Alan Stam beat me to the punch when he posed the following question: “How should Tiger Woods handle car crash questions?” Ever since I’d heard of the infamous “taking out a fire hydrant and neighbour’s tree” incident at 2:35am, I was shaking my head about how the incident was being handled from a PR perspective. It amazed me that someone as famous – and public – as Tiger Woods would not have a squeaky clean and stellar crisis communications plan kick into place. Did he have the wrong team working for him, or was he not heeding their counsel?
Regardless, he sure missed the basics of crisis communications, which is mind-boggling to me. Sure he’s a “celebrity”, which would make you think he’d have the right plan kick into place, partly because he has the resources, and partly because he’d need to…for him, for his family, for his upcoming tournament, for his sponsors – it’s not just about him.
He missed the basics of crisis communications from the very beginning. First, he remained silent for so long, and then when he finally did issue a statement on his website, he was very vague with what he is saying. Then, despite his apology and taking accountability for the accident, it was pretty “vanilla” – not to mention late – and not at all transparent given the shroud of secrecy. I also didn’t think the “dig” at the end was very appropriate either, especially for someone of his supposed character. Tiger Woods is now just leaving it to others to speculate, and that they are – especially in today’s world of social media where silence can kill (or have someone else create your story and message for you, meaning you lose control).
Woods is a celebrity, which unfortunately means he has even less “privacy”, especially in today’s world of social media. Maybe he should have thought about that a bit before he got into his car at 2:35am and drove off in a manner capable of having him take out a fire hydrant, hit a neighbour’s tree and knock him unconscious. If anyone else had done this it wouldn’t have made the news, but it was Tiger, and it did make the news. His image is somewhat tarnished in my mind because of how he’s handled the situation. It gives the impression that something is being hidden, which unfortunately as a celebrity, is hard to do, and often frowned-upon. I’m waiting to see how this week unfolds and how he handles himself with his upcoming tournament…whether he plays, whether he still holds the press conference – oh and what he says (and refuses to say) at the press conference, if it takes place. I think he can make up lost ground here, if he takes control and takes the opportunity (or makes it into an opportunity). Time will tell I guess.
So, do I think he got it wrong when it came to handling his crisis? Yes. Do I think his image will be hurt by this? Yes, but to what degree is uncertain as it’s too early to tell. Will he lose sponsors? That’s the big question. He is so big and so powerful that they may allow him a “gimme” this time around. But, I think they will want answers and assurances that this is a blip (and not the beginning of a John Daley story).
I do think this will become a classic case study of how not to handle a crisis! Too bad it’s Tiger Woods setting the example! So what do you think?