Monday, November 30, 2009

Tiger, Tiger, Tiger

What the latest celebrity scandal can teach us about taking control of our brand.

Don't they hire publicists anymore? I thought when you get to the "big time", you surround yourself with professional people who can help you take full advantage of the new status and power you've achieved. Apparently those in Tiger Woods' camp didn't get the memo. As you probably know by now, Tiger was involved in a mishap this past holiday weekend involving his car, his wife, a fire hydrant, a tree and an 8-iron... on his own property at 2:00 in the morning.

After weak statements issued by Tiger and the avoidance of police questioning by he and his wife, only adds fuel to a now roaring fire. From alcohol or drugs to marital infidelity... the rumor mill runs rampant. Especially for the world's cleanest and most powerful sports "brand", this kind of circus is precisely what the tabloid media is designed for -- to tear down an icon. Get ready, folks, for the next great disaster!

How about me?
When bad news strikes your brand, self-inflicted or from outside sources, the best thing you can do is to honestly take charge of the situation. At the outset, you have a window - but it begins to close fast if you don't seek the upper hand. Outside of the emotion, jot down exactly what happened - and why. Understand it and look for the human aspects in it all. People are people... and the more human our flaws and foibles appear (especially when we're up on a pedestal), the more likely anyone might shrug off the offense as a one-time thing, a stupid mistake or an embarrassing blunder. Pre-emptively offer your heartfelt mia culpa, followed by some honest (and sometimes not so honest) penitence, and you'll be surprised how many fans will stick with you. Tell your story... in terms that people can empathize with. It's easy to speak from the heart when it actually is. If you're not sorry, then you should have someone else speak for you. Don't be afraid to be the butt of the joke. And don't sweat the immediate fallout. It's temporary, so long as you are actually taking steps to mitigate the issue that lead to the bad-press in the first place.

Your friends may even like you more than before.

Taking curative action upon the "offense" can often propel you past your competition because your fans will "find" that you're the ONLY one doing something about an issue that they presume to be problematic for everyone in your industry. If you're the restaurant that got the "Dirty Dining Award", then showcase how your new procedures will ensure food safety. You may soon see Courtney Gerrish on your door with a "Blue Ribbon Award" in short order. If you had the shipment of product that made it's way to Hoboken when it was supposed to be in Honolulu - well, you can now actively discuss how your new "Sure Shipping Policy" is changing the way business delivery is done. Staying on the offense is best. Defensive positioning is being a deer caught in the headlights and you'll never recover.

And when they dig for more dirt - give it to them in "friendly" doses, then twist back the conversation to your new "branding issue".

"We heard that you had rats in your kitchen," the reporter cajoles. "Ya, and he was a big one! But now, with our PACK TO PREP policy, diners will know that their food is the freshest in town," you respond averting any further attacks.

For athletes, Tiger needn't look any further than fellow super stars Kobe Bryant and Brett Favre. Both, back on the top of their game, on top of their leagues, and enjoying more fan (and sponsorship) support than every before.

As for Tiger?
Maintaining a "perfect world" is no longer an option. Accept the media scrutiny. Re-issue a new story that is closer to the honest truth. Let's face it, the jokes about your wife taking the 8-iron to you instead of saving you are already making the monologues. Pretending that this will go away won't make it so. Booking the interviews on late night TV should begin, allowing the flogging to commence. Once done - by Christmas, you'll have your life back, and you're best ally will most likely come from Nike, who will use the new "bad boy" image to propel a new line of drivers, golf balls and apparel that motivates wayward golfers to "get back on top of their game."

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