Communicators bungle the crisis: Tiger Woods, Maple Leaf, it’s not about the talk, it’s the actions

The Wall Street Journal and every armchair analyst out there is saying that Tiger Woods is blowing the communications thing; he’s losing credibility, and fast.

Tiger Woods’s handling of the scandal is a textbook case in poor crisis management, say crisis managers.

Days of near-silence dealt a blow to the golfer’s once squeaky-clean reputation.

"At best, it looks like he’s coming clean because he got caught," says Karen Doyne, co-leader of Burson-Marsteller’s crisis practice. "Whether you’re a celebrity or a multinational corporation, you can’t expect credit for doing the right thing as a last resort."

In a crisis, the timing of a statement is as critical as its content, she says. "The ideal in any crisis situation is to get something out within three hours, but certainly within 24 hours," she says.

The rest of the Journal story goes with the usual fare about being fast, factual and trying not to fart in public.

But good communications is never enough. With any risk, or crisis, or problem, what is required is solid assessment, management and communication. Screw up any one, and the brand or person will suffer.

Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist with public relations firm Weber Shandwick … points to Canadian food-maker Maple Leaf Foods Inc.’s handling of a listeria crisis in 2008 as a good model. The same day labs confirmed the listeria strain’s presence in some of its products, CEO Michael McCain shot a television ad apologizing; he also posted the ad on YouTube.

Yeah, McCain and Maple Leaf got the communications part right – but they screwed up the assessment and the management. They should have known listeria would be accumulating in those slicers and they should have managed the problem far faster as the bodies were piling up (22 died).

Maybe Tiger should have kept his 4-wood in his pants.