Unless you've been stuck in a sand trap for the past week, chances are you heard a little something about Tigergate. Tiger Woods, arguably the most famous athlete on the planet, was involved in a one-car accident during the wee hours of November 27, near his home outside Orlando. Amid tabloid headlines and allegations of extramarital affairs, Woods pulled out of his own golf tournament this week, and issued a cryptic statement on his website, apologizing for "transgressions."
Woods is of course the world's highest-paid athlete, bringing in more than $100 million a year, and so far, Nike, Gatorade, and his other big-name corporate sponsors have publicly declared their support. So how can the 33-year-old golf legend bounce back from the bad press? What's the best way to bolster the lucrative Tiger brand? We posed those questions to a panel of entrepreneurial image makers.
Jason Mandell, partner at LaunchSquad, a San Francisco-based Inc. 5000 marketing and public relations company:
"He just needs to kind of come out with it and be pretty transparent and forthcoming as soon as possible -- and get it over with. Go through the short-term trauma and be done with it, because otherwise you just create an endless firestorm. David Letterman's a great example. I mean, he handled his recent scandal so well. When I watched that I was like, 'Man, I've just lost an enormous amount of respect for him as a person, but as a public figure, and celebrity and entertainer, he hit that out of the park.' I mean, he just came out and said exactly what he had done and it hasn't really hurt him that much. The opposite example is someone like Pete Rose. I mean if Pete Rose had come out and said, 'This is what I did,' he'd be in the Hall of Fame right now. Instead, he tried to block it, he tried to lie, he tried to manipulate.
"Woods has not done anything illegal -- the list is endless of public figures, especially males, who do this, but Americans accept this stuff. If you're honest and you're genuine and apologetic and sincere, people forgive you. Especially if it's the first time and especially for someone who has been as good as a role model as he has been for as long as he has been."
Geri Denterlein, founder of Denterlein Worldwide Public Affairs, a Boston-based communications firm:
"Number one, my experience has shown me that America believes in redemption so I don't think its over for Tiger at all despite how difficult this has been. He has been a well-liked person and he clearly mishandled this from a public relations point of view, and clearly he's got to work out his personal issues. But people are going to be rooting for Tiger in not too long. I mean, it's been the subject of a lot of jokes in the last few days but eventually people are going to come back to Tiger. There's definitely a redemptive quality that he needs to play upon and I believe the way you play upon that is to go quiet for a while. You kind of have to not be in the public eye for a period of time while you truly are trying to deal with some of the issues. To the extent that there's going to be a lot of pressure on him for more information, he's going to have to decide how frequently he wants to feed any of the information [to the press]. As long as you give, from now on, information that is accurate and set ground rules, people will allow you a certain amount of time to keep quiet. The best PR is no PR at this point.
"And then after a suitable period of time, he should come out with a very clear statement about where he is going with his life both on a personal and a professional level. It's probably a hard strategy because it might involve, of course, sacrificing some income, because so much of his income has been derived from his public persona. But I think if you are going to win over the American people's predilection to forgive, and if you want to take advantage of that quality in our culture of redemption, then you have to show that you're sorry and actually make good on that promise -- and that's better done in private than in public."
Peter Bordes, CEO of New York-based MediaTrust, an Inc. 500 firm that provides digital marketing services:
"I would recommend that he be real and authentic by telling the truth and be transparent about what happened. In today's world of social media and information transparency, the relationship a celebrity has with his or her fans is critical, and trust in that relationship is key. Consumers trust, respect, and admire brands and celebrities who are real. If you are being real you have nothing to hide. Tiger is a an icon... but he is also a human being who is imperfect as we all are."
Mark Braff, founder of Braff Communications, a Fair Lawn, New Jersey-based consumer and B2B public relations company:
"Tiger's real problem can be traced to his stonewalling of the police and media over the accident outside his home. If he had immediately come clean on what happened that night, it's possible that the 'transgression' issue would not have surfaced--or if it did, the public likely would have paid less attention to it. By stonewalling from the get-go, the news of transgressions became 'the latest on the Tiger cover-up' instead of just a side -- and personal -- issue. His initial stonewalling gave the transgressions issue mainstream media legitimacy."