PR expert Gerry McCusker was interviewed by Radio Australia this am – exploring the Fiji Govt’s use of online PR and social media. McCusker told Radio Australia it makes perfect sense: “If an organisation posts regularly online through blogs and tweets and online press releases, and by feeding this material with the kinds of search terms that people are using online PR can influence what is said about any organisation, any corporate, any brand, any government, whether it is a democratic government or slightly less democratic one,” he said.
I’ve been asked this a few times recently, so… I researched the definition of a PR disaster for my ‘Public Relations Disasters’ book in 2004; closest I found then was of a PR crisis by the Institute for Crisis Mgmt who said: ‘a significant business disruption that stimulates extensive media coverage’. But in my mind, I insisted it was much wider than that. By analysing hundreds and hundreds of what are called or labelled ‘PR disasters’ by the media, I had to come to the conclusion that a PR disaster was simply “anything that creates embarrassing or negative publicity for any organisation or individual”. It’s not solely about business, about disruption or extensive coverage – and it is often erroneously applied to cases of mild or fleeting mistakes.
As a PR counselor, I’ve analysed thousands of PR gaffes for my book and prdisasters.com blog and, as I see it, the main mistake being made by Tiger Woods and his advisers is failing to understand the new media landscape’s hunger for every little detail. Smoke and mirrors simply don’t work any more, T. And as long as Woods offers up trite and hollow-sounding expressions of remorse – without providing any substantive clarification or admission – new media interests will continue to pursue the story until they get what they want. To effectively manage the issue, Woods or his advisers’ game plan must include the three R’s of crisis management: Regret, Responsibility and Remedial action. But I reckon there’s an added new rule of reputation management (driven mainly by Web2.0), which means that a fourth R – REAL applies. For me, Woods must move towards honesty and “Get Real”. Platitudes the wrong attitude! Woods’ (or his advisers’) attempts to ‘soft shoes shuffle’ the issue away is a rookie mistake. The longer Tiger takes to come clean and address the allegations in a responsible and genuine way, the longer the issues will play out in our ever-expanding, ever intrusive media. I’m also a bit concerned that Tiger Woods reputation management plans are being driven by lawyers, who may not be best qualified to counsel the golfer in the court of public opinion. Add to that, the fact that Woods previously unblemished reputation as one of the world’s nicest guys, actually works against him as those others involved air their dirty laundry over the matter. As the history of modern publicity crises – including Martha Stewart, Hugh Grant, Kobe Bryant and even the Catholic Church – demonstrate, the cleaner you purport or seem to be, the heavier the fall you take when the stuff hits the fan. For God’s sake tiger! What’s going on with the language used in the ‘media’ statement? Most audiences (particularly media commentators) seem unmoved by the quasi-religious tenor of Tiger Woods statements to date. Words such as “transgressions”, “confessions” and “personal sins” that may be intended to convey spiritual conscience do little to slake a desperate media’s thirst for the essence, the nitty gritty, of the allegations. And they will uncover ever sordid little secret that’s out there T. It could take a while too.
Tiger Woods must move to restore his credibility and a front foot position at a time when various other ‘players’ in the drama that is his personal life are coming to the fore. They are getting traction, while Tiger is being judged by inaction. I, Gerry McCusker, conclude that Woods might want to take control by fronting up to the media and public with an admission, some heartfelt contrition and tangible evidence that he’s prepared to address any problems or challenges in his life. As a fearless (and much-loved for it) sporting celebrity, this would reflect the kind of bravery and congruence the golfer’s adoring public expect from their idol.