Golf Bag for Sale

I’ll begin with an admission. I was wrong. Last December, I posted an entry in this space predicting that most of Tiger Woods’ sponsors would stick with him through his troubles. The departures of AT&T, Accenture and Gatorade from Team Tiger prove that Nostradamus and the Amazing Kreskin have nothing to worry about from me.

Granted, I did say that the sponsors would hang in there if there weren’t a large number of further revelations. As we all know, there were. Still, color me wrong.

Which brings us to today. Tiger is back home in Orlando, working on his game. The extremely uncomfortable televised apology is behind him and whatever therapy he was involved in seems to be finished, at least for the time being. I have no idea what shape his marriage is in. It’s none of my business anyway. For me, and for golf fans everywhere, the question now is…when? When will he return to the PGA Tour? Jack Nicklaus says he’d be surprised if Tiger doesn’t play in the Masters, but that looks like speculation on his part. He doesn’t seem to have any inside information.

I hope he’s back for Augusta. But even if he isn’t, he has said that he will be back eventually. When that day comes, I believe some brands will have an opportunity – and a big decision to make. Tiger’s bag used to carry the AT&T logo. If you’re the CMO for Sprint or Verizon, do you make a deal to put your logo there in its place? Gatorade’s gone away. If you control Powerade’s marketing, do you approach the world’s No. 1 golfer about a relationship that will utilize him to stick it to your larger rival? Accenture’s ads now feature real wild animals instead of Tiger. Lots of people age 35-64 with financial portfolios that need managing still watch golf. Do you tie your brand to Tiger?

Before you say no, think about it for a minute. Chances are good you can get a deal for less than the previous guys were paying. And you can’t deny that Tiger’s return will draw some of the biggest audiences in televised golf history – at least for the first few events. Granted, the man’s star has lost a lot of its luster. He will probably never be revered in quite the same way he was before that November night.

But…

What if he comes back playing better than ever, with a renewed purpose and a fierce determination to show the world he’s still the boss inside the ropes? I think the chances are good given his competitive drive, laser focus and limitless skill. Remember, this is the guy who won the U.S. Open playing basically on one leg.

What if all the stuff he said he was going to do actually comes to pass? He straightens out his personal situation and approaches life – and golf – with a greater level of respect?

What if he wins two or three majors in the next 18 months, getting ever closer to Jack’s career record? Do you think he will be a pariah in most peoples’ eyes? I don’t. I’m not sure he is now, but that’s beside the point.

The point is, America, and American sports fans, love a comeback story. The fact that Kobe Bryant and Alex Rodriguez are now being cheered unconditionally by their fans illustrate our willingness to forgive and move on, especially when the biggest stars are involved.

If Tiger comes back in a big way, and manages to stay out of the National Enquirer while he’s doing it, then I believe he can again be a massive marketing force. Maybe not as strong as he once was, but still on a very short list of the world’s biggest. And those brands that stuck with him through the darks days – Nike, EA Sports – will not only receive a big bump but will also be seen as having been loyal to their guy in his time of need. They didn’t cut and run. A lot of sports fans will be impressed.

And if you’re Verizon or Powerade or any other brand willing to take the chance, you’ll be along for the ride too. Say he’s back on top in 2012. How many people will even remember that, back in 2009, he was a spokesman for AT&T and Gatorade? What was Kobe promoting in 2007 or A-Rod in 2008? I don’t remember either.

I think there’s a huge potential upside in taking a chance on Tiger now. Is there a downside? Of course there is. This thing could end up taking away his drive and turning him into just another Tour pro. His personal life could take another strange detour. He could give up the sport and enter a Buddhist monastery. All kinds of stuff could happen. Just look at the last four months. Who could have predicted any of that? But if it doesn’t and he does come back big, in two or three years you and your brand could be seen as the visionaries who took a risk back in 2010.

In marketing circles, you could be what Tiger once was in golf. A hero.

Tigers are, after all, wild animals

Tiger took a step forward in humanizing himself today at his “press conference.”

We were all looking for him to take responsibility in a meaningful way and to a certain extent, he did that. By saying that it doesn’t matter what he says to his wife, but how he demonstrates his love for her over time told us that he gets it.

The fact that he is not rushing back to golf, but is instead going back to rehab, also tells us that he is sincere about moving past this chapter of his life.

Bottom line, he continues to be a very private individual who will only be “managed” so much. Americans, and those across the world, should know better than to ever have believed he was holier than thou. Tigers are after all, wild animals!  He’s a great golfer and that’s what we should expect from him.

2009 Was Lame, but Not Totally

For many of us, 2009 will forever be remembered as the year that sucked. Bad! I don’t need to go into why 2009 sucked, do I? You probably have 2,009 reasons why ’09 was garbage. So … I was feeling a little unlike myself the other day and asked some of the folks here at R&R to send me some of the most noteworthy things to happen in 2009 not related to war, the economy or lost jobs. Here is a little sample of what they sent (remember R&R is an ad agency and people who work in advertising are, well, a little interesting to say the least):


All Twitterpated for Twitter

Rob Santwer, a digital marketing consultant at R&R, cited the rise of Twitter as his noteworthy event. Rob likes getting his news and information quickly, and Twitter makes him happy because it’s another example of how America’s ingenuity can bring about change in the world (reference the medium’s impact on the political process in Iran). He’s not alone. According to eMarketer, 12.1 million people use Twitter and that number is expected to climb to 18 million in 2010. I found a great Twitter blog that details the top new events, hashtags, sports events, people, etc., on Twitter in 2009. It’s cool. Check it out.


K9 Cop Meets R&R Employee

We had an overzealous R&R employee come to work at 5 a.m. recently. He showed up before sunrise to prepare for a presentation. Sounds like a job in advertising, doesn’t it? The only problem: The building alarm had gone off before he got here. He walked in through the back door, sat down at his desk and started working. Little did he know the police were searching the building with canines. You know … big, mean dogs with really keen noses and razor-sharp teeth. Our employee heard voices and popped up from his cube to say hello. A very large canine cop came running down the hall and lunged at the R&R employee. A human officer, who was just as stunned to see the R&R employee as the employee was to see to the cops, reached out and grabbed the dog’s collar just as his hot kibble breath reached our employee’s nose. Pat Carrigan, our director of Production Services, was thankful for the officer who saved our employee from the mouth of the police doggy.


Gaga for Gaga

Robin Milgrim, an art director in our Las Vegas office, is clearly gaga for Gaga. I can’t say I blame her. After years of pop stars badly regurgitating someone else’s lyrics to dance moves someone else invented, 2009 brought us Lady Gaga. Robin says it best when she writes:

“I’ve never been a fan of pop music, but I think the rise of Lady Gaga stands out this year. As an art director, I am wooed by her attention to theater and fashion. Whatever you think of her, or her music, Lady G stands out as a true artist – aware and in control of every aspect of her image. I say again, in control. Her actions are considerate and calculated. In a celebrity-driven world where so many are just vying to get airtime at any cost, Gaga makes a focused effort to entertain us on every level. She’s not entirely innovative, and could not have existed without artists like Madonna, Cher, Bowie, Elton and MJ laying the pavement, but she has taken everything her predecessors have done and rolled it all into one solid package, giving it just enough of a twist to make her stand out and feel fresh. As someone who generally gives credit to the world of alt/punk for breaking new ground, she gains my props for not being afraid to be controversial and for successfully mixing weird and sexy. Hence the bloody climax at the VMA’s… She makes me want to dress up like I did in the ’80s and dance my ass off in a gay club. As advertisers, I think we can learn a lot from her.”


Tiger, Tiger, Woods, Y’all!

OK, 2009 sucked big time for Tiger Woods, if not more for his poor wife and children. There is so much to say about Tiger Woods – where do you start? Jason Bailey, R&R’s research manager, found it just too ironic that Golf Digest ran a cover pre-TigerGate issue dated January 2010 – which, as you know, is like 10 mistresses later. The cover reads, “10 Tips Obama Can Take from Tiger.” As Jason says, “The unintentional comedy is a hole in one … ba-dah-dum!”


Anonymous Giving

Up north in Salt Lake City, our creative director, Kyle Curtis, lives next door to a nice family who lost their 16-year-old in a car crash. Anonymous donors reacted to the tragedy by paying for the 16-year-old’s funeral and bought the family a new car. Not that it can ever replace the loss of a child, but as Kyle says, “+1 for humanity.”


Cronkite Signs Off As We Sign on

Tara LaBouff, our public relations account supervisor in Phoenix, wrote this regarding the passing of Walter Cronkite and what it means to news in America:

“The news model is changing frantically as traditional outlets accept that they must compete with citizen journalists and digital delivery formats. When Walter passed away, it truly felt like the last page of an epic novel. Journalism as we knew it for the past century is now being practiced so differently from before. There is rampant speculation rather than presentation of facts, chronic interviewing of reporters by other reporters (rather than true subject matter experts), and few outlets employ fact checkers. The up side? Citizens have more ability than ever before to participate in the news discussion and digitally broadcast their side of the story. Going forward, whether journalism experiences another Walter Cronkite is still unwritten. For the moment, who America turns to as the “most trusted voice” appears to be the person most like you with a screen name and profile pic.”

So as we wave goodbye to 2009 and say hello to 2010, I want to wish you a happy and healthy new year. Remember, even when things seem to suck, you can always find something to smile about. I learned from this little exercise that good people still exist, Twitter is both good and maybe a little evil, Tiger should not give Obama advice, Gaga is good for pop music, and to not come to work early. But most of all, I learned people will always persevere and that human nature compels us to move forward. And, moving forward is positive enough for me.

Until 2010 … this is R&R’s resident Web geek saying “stay classy” blogosphere.

Does the Tiger Brand Still Have Teeth?

Full disclosure. I’ve been a fan of Tiger Woods as long as anyone. I watched him as a 3-year-old hitting golf balls on the old Mike Douglas talk show. Sat rapt in front of the TV for each of his three consecutive U.S. Amateur victories. I was in the gallery on that October day in Las Vegas in 1996 when he won his first PGA Tour event. I’ve pulled for him to win every tournament he’s entered and every match he’s played. The level of his talent, the power of his concentration, the strength of his will – are awe-inspiring.

None of that has changed. I still believe Tiger is the best ever to pick up a club (even though Jack Nicklaus is, and always has been, my hero). I still believe he will eventually hold every record of significance in the game of golf. I will still root for Tiger Woods the golfer.

But what about Tiger Woods the man? What about Tiger Woods the Brand? Tougher questions.
As far as Tiger the man goes, I don’t know him, have never met him and doubt that I ever will. I will confess to a certain disappointment in learning that the focus, discipline and will that make him so good inside the gallery ropes didn’t seem to manifest themselves quite as sharply in his life off the course. But in the end, I guess it’s a confirmation of what most us knew instinctively anyway. That’s he’s human, with human weaknesses, capable of making human mistakes. Just like all of us. And that’s all I’m going to say, because that’s all I know. I hope he and his family can find some sort of peace and reconciliation. But in truth, that is none of my business.

Tiger the Brand? Well, that’s another story. Because I do have a relationship with Tiger the Brand. In fact, the late Phil Dusenberry of BBDO was quoted as saying that brand is “the relationship between a product and its customers.” So I, and millions of others around the world, do have something to say about Tiger the Brand. He’s our guy. Our Nike guy, our Gatorade guy, our Gillette razor guy, our Accenture guy. We revere him and trust him and believe him. Or at least we did. Now I’m not so sure.

For me, the problem was the first five days. The Escalade hits the hydrant at 2:30 Friday morning and then all day Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday – nothing. At least nothing from Tiger, beyond the first strange reports. But nature abhors a vacuum, and so do the news, sports and gossip media. So they did all the talking for him, and none of it was good. Finally, on Wednesday, the admission of “transgressions” on a Web site posting that expressed as much dismay about his treatment from the media as it did personal remorse for hurting his family. Better, but still not great.

So where to from here? It’s early yet, but I would be very surprised if his big sponsors – Nike, Gatorade and Accenture – run away from him. They simply have too much invested in Tiger the Brand. Will they lose customers? Maybe a small number, but I can’t envision a mass exodus from Nike Golf or Gatorade over this. The products are good, their customers loyal. And as we’re told over and over again, America is the land of second chances. Just ask Michael Vick, Kobe Bryant or Alex Rodriguez.

Soon, we’ll be hearing from marketing types pointing out, once again, how tricky it is for large companies to tie their promotional fortunes to one person and what the consequences are when that one person messes up. I don’t know. Michael Jordan wasn’t a saint and Air Jordan remains a solid brand for Nike. Kobe Bryant’s jersey is the top seller worldwide. People forget, people move on and commerce continues. With a 24-hour news cycle and plenty of other athletes and celebrities out there doing silly things, the Tiger furor will undoubtedly ebb and eventually die out. Especially if he wins a couple of majors in 2010.

But has there been some credibility lost? For me there has. And unfortunately, each day seems to bring a new revelation, or a new name, into the story. And the golfer who has been telling me for the last 13 years to play with Nikes, drive Buicks, shave with Gillette razors and drink Gatorade won’t come out and tell us what happened.

No doubt, it’s certainly his right to stay away from the cameras. This is, as they say, a free country. I’m sure he’s getting advice from lawyers, agents, crisis control experts and all the others who are called when things go wrong. I’m no expert in those matters, but as a fan and as a consumer, I hope they advise him to show all of us that he is capable of the same focus – and the same courage – that he exhibits each day on the golf course.

Say it ain’t so Tiger!

Should he talk or shouldn’t he talk? That is the question. Of course he should! Tiger Woods has one of the most revered brands on the planet and to allow speculation about what did or did not happen is just tarnishing that brand. Yes, he has had a squeaky clean image up ’til now, but he’s human. If he cheated on her, he’s a bastard, but he’s still a damn good golfer and ultimately, that’s what it’s all about. His sponsors and fans will judge him by the way he responds to his transgressions. Kobe got his wife the biggest rock on the planet. Have you heard much about his personal life lately? I’m not condoning what Tiger may or may not have done, but he needs to do something now. More than acknowledging some “transgressions.” We need to know how the accident happened and he needs to publically apologize to his wife if he indeed cheated on her. Privacy, Schmivacy! He’s a public figure!

Out of the Woods, Tiger emerges

Tiger Woods finally did come clean today. In a statement posted on his Web site, Tiger doesn’t specifically reference his car accident but he does appear to admit to the extra marital affair that’s been rumored.

As part of a long statement, he writes: “I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves.”

As I had mentioned in my previous post, Tiger has now stepped into the vacuum of information his silence had created. And while the news reporting will continue, his admission will slow down the feeding frenzy and cause this issue to go away much sooner.

What happens next in his family is between Tiger and his wife, but I do believe this is the beginning of Tiger being able to move forward publicly. And assuming there are no more bombs to drop, this will be a footnote in his storied career.

Tiger, Please Step Into the Vacuum

There’s a basic rule I always tell my clients with public relations challenges and if Tiger Woods would let me, I’d tell him too. It goes like this: The absence of information creates a vacuum – a void that sucks in everything swirling around it: rumors, pontification, half-truths, and one side of the story. And unless you step into that vacuum and set the record straight, you will never be in control of the story being told about you.

Tiger – the superstar of the world’s superstar athletes – is stuck in the worst public relations disaster of his career. And it’s all his doing. His story smells funny. The media knows it and his fans know it. The police would like to know it. And the people who pay him hundreds of millions of dollars to endorse their products would like to know it, too.

By now you know the details of his accident — apparently backing out of his driveway fast enough to knock him unconscious after the crash. Injuries bad enough to keep him locked up at home and forcing him to cancel his upcoming appearance at a golf tournament he hosts. Most likely because he doesn’t want to answer the questions swirling around him. The same questions he doesn’t want to hear from police – who have tried at least three times to interview him.

Tiger did release a statement saying that this was a private matter, but given his enormous public stature, he and his team of advisors should know the media won’t stop questioning – especially with rumors of an extramarital affair fueling speculation about this incident.

And while even the most public of our public figures deserve some privacy, history shows us that there’s only one way to make that happen as fast as possible. Just tell the truth.

It worked for David Letterman. The talk show host took control of his PR nightmare a few months ago by breaking his own news first – admitting on the air that he had sexual relationships with some of his co-workers. He did so because that information was about to be revealed during a legal matter. So Letterman bit the bullet, took control of the story and quickly set the record straight, Yes, he took heat for a couple of weeks, But then it all went away quickly.

No one accused him of covering up the truth or hiding – those are behaviors that really start to damage your credibility and reputation.

Tiger, are you listening?

The truth is Tiger will survive this incident, much like Michael Jordan got through his gambling scandals and leaving basketball to play minor league baseball. Like Jordan, Woods is a once-in-a-century athlete who’s worshipped by millions. He will be forgiven.

But to be forgiven, you have to confess. Just step into the vacuum Tiger, please. This will all end much faster that way.