Tiger Woods and the PR machine

Is a celebrity’s PR strategy really news?  It is interesting to see how many “news reports” of the Tiger Woods accident are now commenting on how he should be responding to media interest and citing any PR practitioner who supports a strategy of “fessing up”.

This is the crisis management, and online communications mantra – be open, tell all, it will all come out anyway…  And, in an era where social media is breaking news ahead of the mainstream media, it’s no wonder that prurient interest demands to know every little detail – even when it is none of our business.

Free Press commentator, Michael Rosenberg, appears to be in a minority in saying Tiger doesn’t “owe us an explanation”.  I’m with him on this – it is up to the police to pursue any necessity for an interview – the rest of us have no right to know what went on, even if we might like to speculate and gossip online and off. 

Michael Ventre at NBC thinks he should have just said: ““I had a fight with my wife. I was upset. I crashed the car. I feel stupid.”

Kevin Lindsey backs up the argument for faster PR in Tiger’s camp by asking:

“…how many people went to a TMZ or to the National Enquirer Internet site to read about an alleged affair involving Tiger?  How many people spoke to a neighbor or friend about what they heard through the grapevine?”

Seriously, would any of this simplistic PR advice have made any difference – people like to talk about other people.  But that doesn’t mean those involved have to explain their actions to everyone else.

Jan Moir’s notorious article about Boyzone’s Stephen Gately epitomised the self-serving nosey-parker’s point of view stating:

“It is important that the truth comes out about the exact circumstances of his strange and lonely death.”

As with Michael Jackson, it isn’t enough for the police to investigate apparently – we all have to know every intimate detail; ideally in no more than 140 characters, so we can reTweet it ad nauseam.

No wonder we’ve had a year when the famous have even died for us on camera – with Jade Goody and Farrah Fawcett exposing their final days for our “entertainment”.

Maybe Robbie Williams has the right PR strategy with his “engagement” – will he, has he, frankly why should anyone care?

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

22 thoughts on “Tiger Woods and the PR machine”

  1. Had a similar discussion with a few folks on Twitter this morning, Heather. It started with this tweet from me:

    PR’s publicity vultures are feasting on the carcass of Tiger Woods.There’s nothing NEW to see or learn here folks. http://bit.ly/4I87au

    Thanks to our mutual friend Judy Gombita for pointing me to your brilliant assessment of Mr. Woods’ untimely woes. But as I said in a follow-up Tweet:

    Tiger W has built a big reservoir of goodwill. This isn’t gonna hurt him long-term. He’s prudent to protect himself legally.

  2. Good post (as always). I agree with your question “Is a celebrity’s PR strategy really news?”

    With all the athletes and celebrities that have made ill-advised statements or have acted in a less than forthcoming way, I’m struggling to remember the last time so many PR folks have felt the need to provide advice.

    Full disclosure, I posted the following blog on Sunday long before I realized that this accident would become such a PR issue. http://tonymackeypr.blogspot.com/2009/11/tiger-say-it-aint-so.html

    Regarding Michael Rosenberg saying Tiger doesn’t “owe us an explanation.” Of course he doesn’t owe it to anyone, but it is in his best interest to provide an explanation.

  3. Tony – I think the Tiger story was going to run with/without any comment from him, and at present he is probably best to let the head of steam out before determining the next best step. I believe a lot more celebs would benefit from a quick apology and low profile to sort themselves out rather than all the tabloid “exclusives” that usually follow any self-inflicted issue.

  4. Three days have passed since I posted my comment, and my support for Tiger’s measured approach has waned. In any crisis, it’s smart to drop back, gather the facts, cover the legal issues, then make your statement. That’s all in the “Crisis for Dummies” lesson, and I assumed that was his plan.

    But it’s Dec. 3, and we’re still waiting. All that’s left to learn is how many women are going to claim affairs with Mr. Woods. And since he probably knows the answer to that question, it’s time to fess up and move on.

    It not uncommon for the very rich and powerful to believe they can use their money and power to make things “go away.” Doesn’t work so well in the world of citizen journalism, does it? I still believe the goodwill he has built will carry him through all this.

  5. Here’s hoping the reservoir of Goodwill is sufficient, Bill. Don Henley sounded the alarm about the info-tainment of journalism 25 years ago — “Come and whisper in my ear, give us Dirty Laundry…” The “wait for it to blow over” methodology doesn’t seem to work very well in the social media age. We love “powerful brought low” stories (even better if the subject has a whiff of sanctimony, a la South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford), and we love to see fabulously wealthy people squirming…”all that money and look how he’s all screwed up now!” The media will not stop — it’s like Prisoner’s Dilemma; if CNN runs it, then ABC wants it – neither will stop the chase. Add in a tasty subplot (31 month affair with his wife just about to give birth?) and it’s just irresistible to the hoi polloi.

  6. All good points, Sean. The media won’t stop. Which is why I simply have to stop listening. And I have. Despite his transgressions, I feel story for Tiger. And in the spirit of your comment, I’m off to see if I can’t hook up with that bubble-headed bleach blonde. I hear she gets off at 6. (Something tells me a lotta folks are gonna misread that one.)

  7. I still don’t believe this is a matter of public relations rather than private relations. It strikes me as odd that Tiger Woods has to publicly state a private apology (which I’m sure he has done a zillion times already). Also he will undoubtedly have been in private correspondence with key sponsors – who have also kept quiet on the issue as it probably doesn’t affect their relationships as things stand.

    The media (and the public) see celebrity lives as soap opera and that’s what this really is. Why should he play the role of breaking down on Oprah and begging for fans’ forgiveness and all that other nonsense?

  8. There’s a great post on this at Philosopher’s Playground.


    I’m in agreement with him… Tiger turned himself into a human billboard of propriety in order to make gazillions of dollars. To get rich… the pre-requisite is that we be interested in him… not his golf game… but HIM as a person.

    He sold his soul and his privacy years ago. He can’t suddenly demand it back just because he doesn’t like what we’re looking at or that gazing upon his frailties is bad for his bank account.

  9. Letterhead – still don’t buy the argument that because Tiger is a human billboard that means anything for public relations. He certainly didn’t get to warrant the huge sponsorship deals because of his personality (real or myth) but because he was a phenomenal golfer at a young age, with an interesting personal story.

    Philosophers Playground highlights his role as an advertiser as if people can’t help themselves buying the product when they see a celebrity involved. That’s just rubbish – we have free choice if we wish to buy into the image, just as the sponsors do – and it will be up to them if they feel the public is no longer influenced by Tiger to end the deals.

    This really isn’t such a big deal for PR or marketing, just another celebrity being human.

  10. I don’t think P.P. was claiming that people “can’t help themselves”… The question is about an entitlement to privacy. You can’t sell your face to the public for enormous personal profit, and then yell at them to look away when you sprout a blemish.

    Absolutely agree that if people are turned off then sponsors are right to drop him. But to the point that no one should care?

    Hmmm… gotta mull that one over. Lots of money at stake here. And not just his. Product sales. Corporate reputations. Monied interests will fight to preserve what makes them rich… it could be regulation, trade secrets, a unique brand… in this case it’s a person’s reputation.

    Celebrity marketing is a staple of of American business. Whether it should be is a whole ‘nother question. But at the very least it offers a cautionary tale for marketing strategists. No?

  11. Good post. Tiger does not owe anybody an explanation about the goings on in his personal life. He is a golfer, not a priest. He never lectured us about how to behave and we have no right to lecture him either.

    The reaction of his sponsors in the heat of a crisis tells us nothing about the future. For instance, Kate Moss always emerged from her troubles more valuable than before, regardless of the nonsense sponsors talked during her many drug-taking PR storms (and Tiger’s extramarital sex is not even illegal).

    His profile has gone up, not down, and with it his long term value and prospects have risen (so long as he keeps playing golf like he always did, and perhaps even if he doesn’t).

  12. Letterhead – I’m not sure what the “cautionary tale” for marketing strategists is here at all. This week’s “strategic” advice being touted in the media to Tiger Woods “PR problem” is to go into sex addiction rehab followed (or preceded) by an Oprah interview. How cynical is that? The guy would be better off handing back his sponsors’ cheques, ignoring all his advisors and just discovering a life – preferably with his children.

    Paul – you highlight the total nonsense that is celebrity endorsement. Lots of sponsorship money to largely faux personalities, on the basis of the publics’ supposedly Pavlovian reaction to associating a brand with said celebrity. Then the celebrity acts human followed by media outrage, the same old PR strategies recommended (confess all, apologise, go into rehab) and then the sponsors will be beating down your door – especially if you can now be marketed as “edgy” as per Ms Moss.

  13. Yes, most people don’t give a damn about Tiger Wood’s private life – but it does make for great entertainment. It will blow over; so he should hold the nerve that he lost in his recent car crash (call it authentic, honest and maintaining integrity in a storm). Moreover, there was something refreshing when a certain singer sang:

    He’s tried to make me go to rehab,
    I wont go, go, go.

    The man said, why you think you here?
    I said, I got no idea
    Im gonna, im gonna loose my baby
    So I always keep a bottle near

    Said, I just think you’re depressed
    Kiss me, yeah baby
    And go rest

    I’m tryin to make me go to rehab
    I said no, no, no
    Yes I been black, but when I come back
    You wont know, know, know

    I don’t ever wanna drink again
    I just, ooo, I just need a friend
    Im not gonna spend 10 weeks
    Have everyone think im on the mend

    It’s not just my pride
    It’s just til these tears have dried

  14. I think Tiger does owe his fans and viewers an explanation. He is a public figure. He gets paid because he’s a good golfer and people like to watch him golf, but that doesn’t mean that is all that he has to live up to. As a role model to our children, he should expect to live up to a certain standard. When you are in the business he is, you’d better keep your nose clean and if you don’t, expect to pay the consequences. I don’t feel sorry for him one bit.

  15. HFE, I understand your perspective and don’t feel at all sorry for Tiger Woods in terms of how his professional life or reputation is affected. I feel for his wife and children who are innocent victims in this matter, and don’t deserve the media attention (although that seems so far to have been kept away from them).

    But I still don’t see that he does have to explain to the public about why he decided to behave like a rutting stag! I tend to feel that his fame is because of his golfing ability – and sure he did use the family man role to enhance his influence – but the public are the ones who buy into this at their own peril (caveat emptor).

    I don’t see that his is a role model to children specifically – apart from as a good golfer. His fall from grace perhaps is a lesson to them – but surely the behaviour of fathers in their own families or social circles are likely to be more influential.

  16. You make very good points about his wife and children. You are absolutely right that they should not have to suffer from his actions. I only hope that she chooses to leave him and not stick by his side after what he did to her.

    also good point about his fall from grace being a lesson to children. I did not consider that.

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