Back to Basics

In a world that perhaps need no more examples, two recent PR disasters showcase how important the fundamentals of public relations are, especially to prominent brands or people.

Given the glaring missteps, the firms handling crisis communications for Toyota and Tiger Woods must have forgotten about one of them: framing.

In his article, Tiger, Toyota, and David Patterson, PRWeek columnist Torod Neptune weighs in.

Woods in better days.

Woods in better days.

Case Study #1: Tiger Woods

In our class last week, Dr. Matera mentioned how Woods’ unfolding scandal began to frame him as arrogant. As an aspiring PR practitioner, I believe Woods waited too long to give his side of the story. By the time Woods held his press conference, losses in endorsements were already mounting. Casualties include his five-year licensing deal with Gatorade, worth a reported $100 million; his Buick endorsement, reportedly worth $40 million; and his Gillette endorsement, reportedly worth $20 million.

During his long silence, Woods’ mistresses, whose careers range from porn star to waitress, acted quickly to get their side out, and cash in on the steaming hot controversy.

Neptune points out:

Tiger’s delayed disclosure cost him credibility, and empowered others to structure this entire event on their terms, without any context from Tiger himself.

A few magazines cashing in on the controversy.

Publications cashing in on the controversy.

For people who aspires to prominence, as well as those who already are, the lesson from Woods would be to take control of the message immediately, and prevent others from spinning it to their own preference or liking.

The masses tend to remember what they hear first, and form their opinions around that, rather than what they hear last.

Case Study #2: Toyota

ABC News investigates the fatal car accident that initiated the recall

ABC News investigates the fatal car accident that initiated the recall.

Embattled Toyota has been under fire in the media for their recent vehicle recall because of their lack of communication. Toyota did not communicate quickly with their publics, and at worst, they are accused of actively covering up their problems.  According to Neptune, Toyota’s recall of the Prius and other cars is an example of :

The consequences of employing the drip philosophy of crisis management..Speculation was rampant, but the company was reluctant to initiate the recall…Now they face reputation and financial damage, and government and regulatory intrusion in their business.

In a recent article in Time magazine, Bill Saporito reports that the recall is projected to cost Toyota $2 billion in lost output and sales. Saporito says that while Toyota will fix its car problem soon, the restoration of its tattered reputation is going to take a lot longer.

Going forward, the lesson for Toyota is relatively similar to that for Woods: frame the event, get your side out first, accept responsibility and initiate the recall.

What are some other fundamentals of public relations?  What are some other important elements a client should have in place as part of their crisis communications plan?  Interested in all things PR?  Check out the PRWeek blog.

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4 Responses to Back to Basics

  1. crandell says:

    I think one of the most valuable things you discussed was that people remember what they hear first. This goes back to the thought that “first impressions last a lifetime”. When Tiger’s scandal broke, all I kept thinking about was how he was so hypocritical to have created this arrogant, perfect image of himself and then be living this life of adultery and selfishness. No matter what he said in his press conference, I still stand next to my initial impression. There was too much down time for speculation and rampage with the tabloids. The less that Tiger or his camp revealed, the more was left for the public to create their own opinions. Isn’t that where his agent or PR professional should have stepped in? It is their job to do crisis management and present him in a more positive light to balance out his scandalous actions. Were taught never say “no comment”. Well that is exactly the approach they took in Tiger’s case.

    • jteslevich says:

      Crandell, I agree with you on your impression of Tiger Woods, being and remaining your first impression. That he is “hypocritical to have created this arrogant, perfect image of himself and then be living this life of adultery and selfishness. No matter what he said in his press conference, I still stand next to my initial impression.” I believe his communications team faile him, but I can understand why they acted the way they did… Formerly this guy was untouchable, he had the Midas touch and hd a spotless record during his tenure on the public scene and many of his advisors had been on the ride with him the entire time. I think they became complacent, soaking up the good times and used to the reaction of brushing off a little bad press with silence or a “no comment” and let their bosse’s golf success solve any image problems. Obviously this tackdidn’t stand up to the storm of press coverage for his newy revealed private life that becae oh so public. Perhaps tat is why Tiger’s people went out and recently hired Ari Fleischer, he of Whte House spokesman fame, to help with fure communications frm Camp Tiger.

  2. alevy says:

    In the case of Tiger woods, I agree that the first impression of the scandal was the most remembered by the public. In any case, we all know how rumors spread among the celebrity world and tabloids surface for people to read about even if they are later preempted as false. In all honesty, after a couple weeks of hearing about the issue with Tiger, I didn’t even know the initial story because of all the different buzz going on about his relationships with his wife, kids and the women he had the alleged affairs with. All in all, I agree with Crandall’s post, that if he or his PR people did not allow for all these issues to surface for so long, then he may have been able to approach the situation differently and potentially avoid loosing all those endorsements (although of course what he did was intolerable and wrong in my opinion).

    However, I believe that although it is vital in the PR industry to uphold a strong, credible relationship with your client, (whoever it may be), I think that it is important to stay true to the facts just as journalists do and not shed the wrong light on a client and/or product you may be endorsing. For example in the case of Toyota, I think focus on crisis management is vital for the company to stay in business, but promoting it as a safe vehicle, when there were issues would not be ethical. (Not saying this was the case, but just in general).

    • jteslevich says:

      It would seem that you, Alevy, Crandell, and I agree on the issue of Tiger Woods, he and his communications team should have been more out in front of the story and not just let it be the domain of speculators, the tabloids and the blogosphere. Perhaps then he might have salvaged a portion of his reputation, perhaps a few endorsers and mayb even his marriage, but perhaps i am expecting to much of the world’s greatest golfer.

      In terms of Toyota, you are right, to make the statement that the vehicles are safe when in fact you have knowledge saying otherwise would be a breach of generally accepted business and journalistic ethics. For me it is a classic matter of “what did you know and when did you know it?” If yo communicate that information in a timely accurate maner within the crisis then you and your company, Toyota, in this case, can only be guilty of makng a car with safety issues, an all to common feature of vehicles, and not lying about the safety post-accident and scandal.

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