PR experts' verdict: a subpar apology

February 20, 2010|By Sandra Pedicini | Tribune Newspapers

Tiger Woods' scripted public apology Friday for his infidelity will do little on its own to repair the golfer's tarnished public image, some branding experts said.

"I actually thought it was a bit of a train wreck," said Matthew Harrington, president and chief executive of U.S. operations at the Edelman public relations firm.

Some criticized the carefully orchestrated delivery, in which Woods stood at a lectern reading a prepared speech in front of a small group of people including his friends, business associates and mother - but not his wife, Elin. The few reporters present were not allowed to ask questions

"I found nothing sincere or true," said Eli Portnoy, an Orlando-based brand strategist.

Woods' apology was his first public statement since a car accident in late November at his Isleworth, Fla., home.

The accident, in which Woods crashed his SUV into a fire hydrant and tree, came about the same time as a National Enquirer report that Woods was having an extramarital affair. More than a dozen women either came forward or were identified in tabloid reports as having had affairs with Woods.

Harrington said Woods' apology rambled too much, covering topics such as Buddhism and his work with his foundation for young people.

"In my mind, he should have sat down with someone like Charlie Rose and had a one-on-one," Harrington said. "The one-sided nature of it - the command and control of the audience and no questions - is so counterintuitive to the way in which the world is operating today."

Lori Booker, president of CBR Public Relations, said she was "disappointed in how predictable" Woods' apology was, but she called it was an important first step in repairing his reputation.

The statement will "relieve the immediate tension," said Booker, and "people will now take a wait-and-see approach."

At the same time, a study released this week by the market research firm NPD Group suggests Woods can still be an effective product endorser.

Although nearly a third of the 44,000 consumers polled said their opinion of Woods has "significantly declined," only 5 percent said they would cut back or eliminate purchases of products endorsed by the golfer.

Still, Harrington doesn't expect companies to line up for Woods' endorsement anytime soon. And when they do, he said, "it's going to be … a brand that's interested and open to taking a risk. It won't be a blue-chip brand."

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