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

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