Media consumers love to watch a star fall. They eat up the mistakes of celebrities and sports professionals, and it can easily spiral out of control, unless there is a solid public relations crisis management campaign in place. Lately, this has been especially true of sports figures who have faced public disdain for poor behavior. The key to success in a reputation crisis is public relations. Let’s look at two cases of sports figures who have faced public scandal.
While investigators are delving into accusations of drug use, Lance Armstrong has stayed in the spotlight. Other than a world champion biker, Armstrong is best known for his fight against testicular cancer and subsequent charity events to engage people in the cause.
The Livestrong founder has kept to his schedule of charity events, bike rides, speeches and endorsements. According to this AP article, Armstrong is doing “anything but hiding.” This is exactly the right approach to such a crisis. He is managing to limit the damage done, and to preserve his reputation with the public.
Even in the midst of the investigation, Armstrong stayed in the public eye, constantly updating his nearly three million Twitter followers, and appearing at all of his charity events.
His sponsors have kept with him throughout the ordeal — he has yet to be dropped by Nike, RadioShack or 24-hour Fitness. This is mainly because he has stayed in the public eye, and hasn’t hidden like other athletes who are facing a crisis. Because of this, his reputation is solid as a cancer survivor and activist. Even if found guilty, his reputation will not endure the same sort of damage as it would have if he had hidden. He has done everything he should have done in the face of a controversy.
Anyone who pays attention has heard of Tiger Woods and his alleged indiscretions. Everyone has formed their own opinion — negative or positive — in regard to his reputation.
Regardless of what you think of his athletic abilities or his moral code, it is obvious that Tiger Woods and his advisers mishandled his public relations crisis. Unlike Armstrong, Woods hid. He did not practice reputation management, he instead withdrew, perhaps waiting for it all to blow over.
According to this Technorati article, there are five things Woods could have done to preserve his reputation in the face of the crisis.
- As soon as the car accident story broke, his public relations team should have prepared a statement that “scratched the surface as it related to the seriousness of the situation.” They had to have been aware that the truth would come out soon, and they should have been proactive.
- He should have apologized to his wife publicly, with the whole truth, for all to see his remorse.
- He should have talked to the police immediately and told the media that he did so.
- He should have reached out to his endorsement partners to inform them of the seriousness of the situation.
- He should have set up an interview with a prominent figure such as Oprah or Barbara Walters to discuss the situation and his deep remorse.
Instead, Woods hid from the media and let them take control of the story. As a result of his lack of a crisis management plan, he was dropped as an endorser, lost his wife and his reputation suffered a tremendous blow. He did not come out on top, but hopefully did come out wiser, with a better grasp on the importance of public relations.