new tools at our disposal.

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