How To Bounce Your Business Back From A PR Disaster (Tiger Woods Style)

Who will ever forget the Thanksgiving of 2009? We awoke on Friday morning from our turkey induced slumber to find out that Tiger Woods’ wife beat him up overnight. Tiger laid on the ground with facial lacerations. His Cadillac was crashed into a tree. He was taken to the hospital in “serious condition” and then released later that day.

His serious condition got worse, but not in a medical way. That day the Tiger brand and his golden golf play started a downward spiral that would last for years. Elin (his former wife) had caught Tiger in an affair (not sure if “an” is appropriate, considering there were lots of affairs), and let him know personally and publicly that she wasn’t happy.

The “Tiger Woods brand,” once that of the clean, humble, in-control, honorable, ultimate competitor wasn’t just tarnished. Sponsors could see the road going by through the rusted out floorboards of what was once a vehicle to the stars. So like Elin sponsors pulled the plug on Tiger’s world. Accenture was the first to pull its endorsement, and then Gillette pulled out. So did countless others.

Tiger’s dominant presence on the golf circuit declined. The only part of Tiger’s world that was on the rise was his increasingly erratic golf play. He had a very public, elongated fight with his coach, his caddy, and his ex-wife. And with each front page story about his affairs, his break up, and his sponsor losses, it looked more and more like the Tiger brand was done enough to stick a fork in and serve as has-been hash. Or was it?

Three plus years later, Woods is back in a big way and tearing up the pro circuit again. He was just recently declared the number one golfer in the world, again. And, with girlfriend and professional Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn on his arm, he is half of the number one hottest celebrity athlete relationship going.

Just like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt formed the powerful marketing Mecca of Brangelina. Lindsey Vonn and Tiger Woods are forming the Liger brand. It’s only fitting that a sponsor who sells the passing of time, Rolex, has just signed Tiger Woods up as a spokesperson for their brand.

How can a guy who fell so far, so fast come back from the ashes to dominate golf again? Call it the Phoenix effect—the utterly defeated rising from the ashes of total failure. Tiger’s continuing rise from the ashes uses the same approach any brand or business does, with specific actions steps, relentless persistence, and a few strokes of luck. Here is what Tiger is doing to phoenix his brand. Follow these steps and you can rise too:

1. Public Acknowledgement— To deny is human, to confess divine. It took Tiger a few months after the Thanksgiving incident, but he finally went public with his admission of guilt. When your business makes a major mistake you need to fess up. And better yet, fess up fast.

2. Dump The Old Ways— Tiger dumped coaches, caddies and even his swing. If you need to recover your business or brand, it is often easier to “start from scratch.” The only outstanding question is if Tiger has dumped his old “dating method.” Lindsey Vonn is the first indicator that he has. With your business, when things are bad, clean house and start anew. A fresh starting point is much easier to manage than a mix of your bad past and your new future.

3. Rebuild— Tiger started working with a new coach and mastered a new swing. By dumping his old ways, he was able to find a new and better method. Supposedly he has done the same in his personal life, by dumping his “loose” ways and picking an amazing, steady, no-nonsense girlfriend. You too, need to find new vendors, new employees, and/or new ways to build a strong foundation.

4. Pick One Thing— Tiger knew that if he was to lead again he needed to pick one area to dramatically improve his game. He focused on putting. His putting improved so much that he could make up for his random lackluster shots on the fairway. Sure enough, as his short game improved he started to quickly climb up the ranks again. When repairing your business from disaster, don’t try to master everything at once again. It’s too much to handle. Master one thing. And make the one thing be your most significant competitive advantage.

5. Team Up With A Super Star— On the branding side Tiger’s new relationship with Lindsey Vonn couldn’t be more perfect. Recovering bad boy goes steady with superstar good girl? Sweet. The Lindsey fan base became automatic Tiger fans, and existing Tiger fans admire his choice in Lindsey. Nothing can repair your bad brand reputation faster than linking up with an established, trusted brand. If an established brand trusts you, consumers reason, they can trust you. As you recover seek an ally with a strong brand that you can link with.

There is still one final hurdle that Tiger must overcome, and it is the recent confusion over his new Nike ad. The one that says “Winning takes care of everything.” The truth is, it doesn’t. Time is always required to heal the wounds. In recovering your business, take the action steps listed above, but understand that you must be patient. People don’t forget so easily.


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