If you’ve been involved in a crisis or major emergency involving public information, there is a very good chance you were a participant in or witness to a conversation something like this:
PIO: I know it is going to make us look bad, but we have to come out with it.
Response Leader or Executive: Just give them a simple statement saying we are sorry and we are fixing the problem.
PIO: But without providing any details we will just encourage more questions.
Leader: So? We don’t have to answer questions.
PIO: If we don’t we will look guilty.
Leader: And if we tell them what you suggest we tell them we will be guilty!
PIO: But it still is much better if bad news came from us rather than someone else.
Leader: What if the bad stuff doesn’t out at all? These satellite trucks and helicopters can’t hang around forever. If we’re lucky, some big news will hit and we’ll get bumped to the back page.
PIO: Excuse me, there’s no back page on the internet.
Well, I could go on. Tiger is not talking. Not to the police, not to his adoring fans, maybe not even to his wife, we don’t know. But the longer he doesn’t talk, the worse it looks for him. In the meantime, it’s a big story and that means lots of people are talking. The more Tiger is silent, the more the professional newsdiggers and now all the unprofessional and amateur newsdiggers are busily doing what they can to get the next scoop–miniscule or major.
One of the comments on Tiger’s website after he posted his hopelessly anemic statement said it very well:
Tiger, Not sure of the private nature of your conflict. Pretty sure of the public nature of why people want to hear from you on the issue. They want to believe in you. In a real sense, you’ve inherited Arnie’s Army et al and your supporters WANT to believe in you. My request, as a man who works with ex-addicts and ex-inmates in Idaho, is to come clean. Attorneys are important, honesty more so. It’s a heavy burden to carry the PR weight you carry, I am certain. It is a heavier burden to carry, when a person looks like they are shrugging away any other weight that conflicts withwell placed appearances. Be real. The world is looking for realness.
There is an obvious lesson for everyone in crisis management and particularly when you or your organization are responsible for the crisis–environmental spill, industrial accident, health or safety risk to the public. Tell the people what is going on. If you can’t say anything because you don’t have the information or are prevented by legal restrictions or something is being investigated, then say it. Tiger would be so much better off saying something like: I had that accident because (something stupid he did). I’m terribly sorry for the pain this causing my wife, family and my fans and supporters. I need some time alone with my family and to heal physically and emotionally from this event. I will be fully cooperating with all authorities and answering any questions they have (and then do it for goodness’ sake).
I hope for the very best for this incredible young man. It would be so sad to see one of the greatest athletes and talents of all time lose his career and the respect he deserves–particularly if it is mostly because of getting some terrible PR advice.