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Posted: March 24, 2010

The top five marketing & PR blunders

Dave Letterman didn't make this one, but Tiger Woods did

Esty Atlas

This is part one of a five-part series on Marketing & PR Blunders that can easily be translated to just about any business situation. I'd also like to hear your thoughts.

BLUNDER NUMBER ONE: Lying or hiding the truth.

Who would you say received better advice or had better judgment when allegations of infidelity were FIRST reported: Tiger Woods or David Letterman?
To refresh your memory (I'll explain why this is important in business as well): Golf pro Woods figuratively ran into the woods and hid from cameras or questions for months before making an in-person public statement.

Letterman immediately admitted his transgressions on his TV show and publicly shared his account of what transpired (in his view). Both are public figures and rely on public acceptance which, in large part, measures their financial success and credibility. Both are decision-makers of their individual enterprise. The buck starts and stops with them.

What is timeless, and usually under-estimated, however, is public opinion as a result of the first impression. How public opinion is formed hasn't changed. In fact, it's only become more vocal and immediate with today's social networking ability.

So which one of these entrepreneurs won?

In this comparison, Letterman clearly won the PR battle. In so doing, Letterman increased his viewership as well as heightened the perception of being a forthright person, albeit known as a very private one.

Wood's inside people knew of his long history of extra-marital affairs but were either ill- prepared or provided incorrect guidance on how he should have responded publicly. The number thing to do is offer a plausible explanation with an apology, publicly and quickly.

Given the specific allegations, the viral gossip mill would still have caught on fire, but it may not have turned into a full five-alarm blaze that took much, much longer to get under control.

Letterman was on it immediately. Once mainstream media reported the allegations, he presented a detailed account of what happened and apologized to his wife and family on his TV show that same evening.

Woods apologized in a written statement (he was not seen), and provided no plausible explanation. That took nearly two months to materialize. By Day Two, not Month Two, he should have claimed the possibility of his multiple infidelities ‘could be related to a sexual addiction for which he would seek immediate counseling and treatment.'

As a consequence, Woods never controlled his message which affected his integrity from the git-go. David Letterman did control his message and, as a result, gained measurably. The allegations may have still cost Woods some image endorsements, but his damage-control was severely hampered, along with his credibility, when the ridicule heavily outweighed any degree of understanding for his actions. (Cut to photos of beautiful blonde wife and children.)

Public trust is a lot more difficult to reclaim on the back side. Just ask Hillary Clinton.

In business, as in life, things happen. How the business-owner responds is essential to the public perception that is directly tied to its success.
Your Strategy Should Be: Consumers need to know the truth, even when the truth may not be what they want to hear.

The image campaigns Toyota splashed on TV since the brake recall are well-produced commercials, but where was the president of Toyota when this story first broke? Was he in the mass public view taking responsibility and explaining how the problem would be resolved? That's the No. 1 lesson for any business owner; immediate transparency from the top person responsible.

Coming up: Blunder Number 2: Right Product/Wrong Place. A study in behavior and recognition.

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Esty Atlas is the owner of Esty Creative, a four-time Emmy award-winning marketing, communications, media strategy coach and public relations branding specialist. She can be reached at: 303-919-2425; email: estycreative@yahoo.com or www.estycreative.com

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