Note to Tiger Woods: the head-in-the-sand PR techniques of 20 years ago don’t work today. Stop using them. So come clean, and then ask your fans for forgiveness and the media hounds for privacy.
The PR game changed with Hugh Grant’s 1995 encounter with the LAPD while receiving favors from a Sunset Boulevard prostitute. His arrest happened a few weeks before the release of “Nine Months“, his first major studio movie release. Against the advice of many PR experts at the time, Hugh Grant attacked his scandal head on, going on The Tonight Show and telling Jay Leno “I did a bad thing”. Hugh Grant continues to be a major star 15 years later.
Micheal Phelps had to face the music last year, when videos emerged of him smoking marijuana at a party. Phelps came forward and apologized for his “bad judgement”. While his career took a short term hit (no pun intended), he is back and his place in history will be as one of the greatest Olympic athletes of all time. The sponsorship money he lost will eventually come back. All will be fine.
David Letterman has demonstrated brilliantly how to address scandal in today’s fast-moving media age. When an extortion attempt threatened to bring his infidelity public, Letterman went on the offensive, apologizing very frankly and directly on the air for his mistakes. In the wake of his confession, Letterman’s ratings skyrocketed.
The story will come out eventually. That’s simply the nature of modern media. And what comes out in the interim could be more harmful than the reality.
Tiger Woods should take a lesson from Letterman, Phelps, and Grant. Face the situation head on. Never say “no comment.” Admit mistakes, expose yourself as human, and ask for forgiveness and a degree of privacy while you deal with the situation.
In the short term, you might lose some of the $100 million you bagged last year in sponsorship money. But it will come back to normal.
In the short term, you might feel your brand has suffered. It has. But that’s okay. It will come back to normal.
And in the short term, your personal life might be a living hell. But with some work, that can come back to normal as well.
The best advice for brands facing controversy and scandal in the digital age is to be engaged.
* Be real. Be human. You are more likely to gain sympathy from other real humans, like us.
* Establish a dialogue. The discussion will happen,with or without you… so why not get involved?
* Don’t leave the media to set the tone. Get the story out on your terms, like Letterman did.