Tiger Woods – Many PR practitioners have called for Tiger to be totally transparent early in the crisis, explain what happened, and to make blanket apologies. That kind of knee-jerk reaction to a complex crisis would have set him up for legal disaster. There is no doubt he should have been more forthcoming and gotten out some kind of statements immediately but you also have to protect your legal standing.
The Tiger reaction to crisis also applies to other celebrities and celebrity CEOs because Woods himself has been a celebrity since he was a child. Until now, he had never really had bad PR and the media has always treated him with respect because they wanted even greater access to him down the line. So he had no point of reference to understand that his media “friends” would become sharks as result of this scandal. He thought he could dictate the terms of engagement here but he quickly found, as have other celebrities and CEOs that they can’t tell the media what to do if theirs is a juicy story or a scandal.
Kobe Bryant got caught up in the same mess and had, to a large extent, Tiger’s history as a celebrity athlete. Bryant is just now getting back into the public eye in a good way because he’s tried to keep a low profile and has played great ball since his own scandal. Part of Tiger’s reconstructive image surgery will have to follow that model.
CEOs and celebrities who surround themselves with “yes men” or dictate media ground rules in good times learn very quickly they are not bullet-proof when there is a scandal. Talk to the automaker CEOs who were attacked by media when they testified before Congress after flying into town in their corporate jets.
Obama and Nobel Prize – The President has navigated the awarding of the prize very well by being humble in his acceptance and using the award as a bully pulpit to explain his agenda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. His maneuvering here is a great example of not only how to keep bridging back to primary messages but certainly using the same concept during speeches or interviews.
Of course, his War Doctrine is a much more complex and multi-faceted issue than a simple media training session can get into but, really, the concepts are the same. Do not digress from primary messages. Use all opportunities to reinforce those messages. Read your audience and gear your presentation toward the audiences and subject matter. President Obama and his team are accomplishing their communication goals to various audiences. A final lesson is not to dilute your message in order to win over fanatics who are absolutely opposed to whatever you say. You can’t make everyone happy but do play to your base first.