As the sordid sex scandal surrounding Tiger Woods began to swell like a bag of microwave popcorn, he took such an excruciatingly long time to respond to the issue that it all burst in his face.
Wrong move, says Atlanta-based PR consultant Jonell Whitt of Jonell PR. There are certain things that people need to do when they get busted in a sex scandal.
First, folks need to be proactive and get in front of the scandal, much like David Letterman and CNN‘s Larry King did when their mattress acrobatics became public fodder. Woods’ words would have doused much of the public relations inferno that permanently charred his pristine image.
“If Tiger had said in the beginning ‘I’ve had several affairs and I’m sorry,’ no one would have been shocked as the number of playmates ballooned to over 20. “It wouldn’t have been so bad,” Whitt said.
When Woods did finally conduct a press conference months after the media typhoon had already pummeled his public image, it was too late. “At that point, it was so shameful that words could not fix it. He said the words [of an apology], but it didn’t have any meaning. No one cared what he had to say. By the time he apologized, it was like ‘OK, Tiger Woods, whatever.’ It was too late,” she said.
Secondly, don’t lie and insult the public’s intelligence, especially when there’s proof that screams of your guilt. Former President Bill Clinton tried to tie observers’ brains into knots with evasive language about what is and what is not “sexual relations.” John Edwards’ pristine image deflated like flat tires in America’s eyes as he stepped over his now-deceased cancer-stricken wife to shadow dance with his mistress, then lied about it.
Beyond what to do when the scandal shines a spotlight in their bedroom windows, Whitt says “prevention is always better than the common cure.”
“You have to make sure the media is on your side. Because if you have the media on your side, they will always put a spin on it for you,“ she says. “But if you disrespect the media? It’s over. They will tear you apart. And that’s what happened to Kobe Bryant. When you don’t give the interviews, they feel disrespected.”
Then the media is just waiting for something wrong to happen, and they pounce on them like a pride of lions on a carcass.
Another thing: show gratitude to the media who helped raise your profile in the first place. “That’s why I have my clients always give media appreciation parties. You need the media in your back pocket,” Whitt admonishes.
Lastly, avoid the temptation of sculpting the “perfect image” in order to accrue endorsements and money that you may not deserve.
“Because they put them on this pedestal of being so perfect, that’s the only reason [the sex scandals] were such big deals because they acted like they were without error. Just like with Kobe Bryant. It wasn’t a big deal because it was a white girl, but because he painted himself as the ‘perfect Kobe,’ ” Whitt said.