Thursday, December 3

Mocking Tiger: Spirit Airlines & Everyone


"I think that the public is very used to it at this point, this happening, not only with athletes, but with people in general, from all walks of life. I think that infidelity is prevalent in all realms of society worldwide." — Rita Ewing

With almost everyone attempting to cash in on the Tiger Woods scandal, we almost passed until the Spirit Airlines advertisement landed on Adfreak. Saying the airline hasn't been "this inspired since holding its 'Many Islands, Low Fares' (MILF) sale," Adfreak featured the cheesy online advertisement of a tiger driving into a fire hydrant. The copy read...

"It's a jungle out there! Make sure you avoid all the obstacles and get the lowest fares."

In terms of generating publicity, the advertisement worked. In terms of selling seats, it's hard to say. However, Spirit Airlines is one of the few U.S. passenger airlines generating a net profit during the recession, despite being fined $375,000 by the Federal Aviation Administration for violating consumer protection regulations .

Tiger Woods is big business, and perhaps even bigger business in a crisis.

The Ottawa Citizen published a top ten list inspired, in part, by the buzz up from comedians Jimmy Kimmel, Jay Leno, George Lopez, and Wanda Sykes. It seems only David Letterman, not surprisingly, took a pass.

The same cannot be true for public relations professionals. Most of them are jumping in to rehash the classic bullet points, with the most obvious being that Woods waited too long to say anything at all. It's par for the course, they all say.

Or is it?

Sure, Ari Adler is right in that under most circumstances, crisis communication requires disclosure. Scott Soshnick is right in that a loss of privacy is often the price of being a public figure. Gerald Baron is right in his frame up of a fictional crisis communication conversation.

And yet, all three are very wrong.

In terms of personal branding, Woods is playing just below par. While this golf celebrity had gone to great lengths to preserve a certain image in the past, he has also passionately pursued keeping his personal matters out of the public spotlight. That much, at least, remains.

Woods is not Mark Sanford or Gavin Newsom or Michael Phelps or take your pick among those who demonstrated poor judgement this year.

Overall, Woods is a golfer whose image was created less by his own effort than those who wrote about him. He didn't market himself to earn endorsements; he played the game better to earn them. He didn't seek out publicity; the tabloids frequently sought him out. Nobody bought products because he 'endorsed' them; his presence merely made people more aware of them.

So if public relations professionals took a little more time to think before riding the Woods wave today, they might remember that crisis communication is situational. And this situation requires an accounting of key considerations. Here are some...

• Woods has set his priorities, and it does not include public discourse.
• Most of his sponsors support his decision, including Nike, Gatorade, and Gillette.
• It appears that the Woods family has yet to find resolution in what might come next.
• There was no risk of public health or safety in regard to a matter involving his family.
• His family has a long history of attempting to separate their private lives from public exposure.

How the Tiger Woods story could play out, depending on personal decisions.

The Tiger Woods brand will remain intact, though a little worn at the edges, provided his wife decides to work past present circumstances and if he continues to win tournaments in the aftermath of this personal crisis. It would have less chance to remain intact had he held a press conference, played victim of circumstance or ignorance, or suddenly tossed himself on the mercy of the court of public opinion. All of those options, for Woods specifically, would have been less than authentic.

Sure, there are those who are making the case that Woods is missing an opportunity to allow others to learn from his mistakes. I submit he has offered up a lesson that might help some people learn from their own mistakes. Perhaps we might even consider that transparency is a gift and not an expectation, under certain circumstances. What do you think?

"But no matter how intense curiosity about public figures can be, there is an important and deep principle at stake which is the right to some simple, human measure of privacy. I realize there are some who don't share my view on that. But for me, the virtue of privacy is one that must be protected in matters that are intimate and within one's own family. Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions. ... I will strive to be a better person and the husband and father that my family deserves. For all of those who have supported me over the years, I offer my profound apology." — Tiger Woods

7 comments:

Dan Keeney, APR on 12/3/09, 2:48 PM said...

Going silent can be an effective way of dealing with intense scrutiny. Tiger has cultivated an image that transcends his skills as a golfer. The image is built upon the perception of goodness. I am not going to judge him, but I think it is fair to expect that the truth of his actions is out of alignment with the public image he encouraged. The image, therefore will not be sustainable -- at least for those for whom bedding party girls is inappropriate behavior for a married man with children. There are probably plenty of golfing enthusiasts who couldn't care less -- but Tiger touched many outside golf who may say buh-bye.

Interestingly, others, such as Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan and even Babe Ruth, never cultivated a "clean" image and unapologetically did seemingly regretable things such as gamble and womanize. Because their public image was not built upon a phony foundation, they were never harmed by these behaviors.

Rich on 12/3/09, 5:29 PM said...

Dan,

You are very right. That is the basis of my Fragile Brand Theory. Horns or halos, you have to stick with it.

However, I also think Tiger Woods image will be tarnished, but the permanence of that outcome will depend largely on those two factors cited in the post. If his wife can forgive him, so will other people.

In general, it's almost never a good idea to go silent (and you effectively cannot if the actions affect the public), but the reason this story has become compelling is that over the long term, it might be better for him, especially if going silent allows him to make amends and save his marriage/ That, over the long haul, could prompt many people, but not all people, to forgive him too.

Of course, I could be wrong. There is always the chance he may not be the exception I think he could be in preserving those other elements that make up his brand.

All of that is not to say your point is invalid. On the contrary, it could very much play out that way too. Appreciated!

All my best,
Rich

Ari B. Adler on 12/4/09, 8:36 AM said...

Rich,

Another good review of the Tiger Woods situation. I think it's clear from the massive amount of discussion going on in the PR world that there is no easy answer to his troubles. In fact, even though I wrote about one way to handle it, I'd be one of the first to admit my way may not work. A lot of PR is a roll of the dice and its success or failure is sometimes based more on exigencies than strategies.

I disagree with your point about Tiger not seeking out publicity, though. He didn't just play golf. He also put himself in the public spotlight with advertising sponsors and celebrity endorsements.

I'm always amused by celebrities, politicians and others in the public spotlight who want to reap the benefits but never suffer the consequences that come with their success. You can't have it both ways.

~ Ari

Gerald Baron on 12/4/09, 9:09 AM said...

My point is that there is more than one very important relationship at stake here. Certainly his family relationships are a priority and he is right to focus on that--privately. But he has a relationship to his incredible fan base. He may not care much about that relationship, but spurn it and there can be no doubt about its impact on his future and sponsorhip status. So far he has demonstrated he cares little about it. It is far from too late, damage has been done, but much can be salvaged by showing even the smallest amount of care.

Rich on 12/4/09, 7:30 PM said...

Gerald,

You may very well be right.

We still have to consider, however, that celebrities have differing degrees of relationships with their fans. Some are standoffish and some actively develop them.

If Tiger Woods falls closer to the latter group like Ashton Kutcher, then absolutely. Will Ferrell reportedly does not, but he still has them.

So it really depends on the celebrity, and it also depends on the expectations of the fan base. For Tiger Woods, a good number of his fans might have felt his statement was enough.

Thanks for offering the clarifying point, Gerald. Again, I think you're right, but these small degrees of difference can make a tremendous impact. We have to answer what is Woods' relationship to his fans and what do they expect from him, especially as it relates to his guarded personal life.

Best,
Rich

Rich on 12/4/09, 7:48 PM said...

Hey Ari,

Sorry I missed your comment earlier.

You are exactly right. There is no clear solution without resolution in this case.

Another celebrity, especially one who relies on a fan relations as mentioned above, might be more obligated to disclose. A politician, especially one who has touted family values, certainly would. Your advice is sound, just not sure it applied here.

You present an interesting point on advertising sponsors and celebrity endorsements. I'm not certain that is a qualifier on its own. It makes me wonder if a model or actor/actress is predisposed to be "seeking publicity" as the the result of their job. It's something to think about. Might even make an interesting follow up some time.

I do agree with you that celebrities, politicians, and others who seek a public spotlight are quick to run to the cameras when the news is good and equally inclined to duck for cover when the news is not so good. I could not agree with you more there. :)

I've made the same point more than once.

I suppose I paused here because Woods did pursue one of those rare tracks of being public as a golfer and private as a person. His fame doesn't seem as tied to thrusting himself in the spotlight as much as it's just being good at something. Do such people follow the same rules and should they be required too? Maybe. Maybe not.

As I was looking around the Web today, his mixed approach is why people who care (there are plenty who do not) seem split on the issue of whether he is exempt from the scrutiny. With other celebrities, there is generally not the same split.

Heh. Maybe that goes back to the gamble you mentioned after all. I suppose we'll see how this one plays out. It's become a much more interesting living case study a a result.

All my best,
Rich

Rich on 12/22/09, 11:29 AM said...

More words.

Rasmussen Reports found a plurality of respondents (43 percent) saying they regard the golfer's public apology as sincere. Twenty-five percent said they don't believe in its sincerity; 32 percent weren't sure. — Adweek

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