Saturday, December 5, 2009

Happy Holidays from the Woods

Now that the police have closed their books and we've carved the tender meat off of the Tiger Woods scandal (because the celebrity media food mill will certainly be churning out spicy sausages of gossip for some time), it's time to think about how the great Golfer can begin to revamp his image. He has no shortage of examples to follow, as there's no shortage of famous philanderers trying to walk back a similarly public walk of shame (as it were). But finding the right fidelity-challenged celeb for Tiger to emulate is a difficult task.

The best thing would have been to get out in front of the story immediately, to exert whatever small measure of control over the news cycle he could from the start. Instead, he stonewalled and by doing so let the TMZs and National Enquirers (and restaurant hostesses) fill the public's appetite for idol destruction.

His headscratching and evasive online posts conjured up images of our First Philanderer, but if his image rehab goes as well as former President Clinton's did, he'll be fortunate. Of course, Tiger faces a different set of PR challenges; he's not going to be term-limited out of the PGA tour in two years, and somehow I doubt he'll be doing penance on the senate seat campaign trail anytime soon. Nevertheless, Clinton's later confessions and heartfelt apologies, coupled with an American public weary of the scandal, helped set the stage for his transformation into a well-respected philanthropist, and that should be probably be the first step in Tiger's image recovery.

Trouble with Tiger is that his on-course intensity bleeds into his public persona. He seems like a friendly guy, but not so warm and fuzzy as to invite compassion. He's built a massive brand machine on the precision with which he approaches his sport, and he comes off like that- mechanized with determination of steel. Engineered. So neither a tearful apology nor a Hugh-Grant-esque laughing shrug-off would work, and a flat, almost angry Kanye-style confessional would only further damage his sponsorship obligations.

Nope, what Tiger has to do is be honest and heartfelt. He should try to make amends with his wife and pursue some charitable effort on behalf of at-risk women. And he doesn't have to throw himself to the wolves, but he must accept the responsibilities of his celebrity status and take the healing process public.

Perhaps the best example for Tiger to follow is David Letterman. They hold similar positions in their chosen fields, they both are household names, they both cherish their privacy. Dave was well out in front of his scandal a few months ago, and now it seems to have all but disappeared from the headlines. His show actually enjoyed higher ratings during his confession period. By confronting it head on, with composure and sincerity, he managed to turn what could have been a career-threatening gaffe into at least a not-negative situation.

People cheat. People crash cars. Tiger isn't the first golfer to do it, and he won't be the last. But to heal his considerable brand image, he has to start talking about it, and very soon.

Let the healing begin!

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