Tag Archives: Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods, BP and you(?): It’s tough digging out of the pit

When you observe the hulking wrecks of once vaunted reputations, like BP and Tiger Woods, it makes it very clear why protecting a reputation is so important. Because rebuilding one once it has been trashed is extremely difficult.

Tiger’s position atop the pedestal of athletic achievement was almost unmatched. Last November 27 it all came crashing down when his Cadillac hit a tree and a golf club hit him. Actually, it started before that but that was the decisive moment. BP’s reputation, sullied as it was by previous events, was still solid as one of the world’s leading companies, until April 20. Even the new Oil Spill Commission working paper which is actually overall quite complimentary of BP’s remarkable efforts to contain the well will do little to improve their reputation which must be near the bottom of corporate reputations right now.

As Tiger nears the one year anniversary of his collapse, it is clear he is on a mission to try and recover at least some of what he has lost. But, given this ABC News report, the effort looks doomed to fail–or least not deliver the hoped for results.

Having discussed strategy recently with an organization facing reputation challenges that are close to pit-like, I’ve been doing a fair amount of thinking about what can be done when you are in the pit. Part of the problem is that being there may not be your fault, or all your fault. You may be there unjustly–something I talk about a lot in relation to today’s media coverage focused on gaining audiences through exaggerating the problems as well as the nasty social media atmosphere of toxic talk. But, ultimately whether you got to the pit through your own problems or by false accusations it hardly matters. It is, as they say, what it is.

Here are some of the things I’ve been thinking about when faced with deep and potentially organization-ending reputation challenges:

– Be bold. It is not the time for half measures, for quasi-steps. You need game changers, actions and messages that demonstrate that you get it and are doing something about it.

– Make common cause with your severest critics. Yes, this fits under the be bold category. There are those out there who are unrelenting in their criticism. They are the ones the media will go to for all their juicy quotes and they usually have their own selfish agenda such as getting elected or keeping on the front page. But, go to them. Openly, publicly and say “Help us get this right. We need you.” Look what a dilemma that will cause for them. If their demands prove unreasonable to the observing public, their credibility is diminished. If you substantially meet their objections, and they continue to harp, same thing. You put the onus on them when you agree with them that they are right and you are wrong.

– Be humble. Humility isn’t a virtue we often see displayed in the actions and messages of the high and mighty. To admit that you need help, that you are willing to listen and engage, that you accept the need for thorough change–these are not the expected responses of powerful people or brands.

– Authentic actions. Actions taken for show, for messaging, for positioning will only come back to bite. The more the actions are clear that they issue from the very heart of the leaders and the core of the company the better they will be. But they must be sustainable as the severest critics will be watching intently. They must be real, they must be substantive, they must be sustainable.

-Go direct. For goodness sake, don’t let others carry your change message for you, particularly the media. I’d like to see one of these entities in the pits say “we’re not going to talk to the media anymore because, you know what, we can talk directly to the people who really matter.” Today we have incredible resources to identify and engage directly with the people whose opinion about us matters the most, be are stuck in an old world of thinking that it is only the media who generates opinion. Admittedly, they remain very powerful. But you can go direct to those who matter most and in doing so can and should directly confront when the media, bloggers or politicians are saying things that are clearly unfair or untrue.

– Borrowed credibility–I’ve promoted this idea for some time and frankly, am surprised that it isn’t more widely adopted by those in deep holes. It seems forced on them by circumstances usually and then it is often too late. If your company, your agency, your leadership loses credibility, the game is largely over. It is the most important thing you have. You can’t fight the battle without credibility, it’s like engaging in business with a zero bank balance and no credit. You have to get credibility and if it means borrowing it from someone else, you have to do it. So ask yourself, who has credibility in this space, with this audience? Who will step forward on my behalf and say, hey, what’s going on here is wrong, you’all have to take another look. Sure, it is risky for the person doing that and may be hard to pull off. But, when in the pits, it is one of the few proven strategies and must be attempted at the highest level possible.

If you look at Tiger and BP from this perspective you can evaluate whether or not these would work. Tiger needs someone with immense credibility in the golfing and athletic world to step forward and say, alright all you guys, I’ve talked to him, he understands, he gets it, he’s on the right path, he’s working as hard as he can so get off his back. Arnold? Jack?

BP suffered from the loss of credibility of Tony Hayward and have made great progress with Bob Dudley who has yet to seriously lose the credibility he has. Yet, a longtime insider to BP could not possibly bring the same level of credibility that someone from the outside. I’m not saying that this borrowed credibility needs to assume a specific position with the organization–it should probably be avoided. If you are indeed in the pit, anytime someone gets a card with your logo on it, their credibility flaps away. But being in the position of a citizen advocate, an oversight committee, an ombudsman, an observer and honest reporter of actions can be even more valuable.

If you’re a bit discouraged by this it is probably a good reminder to think about just how tough it is too recover a reputation that is severely damaged. And that is a great reminder to do everything possible to keep it.

Welcoming myself back from hiatus

Hope some of you missed me…I’ve been gone for nearly a month, vacation, out of office work, and how a grandkid-induced cold. In the meantime, of course the world goes on.

A few quick observations:

The West Virginia mine disaster–our thoughts and prayers are with the families. The news media of course played the standard litany of a long list of violations but then put family members on TV (CNN) who were crying out for information from the company about the status of their husband and father. That is terrible. Crisis managers: sear that picture in your mind. If you don’t immediately communicate with those directly affected you too will be pictured on national TV as not giving a mouse’s behind for the people who should be mattering most to you right now.

Toyota–so the gov slaps a $16.4m fine on the company. It still amazes me that no questions asked by the media about this. GM fining its biggest competitor? Sure, GM isn’t the regulator, but one of GM’s largest shareholders is the regulator. Still strikes me as strange and even more strange to have such little media and public discussion about the obvious conflict of interest when the government owns a player in a highly competitive market that it regulates. In the meantime, I see more signs of Toyota fighting back (attacking USA Today) as well as more hard evidence showing up it appears that they do indeed have some serious issues. so complex…

Tiger–Tiger is back on the golf course and the whole world seems a little more right. Seriously, the only comment I have to make is for those people (including Tiger) who said when this event happened that he only owed apologies to his family. I disagreed. I suggested that when you are a celebrity of this status you live or die on the loyalty and support of your fans, that there is a relationship there that matters, and he owes them one heck of a lot. By his press conference yesterday it appears that he now understands that. His future earning power and place in history will have a lot to do with his fan support. It seems to be there showing how forgiving people can be when there is or appears to be genuine repentance and contrition. So far, the signs that he is indeed humbled, repentant and contrite–but, the first sign of his former arrogance, anger, sense of entitlement and all bets are off.

Corporate reputations. The 2009 Harris Interactive survey of corporate reputations is out.  The headlines about this will tout the “improvement” overall in corporate reputations and the significant change in reputations of some companies and segments (Fords’ is on the rise, most who took bailout money have sunk big time). But I think the most interesting thing about this research is this:

•    Americans who said that Corporate America’s reputation is “Good” rose from 12% to 18%.
–    First increase in 4 years. •    Those that perceive it as “Not Good” or “Terrible” decreases from 88% to 81%.

Now, pay close attention folks. We are thinking here that going from 12 to 18% saying corporate America’s reputation is “good,” while 81% are still saying that corporate America’s reputation is “not good” or “terrible.”

That is absolutely horrifying but nothing new. There are millions of people who work for “corporate America” and while their friends and neighbors don’t think of them as bad, when lumped with their employers, the vast vast majority of people think they are really bad. The implications for crisis management is clear–when it hits the fan, you are already in a deep hole, I mean a deep hole. That puts you in a virtual no-win situation.

When is “corporate America” whoever that is going to understand how much this loss of trust and confidence costs them and do something about it? Are there things that can be done? Absolutely, but first it starts with a good understanding of what is behind this perception of terrible people running terrible organizations.

When do personal sins require a press release? Don't be a Tiger

I was just interviewed by a reporter from a major newspaper about Tiger and the latest sad revelations and his statement. His new apology was much more direct, open and transparent than the earlier one–as one would expect given the revelations playing in the media right now.  The one statement that jumped out at me was this:

“Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn’t have to mean public confessions.”

Anyone viewing the comments on Tiger’s site, the Twitter conversation and even the comment on this site (thanks Joe) can appreciate the tremendous support and fan base that Tiger has enjoyed. I commented to the reporter that that fan base is a relationship, a marriage of sorts. He not only violated his marriage vows, he seriously impacted and threatened his relationship with his adoring fans (myself included) by his actions and by his refusal to be more open and transparent after things started to unravel. Certainly, the relationship with his fans doesn’t count for anything like that with his family–and he should explain to the rest of us that he needs to focus on his family and work to heal the tremendous hurt he has caused. But he has hurt us as well as so his statement about not owing us anything is quite wrong. A public confession is appropriate Tiger, because you are very very public. It’s one of the things that goes with $100 million a year in endorsements–you really can’t have one without the other.

More than a press release is necessary. Yes, we are pulling for you mightily, we want the best for you and your family. But do consider your relationship with us too.

Don't Be a Tiger when it comes to crisis management

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.