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December 3, 2009

Not sure if I have invented a new word, or whether it has already earned its way into our lexicon, but if it has not, perhaps it should.  What is “celebremania?”  It is when the public develops an insatiable appetite to know things about celebrities that perhaps are left best for themselves to handle.  Having said that, if I had been the PR counselor to either the Salahis (anyone on the planet who doesn’t know they crashed the Obama private state dinner…) or Tiger Woods, I would have handled things differently. 

First, the Salahis.  This is a wannabe celebrity couple that is probably going to get more publicity than they will ever want, and that is likely to have some dire consequences for them.  Seems that they have not paid a lot of vendors for their charity events…they have been using names and affiliations without permission…their winery is in financial trouble, their foundation is essentially broke and they are barely speaking to their parents. We have learned all this from countless stories in all kinds of media.   Now with all those problems, wouldn’t you think they would stay below the radar?  Not in this celebrity, paparazzi-driven world where we can’t get enough dirt on people who decide to walk into the spotlight.  The PR message for this couple…go back to your winery, make good wine, pay your bills, stop deceiving the public, and stay out of Washington for a long while.

Now on to Tiger Woods.  In full disclosure, I am a golfer and love what Tiger has brought to the world of golf.  Without him, many viewers would rather watch paint dry than watch golf on TV.  He expanded the audience to millions of new viewers,  he has attracted thousands of new golfers to enjoy the game and had a squeaky clean image.  But, oh Tiger, what a PR mess you have caused.

As a former PR consultant, I would have advised Tiger to do two things.  First, just say you can’t remember all the details of what happened in the car crash because you blacked out temporarily (which is true).  Then get out in front of this mess and fast.  Another PR expert said she would have staged a press conference within hours, or at least within a day to get this behind him.  He can still say that his personal life is his personal life if he wants to, but he has to have the courage to face the public and the media scruitiny.  Why?  Because he wasn’t afraid to face them when he was winning golf matches and the public believes they own a piece of him.  Actually we do own a piece of him because he sold himself to us for a price tag of one billion dollars.  That doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve privacy; it means he cannot have it both ways.

Here is a case in point.  When I first became a PR consultant, I began working with a very high profile client, James Roosevelt, the eldest son of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one of our most beloved presidents.  He was the titular head of an organization called the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and they were getting a lot of negative publicity.  People accused of him of trading off his father’s name, that it was a fund-raising scam, etc.  My job was to organize a press conference and get Mr. Roosevelt ready to face the cameras.  Here I am a farm boy from Pennyslvania sitting across from the man who was FDR’s chief of staff, and the man who held his arms to steady him as he headed to the lecturn to speak to the public.

I will never forget sitting on a bed directly across from Mr. Roosevelt in the Madison Hotel in Washington, DC.  We convinced him that the best thing to do was to have a press conference.  I developed a list of 20 or so questions that he was likely to be asked the next day at the conference.  Of those, about 16 were posed by the media,  but my man was ready because he was no novice at handling the press.  He learned from the master, his father.

In this case, the negative publicity died down almost immediately because Mr. Roosevelt went into the lion’s den to face his challengers.  Had Tiger Woods done this, admitting that he made some personal mistakes, my view is that the public would forgive him and even admire him more for his courage to meet his tormentors.  The sports and brand experts believe this will all die down eventually, but Tiger took the worst beating of his professional career in the media and much of that was perhaps unwarranted, and most of it unnecessary if would only have ‘fessed up’ from the beginning.

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