Not What Tigers Do Best

There are over 16,000 car accidents in the U.S. everyday.  Many are quite severe and yield fatalities, while most are just minor collisions.  Tiger Woods was lucky enough to escape his with a few bumps and scratches, but he wasn’t ready to handle what came next.  While most of us would be filling out insurance papers, Tiger was dealing with a flood of media attention, to which he reacted like a deer in oncoming headlights. He froze.

The story has been well documented.  After driving his Cadillac Escalade into a fire hydrant not far from his driveway at 2:25am, Woods’ wife and neighbors came to his aid.  His wife wielded a golf club that she supposedly used to pry him out of the car; questions abound as to whether this was truly a make-due replacement for the Jaws of Life or domestic abuse weapon.  A retired physician, the neighbor laid Tiger down and gave him a blanket while the ambulance arrived.  It took some time for the news to break, but the questionable nature of the accident and Woods’ star power have combined to make it an intriguing news item.  Was Tiger drunk?  What was he doing out so late?  Is he having an affair?

There’s one definitive answer we can take from all this, though: Tiger has no crisis communication skills.  In a time when it’s crucial for him to control the flow of information surrounding the accident and communicate openly, he’s barely communicating at all.  Beyond his statement saying that “This is a private matter,” Woods has failed to influence the conversation at all.  He hasn’t cooperated with police or spoken to the media.  His steadfast clinging to his privacy may seem fine from his end, but on our end it just looks bad.  A number of Boston PR experts have weighed in, and their observations are spot on.  Tiger is fueling speculation by making it appear as though there’s an untold aspect of the story.

Update: Tiger did post an apology on his Web site.  The media swirl continues today with the press asking, "did we deserve a public apology?"

Tiger’s love of privacy is widely known as well; the very word is the namesake of his yacht, he lives in a gated community, and he rarely appears in the media for any reason other than his golf game and product endorsements.  His personal brand is so incredibly refined and developed that it essentially stands upon one characteristic, being the best.  Tiger’s skill at maintaining his lack of a public image is precisely why he is poorly prepared to maintain it.  His media relations have never been proactive.  When he failed to meet with police, it made things worse.  When he canceled his upcoming tournament appearance, it made things worse.  If Tiger has reasonable explanations for these actions, he’s not making them known.

Many big stories have been made out of small issues that go unresolved, and many big stories have been made bigger as a result of poor media relations.  As the conversation continues to build in traditional media and social media, Tiger can’t just hope that it will fizzle out.  By ignoring the basics of crisis communication he’s ensuring that it won’t.

Contributed by Jim Fay.  Follow him @JGF3