A new Tiger Woods? Or the same old wolf in sheep’s clothing?

In his first public appearance since details of his multiple extra-marital affairs began unraveling, a red-eyed Tiger Woods delivered a statement in front of a hand-picked audience Friday morning.

Woods, who has not been seen or heard from since late November, appeared at the TPC Sawgrass golf course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. The event aired opposite the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, which has been going on since Wednesday in Arizona. Accenture is one of the sponsors that has dropped Woods in recent months.

Here are a few highlights:

“I’m also aware of the pain my behavior has caused here in this room I have let you down and I’ve let down my fans.”
“I felt I could get away with what I wanted to. I felt I had worked hard in my life and deserved all the temptations around me … I was wrong. I was foolish. I don’t get to play by different rules.”
“It’s now time for me to make amends … It’s time for me to start living a life of integrity.”

Woods’ voice rose when he referred to speculation that his Nov. 27 car accident was caused by domestic violence: “It angers me that people would fabricate a story like that. [My wife] Elin never hit me that night or any night. There has never been an episode of domestic violence. Ever.”

He also addressed his possible return to golf, saying he does plan on playing again but does not know when: “I won’t rule out returning this year. When I return I need to make my behavior more respectful of the game.”

The general sentiment from PR and crisis communication professionals in the area is that Woods did well in fully taking responsibility for his actions.

“This was sort of the mother of ‘mea culpas’ in length and detail and self flagellation,” said Susan Goodell, senior director at Warschawski, a public relations firm in Baltimore.

But it was only a job half-well done. The resounding chorus from professionals is that Woods is prolonging his negative image by refusing to take questions from the media.

“Without taking questions and really orchestrating it and limiting media members in there, it reeks of control and insincerity,” said John Maroon, president of Maroon PR in Marriottsville. “If you’re going to fall on the sword, fall on it completely.”

On the one hand, both said they were generally surprised Woods spoke about as much as he did (his return to golf, domestic violence, his renewed interest in his Buddhist faith, and he even thanked PGA players and Accenture for “understanding” why he chose to make his announcement Friday).

But on the other hand, they said, the statement gives Woods an excuse not to give the public any more. By addressing some things and not addressing others by saying they are private, Woods’ statement acts as a cover-all, Goodell said.

Maroon said the fact that Woods will not answer questions is overshadowing the fact that he apologized. He said while a traditional news conference on Friday could have been a wild free-for-all, following it up with a sit-down interview with a news organization could have nipped this in the bud.

“Then you can probably move on,” he said. “At some point he’s going to have to answer some questions if he wants to rebuild his brand.”

Levi Rabinowitz, a local crisis communications expert, said the format of Friday’s event was one that he never would have advised a client to take. Because of the worldwide interest in the golfer and this scandal, controlling the number of people allowed makes sense to a degree, he said. But limiting it to a few media outlets and not taking questions is taking it too far.

“There were questions [you] could have asked the media to confine themselves to,” he said.

Woods may have apologized but his actions speak louder, Rabinowitz said.

“The contradictions are profoundly communicative,” he said. “His message is in the controlling way he conducted his message … Taking responsibility is changing your behavior — from this event to today, his behavior has not changed.”

Vick to get courage award, NFL fans in Baltimore upset

The Ed Block Courage Award recipients are scheduled to be announced by the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation today at Baltimore’s Sports Legends Museum — but don’t expect it to be a totally congenial display of what’s great about the NFL.

Some fans in the city are upset over the Philadelphia Eagles’ choice for their award recipient, Michael Vick. (The Ed Block Courage Award is given to NFL players who have been selected by their teammates. The team selects someone from their squad they believe exemplifies a commitment to sportsmanship and courage, according to the foundation.)

According to The Baltimore Sun, animal lovers in Baltimore plan to protest the press conference that officially announces the 32 players set to receive the award this year. The Baltimore Ravens, by the way, selected Dawan Landry as their 2009 winner.

In case you were under a rock this summer, Vick was released from prison after serving two years for his role in a brutal dog-fighting operation and signed with the Eagles in August. Those upset about Vick getting the award say the Eagles’ selection is offensive and Vick in no way reflects the intention of the award.

“The Ed Block Courage Award Foundation is an NFL-supported charity dedicated to recognizing courage in the League while improving the lives of abused/neglected children in NFL cities throughout the country,” according to the foundation Web site. Ed Block was the longtime head athletic trainer of the Baltimore Colts, was a pioneer in his profession and a respected humanitarian, the Web site says.

Do you think Vick getting this award is out of line?  On the one hand, he’s served his time, he’s now working with the Humane Society and does seem to be turning his life around. On the other hand, it’s only been two years — is it too soon to start congratulating Vick and forget his past?

Tiger Woods: from billionaire sportsman to pariah

There’s no need to rehash the Tiger Woods saga of the last two weeks — unless you’ve been living under a rock since Thanksgiving, you know about the golf pro’s transgressions that have been causing a media circus for 14 days and counting.

But since we’re all about the money here, I will rehash what’s been going on with Woods’ sponsors. Early on in Tigergate, a handful of his sponsors including Nike, Procter & Gamble’s Gillette and videogame maker EA Sports came out with statements of support for Woods and said their thoughts were with his family.

But then came the parade of mistresses. At last count there were at least seven but that still appears to be a growing figure. And along with that, sponsors have fallen silent. Well, all except for PepsiCo, which claims its recent decision to drop a Gatorade product named for Wood’s wasn’t related to the scandal.

Riiiiight.

I talked to Baltimore ad firm TBC‘s Howe Burch this week about the potential sponsor fallout from Tigergate and he says this is only the beginning. Burch takes issue with those who say Woods’ transgressions have made him seem more human.

“I find that to be a misguided perspective on the whole thing,” said Burch, a former marketing executive with Fila and Reebok. “Tiger was affiliated with big blue chip brands and any brand that is successful is built on a foundation of trust…Tiger has violated their trust. They did not sign up for someone who is duplicitous.”

Burch said other examples this year like Michael Phelps getting caught smoking pot or Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino admitting to an affair don’t even come close to the damage Woods is causing to his once-untouchable image.

“[Phelps] certainly violated that trust with his sponsors but not nearly to the egregious extent that Tiger did,” he said. “Tiger has been unfaithful but not as a single instance. There’s a pattern here of purportedly nine or 10 girlfriends over 10 years marriage. It’s not as if he made a mistake — the guy has…violated his marriage vows. I think that’s a lot more sacred than a 23-year-old kid who gets caught doing what a lot of other 23-year-old kids do.”

USA Today reported this week that no commercials featuring Woods have appeared on prime-time TV — cable or broadcast — since two days after Woods’ accident. The last commercial was a 30-second Gillette spot featuring Woods and New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and aired during NBC’s Sunday Night Football. Before the incident, that commercial had aired eight times in November alone.

Burch also noted the argument can be made that Woods’ sponsors who make men’s products will stick by the golfer because their market may not find his transgressions as offensive as others. However, he said, guess who does most of the shopping for men? Yup — women.

“My wife was a big Tiger fan and she is absolutely disgusted by his behavior and doesn’t want to have anything to do with him or a brand he represents,” Burch said. “I think people need to be more aware it’s not just men who need to be considered.”

PR release of the weak

I usually don’t do this, because — believe it or not — I make my share of mistakes.

But here is a release that just landed in my inbox:

The FTC collects identity theft complaints from consumers throughout the year and reports them the following year. According to this year’s report, the Baltimore-Townsend metropolitan area saw an increase in the number of complaints its residents filed with the FTC of about 7.18%

Would you be interested in speaking with an identity theft expert to discuss this year’s report and to get tips your audience can use to protect themselves from becoming victims of the crime?

I won’t identify the company or the director of public relations who signed the release.

But … c’mon. Do a little homework.

Absolut PR nightmare

absolut.jpgYou might have heard about a recent ad by Absolut Vodka. I’ll let the AP explain:

“The campaign, which promotes ideal scenarios under the slogan ‘In an Absolut World,’ showed a 1830s-era map when Mexico included California, Texas and other southwestern states. Mexico still resents losing that territory in the 1848 Mexican-American War and the fight for Texas independence.”

The ad ran only in Mexico and — not that shockingly — stimulated a bit of American anger over immigration concerns with the U.S./Mexico border. Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC) began a Web site calling for a boycott of Absolut. The company has since apologized and withdrawn the ad.

But the boycott lives on. SKYY Vodka, one of Absolut’s competitors, has — also not that shockingly — come out in favor of the boycott, drawing praise in a release from ALIPAC spokesman William Gheen.

“I like SKYY Vodka!”, said William Gheen. “It is great to be able to have an occasional martini without contributing to a Global corporation, like Absolut, that is encouraging the invasion of my nation.”

Personally, I think that would look great on a t-shirt or bumper sticker. I also love it when a modern company such as SKYY comes out in support of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. (I’ve always wondered about Procter & Gamble’s opinion of the 1814 Treaty of Ghent.)

And here’s the point in the blog post where I admit looking at the ad and not understanding the fuss. “What a neat old map,” I thought. Didn’t even notice the immigration issue. Maybe it’s because I’m a gin guy.

What are your thoughts on the ad and the various responses to it?

JOE BACCHUS, Web Specialist

The cost of closing the ‘bux

By closing for three hours last week, Starbucks reportedly lost out on $2-$4 million in sales. There’s been a range of reactions to the event, which Advertising Age calls “part boot camp for baristas and part mass marketing for a company that wants to demonstrate that its improving product and customer experience.”

  • Some felt the coffee chain turned away customers who have plenty of other ways to get the goods. Dunkin’ Donuts stepped up to offer a range of drinks for 99 cents during the promotion, and it paid off: a marketing exec said franchisees experienced increased store traffic and sales.
  • Some argued that the closing, which drew plenty of media attention, alienated customers who didn’t anticipate being turned away – such as this InformationWeek columnist (“What, no email?”) or the customers in the Sacramento newscast below. Please enable Javascript and Flash to view this Flash video.
  • And still another said that Starbucks “pointed out that its baristas didn’t understand how to work the automated machines … Starbucks actually raised the awareness of a new problem. Check the past coverage of Starbucks’ recent woes, and you’ll see little criticism of the actual quality of the coffee.”

I’m unsure if the Powers That Be at Starbucks made the right call with the shutdown, but I know this: It’s lame to tell your customers to roast a turkey while they’re waiting for a revamped espresso.

JACKIE SAUTER, Web Editor

U.S. Olympic delegation to pass on Chinese food

Apparently the phrase “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” doesn’t apply to the U.S. Olympic Committee. According to an article on ESPN.com, the more than 1,000-member delegation of athletes, coaches, trainers and other personnel will be bringing their own food supply to China this August for the 2008 Olympics.

Really.

It’s got the Beijing officials understandably disappointed, although the article also points out that food safety in China has become a major issue for the Olympics. Tainted products and reported use of drugs and insecticides in food production could trigger a positive drug test, ruin an athlete’s career and be a public relations disaster for China, the article said.

While the U.S.’s 600-plus athletes will still be dining in the Olympic Village, the rest of the delegation (which isn’t eligible for meals at the village) will fill up at a training camp at Beijing Normal University, where the committee plans to ship “tons of meat and other foods.”

OK, I understand the drug-testing thing. But if the athletes are eating at the Olympic Village anyway and the U.S. food will be consumed primarily by non-competitors, why the concern?

I’ve never been to China, but I lived in rural Mexico and not once did I get sick off the food. I don’t say that to pat myself on the back, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the water there should not touch your lips or your dishes unless it comes from a bottle.

So what gives? Does anyone think this undermines the spirit of the games and the privilege of being the host country? Or in this day and age is it better to play it safe?

LIZ FARMER, Business Writer

Word play

As one who reads and writes news stories for a living, I am continually amazed and revolted at the bastardization of the English language by PR people who write news releases for a living. My pet peeves are the overuse of the words “leading” and “solution.”

According to Merriam-Webster, the “leading” definition of “leading” is “coming or ranking first.” The definition of “solution” is “(a) an action or process of solving a problem,” or “(b) an answer to a problem.”

The fallacy of using “leading” to describe a company is obvious: Not every company is a leader. And a “solution” frequently causes more problems than it solves.

Here is a sample of offenders, taken from one day’s perusal of releases carried on the PRNewswire and Business Wire.

“Stratos Global Corp. (TSX: SGB), the leading global provider of advanced mobile and fixed-site remote communications solutions, today announced …”

“GetWellNetwork, Inc., a leading provider of Interactive Patient Care solutions, today announced …”

“I4 Commerce [helps] to connect leading merchants with high value customers. … I4 Commerce’s payment and marketing technology solutions help establish and maintain …”

“CDW Government, Inc. (CDW-G), a … leading source of Information Technology (IT) solutions to governments and educators, and Discovery Education, the leader in digital video and multimedia-based learning …”

My “solution” for this problem is simple: Just eliminate these two words from the public relations vocabulary.

Imagine what that would do for the quality of business writing.

-PAUL SAMUEL, Associate Editor