Below is an article on the subject of crisis PR. I am fortunate to have on my PR team Tony Panaccio, a veteran agency PR strategist with specific experience in handling the message and the press when worst case scenarios come true. I asked Tony to write this article and I think you’ll find it interesting and relevant, given the current 24/7 media culture. Enjoy!
Pop Culture Confidential: Life on Planet Tiger
Why Tiger Woods Press Conference Won’t Solve His PR Woes
By Tony Panaccio
It must be nice living on Planet Tiger.
I mean, as someone who has worked in marketing and public relations, it would be nirvana to live on a planet where the press did exactly what you wanted, when you wanted and how you wanted. The idea that a public figure could set guidelines for the way the press covers them is a wet dream for anyone who has lived their lives in the media.
Unfortunately, Planet Tiger is a figment of golfer Tiger Woods’ imagination, and reality will come crashing down on his head like a 7-iron. (Sorry about that, Tiger. Too soon?)
Of course, I’m referring to the junta-like press conference that Tiger has devised for Friday morning. For the uninitiated, Tiger Woods has arranged a press conference – and I use that term in the same sense that a 3-minute YouTube video of my dog chewing a Milk-Bone could be described as a blockbuster movie event – for Friday morning that includes the following restrictions on the press.
Only three news organizations have been invited to attend in person: The Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg.
Tiger has asked the Golf Writers Association of America to recommend pool reporters.
Only one camera will be in the room to provide live coverage via satellite. No television networks at all will be allowed in the door.
Other writers with proper credentials could watch from a hotel ballroom more than a mile away.
Tiger will read a prepared statement and then leave.
NO QUESTIONS will be taken at the press conference.
This Bizarro World press conference configuration more resembles the way a military coup d’etat hijacks the national media than the way a disgraced public figure delivers a far-too-late mea culpa.
It’s clear that this was not a media opportunity designed by anyone with public relations experience. Any media consultant who would try to control the press in this manner should be trussed up in the town square and given 40 lashes with a rolled up Sunday New York Times. It is far more likely that his attorneys came up with this strategy, because it matches the way lawyers typically communicate. They are used to the rules and guidelines in place for communicating their case to a judge or a jury. Courtroom guidelines are immutable, and they exist so that an attorney can plead the case of his client and deliver their messages without interference from any third parties. The problem is the media doesn’t operate by any rules. In the court of public opinion, anything – and I mean ANYTHING – goes. So, it makes sense that if attorneys are guiding Tiger in his public discourse that they would try to create a set of rules similar to the ones they use in court to ensure that Tiger’s message is communicated without anyone, especially those pesky media guys, getting in the way.
The idea that anything so contrived and controlled could possibly work with today’s media is just flat our surreal. We are talking about the Fourth Estate here, the American media, the original free press. As ridiculous as the media can be, spending time and resources covering idiots like the Gosselins and Paris Hilton, that’s how sublime it can be when it exposes corruption, topples criminals, exposes injustice and changes the course of history by revealing despots and deposing presidents. The American media, for all its faults, is one of the most powerful forces for truth that still exists. While other governments around the world fall only when men with guns march up the main street of the capitol to take over, our government officials resign in disgrace when their lies are uncovered by journalists who operate under no governmental restrictions.
So, who is Tiger Woods to think that he is powerful enough to keep his private life private when he has made such a debacle of his handling of the press? Presidents and world leaders go into exile because of the stories told by the press. Does he really think his handling of a driver at Augusta can exempt him from the rules that people far more important than he still live by?
Bottom line – Friday will not get the results he wants. You cannot handle a public relations crisis by trying to control the press or prevent them from asking you pertinent questions. Ask Toyota how that strategy worked out for them. Whether you are a corporation, which Tiger is in a way, or an individual, you cannot escape the press. You cannot control them, box them in or otherwise contain them. All the attorneys in the world cannot hide you from the gaze of the media, and the harder you try to rein them in, that’s just as hard as they will pursue you. Friday’s “press conference” will be tantamount to adding 10 pounds of kindling and one gallon of lighter fluid to a fire that was darn near dead.
All Tiger will end up doing is making his situation worse, not better, and he will eventually end up on America’s confessional couch in Oprah’s studio. The only question is whether it will be too late for him to rehabilitate his public image.
But then again, life on Planet Tiger doesn’t include dealing with the truth, so we may never know.