Tiger Woods Lawyers Up

December 9, 2009 at 8:44 am 4 comments

Tiger Woods. Golf pro. PR duffer.

It’s been a boom market for PR pros during the Tiger Woods debacle. If only we could get as much ink (pixels, tweets) for our clients as we have for ourselves as we conduct the endless autopsy of the endless scandal. My noble disclaimer aside, time to jump in.

The Wall Street Journal has “broken” the case on Tiger’s PR ineptitude: his sports agent Mark Steinberg is handling matters. And yes, Mr. Steinberg is a lawyer by training.

The battle between lawyers and public relations practitioners is epic (at least in the annals of PR). One group says “shut up;” the other urges clients to do the opposite. According to WSJ, Team Tiger has maintained the code of silence since Mr. Steinberg told the Florida Highway Patrol that his client would answer no questions about his car accident. Silence is truly golden as reports continue that Tiger’s organization is negotiating with alleged mistress Rachel Uchitel to buy her permanent distance from the media.

This very silence has created the only Tiger boom market bigger than PR talking heads: the parade of “other women” with their digital versions of Monica’s blue dress–texts, voicemails, and possibly nude photos of the golfing great. Mark Steinberg has made Tiger Woods a billionaire. He’s now extending his Midas touch to nightclub hostesses and waffle house waitresses around the world. With the reported payoff of Girlfriend Zero, Ms. Uchitel, the media know they have to spend liberally and move quickly to keep the story going.

Silence is deadly. Arrogance is nearly as bad. Team Tiger is loaded with both. Granted the arrogance is not the wear-on-your-sleeve variety that propelled Barry Bonds to a federal indictment, but it is real and ready to eclipse Tiger’s achievements, philanthropy, and appeal.

The WSJ story includes a telling anecdote on Mr. Steinberg’s attitude toward the media as he orders journalists waiting for Tiger: “You have two questions each. Nobody asks a third question or he walks.” At least that’s two more questions than the Florida Highway Patrol got.

Tiger’s terse and cryptic online confession, now buried chronologically in the news section of his Web site, continues the disdain with the line: “Personal sins should not require press releases.” They don’t when you’re famous. They get plenty of coverage without any special announcements.

Woods’ world has been breached and Mark Steinberg, the law school grad/mega agent/best friend cannot defend it. Mr. Steinberg may have had his way when negotiating endorsement deals with huge companies. He may have successfully sued or punished marketers and media that violated his protocol. He may be able to slip seven-figure checks to a couple of party girls before the National Enquirer does. He’s not qualified to fight this war. But he’s doing wonders for the lawyers vs. PR debate…as far as PR pros are concerned.


Entry filed under: Crisis Communications, Public Relations. Tags: , , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. James Strock  |  December 9, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Terrific piece, Jason. On Steinberg, is the problem that he’s a lawyer per se?–or that he is treating this situation as essentially a litigation matter? Perhaps the reasoning isn’t the key in any event–clearly what they’re doing isn’t working…. in the end, though, could anyone, even the Bruce Barton of yore, bring back Tiger Woods from the banquet of consequences he now faces? There may be a fundamental misunderstanding afoot with Messrs. Woods and his entourage: in the 21st-century, with our plethora of communications tools and lack of privacy, any individual or organization acting out of sync with customers’ understanding of their brand is in peril. The Woods saga is part of a much bigger picture….

    • 2. jasonkarpf  |  December 9, 2009 at 11:39 pm

      Jim, you’re a lawyer who understands the importance of public relations and transparency. “The right to remain silent” helps avoid prosecution but is destructive to a reputation and a brand. Tiger isn’t looking at prosecution (no intoxication testing after crash; no reports of investigating prescription drug abuse per texts). Kobe Bryant, on the other hand, was facing jail time had he been tried and convicted. He spoke promptly and boldly about his “transgression.” (Not to condone him or Tiger.) Kobe took control of his story, but of course, his freedom was at stake.

  • 3. Jonathan Vos Post  |  December 9, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    To me, the interesting PR result of the Tiger screw-up is that of Dr John Gribbin. This prolific book author and Physics professor’s out of print book “Get A Grip On Physics” by Dr John Gribbin was published in 2003 and despite being out of print has shot up Amazon’s sales rankings from 396,224th to 2,268th. Second-hand copies fetch £45. Why? Police photographs show that book on the driver’s side floor of Tiger’s SUV, with brokwn windshield scattered on and around it.

    Today I heard him on BBC World Service, via [USA] National Public Radio. He should link to their page, if they have the audio file. GREAT interview! He said that he sent a copy of his latest book, “In Search of the Multiverse” was, I think, the title, directly to Tiger.

    The part of the Multiverse where none of this happened to Tiger…

    So. PR plan: put copies of books in celebrity automobiles, just in case!

    • 4. jasonkarpf  |  December 9, 2009 at 11:40 pm

      Gribbin is one case of “no such thing as bad press,” the only case in this mess.


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