Define yourself before your opponent, or anyone else defines you (and if you don’t define yourself first, someone WILL take the opportunity to define you).
Whether you are campaigning for elective office, to get/keep the public trust, to get promoted, to get a job, to keep your job – it is paramount to define yourself before anyone else does. How do you define yourself? Messaging.
President Obama understood this. He was the candidate of “hope and change.” The definitions his opponents provided – inexperienced, poor judge of character, lack of foreign policy experience - did not stick. Why? He defined himself first, and relentlessly stayed on message. He also addressed every potential crisis during the campaign head on. We all know what happened – candidate Obama became President Obama.
Tiger Woods defined himself early on in his career, very successfully. The past few weeks have unraveled all of that. He is now defined by nearly everyone but himself on an hourly basis, and the definitions are not only sticking but have taken on a life of their own – and people are paying attention.
911 calls, 11 potential mistresses and counting (literally), unprotected sex with mistresses, allegations of drug abuse, wife moves out, numerous colleagues now alleging that this was not new behavior, and the list goes on and on.
Tiger’s response? You just heard it – nothing. No mention of anything on www.tigerwoods.com, no response at all. In my personal opinion, a lot of the damage that has been done to brand Tiger Woods is irreversible.
Why? In our society, lack of response or comment is usually taken as an admission of guilt. A week after the crisis began, with no response from Tiger, cracks in the empire are showing – sponsors are leaving, advertisements are getting pulled, etc.
Ronn Torossian, owner of 5WPR and the top crisis manager I know, has managed crises for countless celebrities, many of who have faced similar trials and tribulations in the public eye. His advice on this is absolutely spot on:
“…There’s no excuse the behavior that led to Tiger’s predicament, but the still-expanding fallout from his mishandling of these events provides lessons to celebrities, companies and anyone else who suddenly finds themselves at the center of a crisis.
Here are my top three crisis management rules:
Rule No. 1: Come clean and come clean quick. Instead of accepting his role in the spotlight and addressing the facts head on, Tiger ran for cover hoping it would all go away. But the fastest road to redemption in the public’s eye is an early and honest mea culpa.
That’s what Alex Rodriguez did earlier this year, when he stood in front of his teammates and the media and addressed his alleged steroid use head on. While certainly not an easy statement to make, it undeniably saved A-Rod’s career from taking the Barry Bonds route, and served as a launching pad for the best season of his career and praise from many of his former critics.
Rule No. 2: Keep your message consistent. As Bill Clinton can attest, the truth eventually comes out. So be clear, be honest and keep the story consistent. When similar allegations arose regarding David Letterman and young staff members, Letterman immediately took to the airwaves, admitted his wrongdoings and the circumstances surrounding them, and saw no ill effect in his ratings.
In contrast, Tiger’s only message for nearly five days after the accident was silence. And while he did eventually admit to his “transgressions,” his promise to “strive to be a better person and the husband and father that [his] family deserves” seemed to ring hollow as information surfaced regarding a renegotiation of his prenup in an effort to keep the family together.
Rule No. 3: Leave no gray area. From the moment reports of the accident happened, the only color surrounding the facts was gray. How did Tiger sustain the injuries he did in such a slow-moving, low-impact crash? Was his wife chasing him with a golf club? Was he impaired? And so on until another round of questions surfaced regarding alleged romps with various women. Tiger then made his brief admission of guilt but still failed to explain how the accident happened, why he was reportedly snoring on the ground as the family waited for an ambulance, etc.”
I will add one final rule – after doing all of this, go away. Disappear from the public eye. There is no way to “come back” if you have never “gone away.”