Nov 30, 2009

Tiger or Glambert – choosing your voice in a crisis

tiger-woods-00We’ve had some juicy celebrity crisis’ lately that make writing this post lots of fun. When your company, product or personal brand encounters a crisis it’s important to decide what ‘voice’ you’re going to use.  Choosing the right approach is one of the reasons little-known (but uber-powerful) flacks like Marty Chalmers and Eliot Mintz make the heavy wood.  Let’s take a look at some of the characteristics of voices being used most recently – as well as a few thrown in from the past.

Above It – How can I write this post without addressing Tiger Woods’ current situation? As I write this, he has refused to meet with the police and has posted a note on his website thanking his well- wishers and telling everyone the rumors are all lies and he wants to keep this ‘private’. First of all, not cooperating with the police right away sends the message that the guy has something to hide. Second, he doesn’t tell us what happened. Apparently we aren’t privileged enough to hear the real story. How would we feel if Oprah showed up 50 pounds thinner and refused to tell us how she did it? This voice implies arrogance and an attitude that Tiger’s above it all. Not a good move for America’s favorite sports hero and NEVER a good move if the law is involved.

Insouciant – When the crisis is subjective to opinion, a saucy celebrity can take the attitude of ‘so what’ when outrage occurs. Especially, as I would venture to guess in the case of Adam Lambert at the AMA’s last week, when it’s planned. Adam Lambert simply told folks it was late at nightadam-lambert-01-2009-02-04, he got caught up in the moment, and my favorite quote “Maybe you should be the parent and take control of what your kids are watching.” Although Lambert is not apologetic, he isn’t coming off as arrogant or ‘above it’.  This “I’m an artist” approach we’ve seen before – remember Madonna and her Like a Prayer video? Although it was a huge problem for Pepsi, she came out even stronger.  Lambert’s approach is risky but one that’s generating tons of buzz for him. And face it – he’s been controversial from the start. Madonna used it after  her grinding pelvis  in a wedding dress performance at one of her first award shows. Look where it got her. (BTW, J.Lo should be kissing Lambert’s feet for taking the spotlight off her fall on her famous booty that same night.) Here’s a video of one interview, see what you think?

Rueful – Celebrities and other powerful people often turn to this voice after trying to cover something up  fails. One person that I absolutely love is Diane Lane. You may not remember that Diane and her husband Josh Brolin once got into a fight so bad the police were called and Josh was arrested. Although it was potentially very damaging for both their careers, it went away fast. Why? Diane was incredibly self-deprecating right from the start. Diane’s only direct quote? “It was really stupid.”  What else can you say? That as well as a direct and honest response from their spokesperson that they were “embarrassed”  helped sweep that matter right under the bed for those two.  Alec Baldwin’s career could have been in ruins if he hadn’t used this tone after a voicemail to his daughter in which he screamed and called her a pig, among other things. On a side note – Baldwin chose a remarkably sympathetic audience at The View to share his full remorse – make sure the person actually LIKES you when you’re giving them a story. I’ve been stabbed in the back by editors way too many times in this situation.

There are three voices I would probably never use, but they’re common in corporate America so let’s take a quick look.

Robotic – This is the canned voice (like the cereal companies in my earlier post) when corporate PR issues a statement and that’s the end of it. It doesn’t usually HARM anyone and gets past the corporate attorneys fairly easily, but it doesn’t help as we saw in the case of Yale vs. Big Food. Ignoring the dynamic Web 2.0 world and staying too risk-averse results in this approach,  where there really is NO voice at all.

Passive/Aggressive – Okay, President Obama’s team gave us the biggest example when they started to bash Fox News, and then dis-invited them to certain press events. No matter WHAT the heck is going on, never EVER forget that old adage – keeps your friends close and your enemies closer. Taking on members of the press – particularly ones as powerful as Fox News (whether you like them or not they are consistently the top ranked network for news) is dangerous…and foolish. Take them to task but do it in a non-personal, factual way. Issue correction after correction and do it publicly. Or even sue them as many celebs have done to tabloids printing flat out lies. But don’t ignore them, and don’t attack them. You’re gonna get bit – badly. (According to the New York Daily News Obama’s team and fox are going to do a ‘sit down’ soon – we’ll see)

Deceitful – This is when a company and its spokespeople lie. I can’t prove it, but I have to believe that Toyota may not told the whole story in the stuck accelerator problem – which is still in my mind questionable as to whether it’s only due to the mats.  Only after horrific 911 calls of victims begging for help just before they died has Toyota begun to really move on this issue.  There have been no apologies, no reaching out to victims (one of whom, by the way was a California Highway patrolman – as if a stuck mat would be more than a professional law enforcement officer could handle.)  Just a dry recall statement that addresses the concern for safety ONLY in the second to the last paragraph. When the media gets sick of Tiger and goes after Toyota, this approach could stick a dagger in the heart of their brand, especially if they’re hiding something.

I thought I’d leave you with  my five BEST crisis responses ever.  You may not like the brand or person, but you can still admire the publicist’s work.Feel free to chip in with other examples, good or bad.

1. Tylenol Crisis, 1982 when 65 milligrams of cyanide were found in a Tylenol bottle

2. Britney Spears – although it took a while to get the pop star’s problems under control the resulting recovery (and multi-million dollar selling tour and album) is nothing short of miraculous. she’s even endorsing young girl’s footwear

3. Wal-Mart – Vilified and hated by environmentalists everywhere just a few years ago, this retail giant has had a huge turnaround with the media – due in no small part to stealing a bunch of Target’s marketing and PR gurus

4. Martha Stewart is a convicted felon. She can never, ever vote. Somehow that hasn’t permanently besmirched her reputation as america’s best homemaker -although dissing Rachael Ray recently may do it for her finally.

And my final pick? Of Course it has to be Michael Jackson. Who else could get through two pedophile charges, dangling his kid out a window, multiple rehab, bankruptcy, even death – and still get a hit movie and new album.  Although I wouldn’t recommend death as the best crisis response.

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10 comments on “Tiger or Glambert – choosing your voice in a crisis”

  1. Very good report and analysis. Some other notable PR gaffes in recent memory are Alex Rodriguez and Micheal Phelps. Both athletes went about handling their problems in different ways. Not sure if they were ultimately successful, but as the stories unfolded, their PR camps crumbled (in my opinion).

    November 30th, 2009 at 12:55 pm

  2. I think A-rod is doing okay, but as for Phelps not sure. Sports agents (think Bode Miller!) often try to handle PR themselves to disastrous results.

    November 30th, 2009 at 1:05 pm

  3. Waxgirl,

    Thanks for the post. It’s always nice to see a PR professional’s take on another pro’s spin. Do you mind if I do the same?

    1) It’s important to remember there is a difference between representing entertainers and corporations. People expect entertainers to do outrageous things. We think of it as part of their DNA, the part that makes them special. Acts that are out of bounds for common folk are accepted from entertainers and fans commonly overlook the indiscretions of their stars to buy albums. For example, we accept drug use from stars in way that we would never accept it from a co-worker or spouse. Brittney’s problems stemmed not from her life problems but from how her mental issues keep her from performing. Remember the video music awards?

    2) For Tiger, it may be that there is nothing to be gained from talking to the police of media. Suppose the “real” story is the worst story, he and his wife had a fight about his affair, and he drove out of the house in the middle of the night to get away from his wife for a while. How do you spin that? I think they addressed the matter. Woods said he took responsibility for the accident. That should be the end of the story. Tiger was involved in a minor traffic accident, which would not have been a story had the media not first reported in was a serious accident. Tiger’s major issue is that he happened to crash his car on a slow news weekend.

    Talking to the media or police forces him to answer questions about the affair, giving life to a story that will die soon enough, or at least it will die if the mistress remains mum. (By the way, what was a NYC night club hostess doing in halfway around the world entertaining clients? That’s her unbelievable cover story.)

    3) Sponsors forgive infidelity, in time. For examples, see Jack Welch, Greg Norman and Kobe Bryant. The later has put rape charges behind him and remains a popular marketing figure for the NBA. Males stray. People get that and move one. Once the public adjusts to the new norm, everything settles back to normal, more or less.

    4) For Jackson, death took the focus off his image/appearance and placed the spotlight on his place in musical history. The success of the movie and the focus on Jackson’s music remind us that this man wrote most of the hit songs for Thriller, the best selling album of all-time. As you say, death isn’t a recommended crisis control strategy, but it’s hard to speak ill of the death. Most people want to remember the good things about someone’s life, and if you are looking for the good in Jackson, there’s a lot to see.

    November 30th, 2009 at 1:17 pm

  4. Great post, Waxgirl! Brands, whether people or actual businesses, need to remember to talk through the crisis, especially when their star was made by the public.

    November 30th, 2009 at 1:28 pm

  5. ksprn,

    I think people tend to forget that Woods spoke after the crisis. He took responsibility for the accident. It’s just that people don’t like that response. They want the details of the affair, and he’s unlikely to provide those.

    Tony

    November 30th, 2009 at 2:16 pm

  6. Horribly….People need to step up in those situations. Tiger has taken advantage of the media in multiple situations when it is for his own purpose. Tell them what happened and move past it.

    December 1st, 2009 at 1:22 pm

  7. I think in Tiger’s case, the lack of attention to the issue is doing more damage. Affair rumors aside, the fact that the media has got wind that he won’t talk to the cops – when meanwhile there is speculation that his wife went after him with a golf club is causing more harm.

    I don’t think the affair rumors themselves need to be addressed, because they aren’t necessarily related. I also don’t think there need to be admissions of spousal abuse to the media. But I do think the he needs to cooperate with police enforcement for the sake of his image and his camp should release a more formal statement that makes sense.

    Not talking to the cops, following an accident (deemed minor, though looking at pictures, I don’t know that I agree with that classification) that already seems suspicious is just asking for bad publicity.

    As for Adam Lambert, I’m with you. Yes, it was controversial. Of course, not everyone liked it. There was not this much uproar when Madonna and Britney kissed during a live awards show. Everyone needs to have their “oh my god” moment if that’s how they feel, and get over it. He’s handling the whole thing well!

    December 1st, 2009 at 2:01 pm

  8. Tiger Woods’s has poor crisis management However, if I was a Public Relations consultant hired for this crisis management and Tiger Woods was unavailable to comment on anything due to contractual.

    December 2nd, 2009 at 9:18 pm

  9. Good analysis. Exactly this is a classic PR, everybody love scandals like this.

    December 3rd, 2009 at 2:38 pm

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    December 14th, 2009 at 11:39 am