Tiger’s PR Scorecard

Scoring Tiger Woods on his PR skills – and on the efficacy of his February 19th apology.

Scoring Tiger Woods on his PR skills – and on the efficacy of his February 19th apology.

In his first public appearance after the November head-on collision of his squeaky clean image and an unsavory secret life, Tiger Woods was somber in expressing remorse, stern in scolding the news media for stalking his family and reporting untruths, and spiritual in saying he had drifted from the Buddhist principles he was taught as a child. From a PR perspective, though, how effective was his apology?

First, let’s look at what Tiger did right this morning. He:

  • took full responsibility;
  • apologized repeatedly;
  • referred to his wife by name rather than as “my wife”;
  • didn’t drag his wife out to be humiliated by his side;
  • firmly dismissed rumours that his wife had physically attacked him;
  • admitted that he should be judged by his future actions rather than words;
  • did not go into unnecessary detail but said his celebrity and achievements made him feel he was entitled to do what he wanted, which he is not;
  • did not cry;
  • and did not beg a deity for forgiveness.

Could he have done better, though? Yes, indeed. His main mistake was in waiting so long to fess up. With bad news, the best move is to own up and apologize, the sooner the better. This would have given Tiger more control of the media coverage, and lessened the sting of the attacking bees. Where there’s a void, media critics will fill it. Tiger could have also helped his message by clearly explaining why the public apology did not come earlier.
Some critics felt Tiger should have taken questions afterward. I disagree. When faced with a highly sensitive issue (like repeatedly cheating and lying to your spouse), reading a prepared statement and taking no questions allowed Tiger to control the message and stay out of the sand trap. By sticking to the carefully prepared page, he was not compelled to say something that he didn’t want to; or worse, lie again. In a sensitive case like this one, it’s better to stick to the printed page, and avoid the potential triple bogey.

My PR score for Tiger’s apology? A solid par. Not perfect, not awful – and he lives to golf another day.