Wednesday, February 24, 2010

“How Did Tiger Do?”

Many people have asked me, "How do you think Tiger Woods did?"

My initial response was that it depends on the answer to a central question I pose whenever considering a communications strategy: What were Tiger’s goals?

Was his goal to get the issue behind him so that it’s not a distraction when he returns to golf? This is the most readily achievable objective. For some, it is a goal that he may have already accomplished with his public apology.

Was his goal to make himself more marketable as a pitchman for potential sponsors? If so, he’s got a long way to go before winning back that kind of corporate trust.

Was his goal to redeem his reputation and stop being the nation’s favorite punch line? This may happen as the initial shock fades, but not any time soon. And like Bill Clinton, Tiger’s going to have to live with the fact that this unflattering episode is destined to appear near the top of his obituary.

Was his goal to save his marriage? Some of Tiger’s remarks seemed to be aimed at accomplishing that important goal more than any other, but we’ll have to see what happens there.

Overall, Tiger’s performance last Friday was a good one. He did all the right things. He did not try to pass the responsibility for his behavior onto anybody else. He did not make excuses, and he didn’t whine. Tiger accepted full responsibility for his behavior in a complete and unequivocal way something that is very unusual for these kinds of celebrity apologies, particularly for athletes.

One notable comment in Tiger’s speech, which struck me as a parent, was that he specifically expressed regret that children who held him up as a role model had been let down and disappointed. He made a point of apologizing to both children and their parents. That’s in marked contrast to most other athlete apologies, where the fallen star says, "It’s not my fault or responsibility that your kid looked up to me as a role model, and if your kid was let down, that’s your problem, not mine." This was not your standard apology of the Roger Clemens/Barry Bonds/Kobe Bryant variety: "If you were offended, I’m sorry that you were offended, but I’m not sorry for anything that I did because it’s somebody else’s fault." In his almost 14-minute apology, Tiger used no weasel words.

So Tiger’s performance was good, as far as it went. But in order to complete the process, and achieve at least some of his goals, Tiger will have to sit down sooner or later and answer questions in a formal interview. There’s simply no other way to put this thing behind him.

Here’s how that interview will probably play out: Tiger’s advisors will reach out to a friendly interviewer and set very strict parameters for what can and can’t be asked. Ten years ago this interview would have gone to Barbara Walters. Today, however, my money’s on Oprah Winfrey, since Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric, as "hard" news anchors, won’t credibly be able to agree to the ground rules that Tiger’s people will require. Oprah will ask some tough – but not too tough – questions based on the parameters that will be established ahead of time. (If she’s really lucky, it will be in September, during the final week of her show – I know, I’m a cynic.)

And with that piece of business complete, Tiger will be able to approach the next step of the plan – starting to win golf tournaments again.

One final note: The biggest single element of Tiger’s attempt at redemption will be whether in fact he does save his marriage. If that were to happen, people would be in a position to say, "Well, if she can get by it, I guess I can, too." If the marriage is not saved, it will be a loose end that will make tying up the rest of it very difficult.

So the short answer is: Tiger did what he had to do last Friday, and he did it well. But there’s a long way to go before it’s over for him – if the exposure of multiple extra-marital affairs can ever really be over.

Posted by David Preston

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New York Comedian Proves Universal Desire to Lend a Hand

This video stirred my nostalgia for New York. I lived in the city for almost three years, working as a reporter for the Associated Press and enjoying some great adventures from my closet of an apartment in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen. It’s the free-spirited sense of spontaneity among its residents that I miss most, and that is demonstrated in this short, offbeat film. Spontaneity exists elsewhere, too, but nowhere else will you find quite the kind of unlikely interactions among strangers that you see in New York.

In the clip, comedian Mark Malkoff sets out to be transported from the southernmost end of Manhattan to the northernmost end, only by having people carry him. They can give him a piggy back, hold him like a baby, hoist him over their shoulders or share his weight with a group – whatever it takes to help Malkoff make his destination without having to move himself.

His success depends on the kindness and open-mindedness of complete strangers in a city often characterized as unfriendly. But those of us who have actually lived there know otherwise. Sure, folks might be too busy or focused to nod and smile to every passerby. They might be abrasive in a crowd or push past you on the subway. But when it comes to doing something outlandish for a complete stranger’s pet project? Many of them espouse a healthy “why not?” attitude – they’re up for it “just because.”

“I am proving to the world that New York is a nice place,” Malkoff says at the beginning of the video. He then proceeds to ask random people on the street to carry him a few feet, a few blocks, whatever they can manage.

During the course of his quest, not only do more than 150 people offer to assist him up the island, but many of them open up and tell him about their families, relationships or what they’re cooking for dinner. He receives cooperation from a diverse array of pedestrians – men, women, young, old, individuals, couples and large groups, and a cross-section of races and ethnicities. He even takes advantage of the virtual community, sending out Tweets when his luck runs thin on the street. People on Twitter see his cries for help and come to his aid.

All in all, it’s a good lesson in assuming the best of people and managing to rally them toward a common cause in which they have very little personal investment.

On a far more serious note, we have been seeing a lot of this public spirit during the last few weeks in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti. The amount of money that has poured into the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations since the devastation hit has been amazing.

How does this translate to good PR? Good PR depends on knowing your public. Good customer service, good marketing, good advertising, successful media campaigns all have one thing in common: They know their audience and treat them with respect.

Assume the best of people, and in many cases they’ll rise to the occasion. Just who is your audience? It could be the next person who shells out a generous donation for victims of a natural disaster in a foreign country, or the next person who offers to carry a complete stranger on his back for no good reason.

Malkoff dared to assume that New Yorkers – so often mislabeled as mean and uncaring – were actually nice and supportive. As a result, he got carried all the way to 140th Street. Imagine what might happen if you or your company did likewise, and assumed the best of people?

Posted by Hillary Rhodes