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Tiger: The silence & collateral damage

Act quickly, accurately, fully. Those are the fundamental principles of crisis communications, and they should have been applied at the very outset of the Tiger Woods debacle. However, that has not been the case, even a full 14 days after Woods’ fateful run-in with a tree outside his Orlando home. (See our earlier post on CC and Woods.)

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12-12-09 — “Tiger Woods is to take an “indefinite” leave from golf following a week of damaging personal revelations that have tarnished the reputation of the sport’s greatest star,” The Financal Times reported today from Los Angeles.

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As time passes, rumors and speculation grow, and the ability to control them erodes to the point where any such hope is impossible. Two people who know from top tier, real world experience offered their assessments to USA Today, both former White House image and press advisers.

“‘One of the first things I learned when I got to the White House is that if you’re going to have to eat crow, you need to eat it right away,’ said Dana Perino, a former press secretary for George W. Bush. ‘The longer it sits on the plate, the worse it’s going to taste.'”

Chris Lehane handled image issues for President Bill Clinton and was the chief spokesman for Vice President Al Gore; He told USA Today that Woods needs full disclosure of his problems soon.

“Americans are forgiving, and they also forget,” said Lehane, a partner in the California public relations firm Fabiani and Lehane. “There’s nothing you can do about the past. People judge you on how you go forward.”

However, the longer the brew of speculation is fueled by the likes of torrid tabloids — and not dampened by a full disclosure from the accused — the more likely is the whole brew to explode and yield collateral damage.

And that’s where The Tiger mess is right now, exploding and splattering the broader sports endorsement business, according to Forbes’ SportsMoney columnist Mike Ozanian, who writes:

“Sponsors like Gillette and Electronic Arts are going to drop Tiger Woods regardless of what they are saying now. Near term, Tiger is done as a corporate pitchman.

“Fallout: companies that throw big money at athletes are going to do a lot of research on them to make sure they are not phony (or make risk-adverse decisions based on information they do have) and funnel their endorsement dough at popular athletes whose image will not blow up.

“Some of these athletes may not even be among the best in their field, but they will typically be in global sports and not be ticking time bombs. But forget about any golfers picking up the sponsorship slack.”

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