Tiger Woods has made such a mess of his image that rumors are swirling he’s hired former Bush (“W”) White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer to help him resuscitate his brand. Fleisher runs his own sports PR firm. As a public relations strategist, my first reaction to Woods calling in Fleischer was “too much, too little and way too late.” If Woods was serious about holding onto his squeaky clean, all American golfer image, he would have phoned in a professional PR fixer the moment he rammed his car into the tree outside his Florida home last November during an argument with his wife. You knew something was up when after Thanksgiving, the media reported Elin ramming a golf club through the car window. Did anyone believe there wasn’t something fishy about this story?
Since that night, sordid details dribbled out about Tiger’s infidelity with more than a dozen women turning him from American hero into whoremonger du jour. Frankly, after the past three months of PR consultants bungling management of his personal problem, I don’t know if it’s possible for anyone to repair his image anytime soon. It was absolutely idiotic to advise him to host that Feb.19th news conference, where he looked like a robot reading his nonsensical and unconvincing apology from a teleprompter. I don’t know any communications expert or average person who thought that was a success. Tiger looked anything but sincere and his image suffered even more.
As I always advise my clients NEVER, EVER lie to the news media. Reporters will always ferret out the truth perhaps not immediately but eventually. Note: former president Bill Clinton’s Monica affair and famed Senator Edwards messy Rielle Hunter debacle, which has probably ended his political career.
Tiger’s infidelity ranks up there with Michael Vick’s pit bull fighting, it’s that gross. But Vick made some smart PR moves to begin repairing his dirty look: he did a 60 Minutes heartfelt apology interview last year and agreed to do some work with the Humane Society to further demonstrate his remorse and commitment to rehabilitating his behavior toward animals. (I still think the guy is a monster but his image is improving.)
So, how can Ari possibly help Tiger get some clean back into his soiled image? Apparently, Ari is plotting a communications splash around Tiger’s reported return to golf on March 25th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Fla. Prior to the tournament, I would schedule an exclusive taped interview with one of the following programs Bryant Gumbel’s Real Sports and have Gumbel do the interview, he’s tough but hugely credible; 60 Minutes with Katie Couric or Anderson Cooper or the always great Barbara Walters, who would probably make Tiger shed a tear or two and garner lots of sympathy from the public. If he can’t get on a Wheaties box, Barbara Walters is the next best thing!
Ideally this interview would air sometime before Tiger debuts at the March 25th tournament. I don’t know if I would advise Tiger to take any media questions before the tournament as it might rattle his nerves too much. I would allow him to do a short media availability after he is either knocked out of the tournament or wins it. But I would tightly script him on answers to media questions about his infidelity.
Instead of giving him a teleprompter or notes to read from, I think Ari should put him through some intensive media training prior to the tournament like what the McCain folks did to prep Sarah Palin for her debate with Biden. If a reporter asks him “how many women he slept with,” he doesn’t answer, “Lots!” All philandering aside, the response Tiger should have to that question is the one good line that came out of his terrible February press conference: it’s a private matter between him and his wife Elin that they’re working out and he won’t talk about it publicly. I just hope he can say it with some conviction and believability this time. If all else fails Ari could advise Tiger to enter the priesthood. That would be the best image makeover of the century.