A Woods Examination with the CMU PRSSA

5TM32R54B5Yesterday, I traveled to Mt. Pleasant at the invitation of the Central Michigan University PRSSA (Public Relations Student Society of America) to speak at their annual conference and meet with a number of future PR professionals, something I always enjoy immensely. As always, those in attendance were bright, engaged and shared a number of perspectives that I wanted to share here.

During my breakout session, which examined Tiger Woods as a PR case study, I looked at all dynamics of the unfortunate undoing of a sports legend including the realities of celebrity, an ever-changing media landscape and particulars related to what we expect of a public figure, in particular when they fail off of the field of play.

A couple of students questioned how an international management company such as IMG, which handles Woods, could have blundered the crisis so blatantly. We discussed, in turn, how sometimes you can wisely counsel a client until you’re blue in the face and they still choose against your recommendations. Kwame Kilpatrick was famous for not heeding the advice of many of his press secretaries (yes, he went through a few), most of which were not allowed full access to information anyway.

Other CMUers in attendance brought up a seeming double standard when it comes to particular celebrities. Why, one asked, can Charlie Sheen cheat on one wife and beat up another and still co-star in one of television’s most popular sitcoms and shill for Fruit of the Loom while Tiger Woods loses most of his sponsors and is temporarily driven from his line of work? The answer there is easy: It depends on the particular image one portrays and/or embraces. Years ago, Sheen’s career did take a hit when he was first tied to madams and pornstars. Today, his reputation as a “bad boy” is well established—he even mocks it on his TV show. Woods, on the other hand, has long been a “role model.” Again using the actor analogy for comparison, think of what happened to the careers of the previously squeaky clean images of Kevin Costner and Meg Ryan when their respective philandering was exposed. Some might argue that they never recovered.

Can Tiger Woods recover? That question ended our breakout as we look next to his return to the links at the Masters on April 5th. Thank you again, CMU PRSSA for a lively discussion of a PR case study still in play and adversity management in general.