Friday, December 4, 2009


The punch-lines have all been written, and the back story well established, so let’s break down the communications plays around Tiger Woods’ week from hell, shall we? First and foremost, he blew it at the outset with the initial statement he put up on his website. Tactically, it was a good idea: get something out, fast and unfiltered, directly from him to the world. But the trouble lay in the fact that the statement itself raised more questions than it answered, in the aftermath of the car accident and amid the furiously swirling but (at the time) still unconfirmed rumours of infidelity on the golf master’s part. By obliquely talking about “this situation” being “all my fault,” “obviously embarrassing” and something that he would “certainly make sure … doesn’t happen again,” he merely stoked the fires of speculation even higher. Rather than taking the first opportunity to come clean, clearly admit his misconduct, express contrition and humbly ask for privacy, Woods ended up being dragged there when his alleged partners started surfacing in the media. Even then, his follow-up statement only got it half right. His rather petulant knocks against the media for their interest in what he deemed should be a purely private matter (“personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn’t have to mean public confessions”) changed what should have been a turning point in the story into yet another reason to criticize his behaviour. As any public figure needs to understand, there’s a quid pro quo for the velvet rope. The same public acceptance of your fame and special treatment when times are good carries with it an obligation to at least be up-front on the basics when things go bad. You don’t have to get into all the gory details, but you do have to confirm or deny the top-line, indicate whether you’re prepared to talk any further or not, and stay that course. The only thing Woods has done right since is to stay hidden, and I say that for two reasons: I personally don’t think he could handle the strain of making a live statement to the media without potentially going off the rails amid what would undoubtedly be a feeding frenzy; and second, he’s essentially radioactive right now. The story is just too hot, and any interaction with the media would reinforce the image of a fallen icon under fire and back on his heels, so there’s nothing to be gained and great potential of an even bigger downside. As ham-fistedly as it was done, he has fessed up, expressed regret and asked for space. The best thing he can do now is stay behind the gates of his exclusive community and let things cool – at least into the new year – before resurfacing, most likely in the context of a single one-on-one interview where he can say his piece, draw the line, and set the stage for his return to the tournament circuit.

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