Tiger Woods: Crisis Communication Although Tiger Woods released several statements attempting to minimize not only the incident of his Escalade-tree collision but also the initial reports of a possible extramarital affair, the lack of full disclosure and the revelations of additional females stating that they too had affairs with Tiger have only fueled the media frenzy. Television entertainment news shows such as TMZ, Entertainment Tonight, The Insider, and Access Hollywood report on the Tiger Woods scandal daily.
But these programs are no longer the primary source of information; the 24-hour availability of social media is truly pushing the story. Tiger was not in control of the narrative and found himself in a crisis management situation. What did he need to do to get in front of the story and to begin to rebuild his reputation? JOHNSON & JOHNSON Many business authors and researchers consider the way Johnson & Johnson (J&J) handled the cyanide-poisoning scare of 1982 as the “gold standard” for crisis management. In early 1982, Tylenol was the most successful non-prescription medication in the United States with over one hundred million users.
The brand was responsible for 19 percent of J&J’s profits during the first 3 quarters of 1982. In addition, 13 percent of the company’s year-to-year sales growth and 33 percent of the year-to-year profit growth was the direct result of the brand. In the era before Ibuprofen (approved by FDA for OTC use in 1984), Tylenol was the leader in the painkiller field accounting for a 37 percent market share, outselling the next four leading painkillers combined. The Tylenol brand, itself, had profits that would have placed it in the top half of the Fortune 500 (ten Berge, 1991).
During the fall of 1982 an unknown person or persons, and for unknown reasons, laced Tylenol Extra-Strength capsules with cyanide and returned the product to the shelves of groceries, markets, and pharmacies in the Chicago area. The laced capsules were purchased and seven unsuspecting people died. Contaminated bottles continued to be discovered through October (Malcolm, 1982). J&J suddenly found itself in the middle of a situation that required skilled management and strong crisis communication. J&J’s first action was to immediately alert consumers nationwide not to consume any type of Tylenol product in pill form.
Not only did J&J stop the production and advertising of Tylenol, the company withdrew all capsules from stores in the Chicago area. Two more contaminated bottles were discovered and J&J ordered a national recall of every capsule, worth over $100 million. By withdrawing all Tylenol, J&J showed the consumers that they would rather take the financial risk of a recall rather than accept the public safety risk. In fact, within days the incident, J&J’s stock fell seven points, and within a month J&J’s market share of the OTC pain-reliever fell to eight percent (Lewin, 1986).
J&J used the all available media, including advertising, to issue the “do not use” alert, to announce the recall and to communicate their crisis response strategy. A 1-800 telephone hotline was established for consumers to call with inquiries concerning safety of Tylenol. Another toll-free number was established for news oulets to call and receive recorded messages with updated statements about the crisis (ten Berge, 1991). For the major press conferences held at corporate headquarters, J&J paid for and set up a live television feed via satellite to the New York metro area, allowing the press conferences to reach a national audience.
J&J CEO, Jim Burke received additional positive media exposure through interviews on 60 Minutes and the Phil Donahue show (Fink, 1986). In addition to the rapid PR campaign, J&J developed new safety seal packaging in which the boxes were glued shut; a plastic seal covered the necks of the bottles; and a foil seal was added over the mouth of the bottle under the cap. When Tylenol was re-introduced just 6 months after the crisis occurred, it had a new form (caplet instead of the capsule) and was the first OTC product to use new, mulit-layer tamper resistant packaging (ten Berge, 1991).
J&J offered free replacement of the capsules and special coupons for future purchases in an attempt to recapture its customer base. J&J’s strategy was successful, and by the next summer, J&J had rehabilitated the reputation of the Tylenol brand, restored the trust of the public, and regained its pre-crisis market share (Lewin, 1986). Although J&J’s response to the Tylenol crisis was very successful, it may not be an adequate model for the Tiger Woods case because the extent of impact to the public is different. The Tylenol brand was an actual product that harmed the public and had lost market dominance.
Tiger’s situation was simply a personal issue, which became one of the latest celebrity scandals. If the J&J crisis management model cannot be applied to the Tiger Woods crisis, there must be different types of crises. FOUR CAUSES/SOURCES OF CRISIS Coombs and Holladay (1996) developed four categories for crises based on attribution theory. In the development of attribution theory, Heider (1958) explained how people assign, or attribute, causes for events in order to better understand those events. Weiner (1986) added the dimensions of perceived source and controllability of the cause.
The Coombs/Holladay categories based on these two dimensions are 1) accidents, 2) transgressions, 3) faux pas and 4) terrorism. Source ControllabilityAccidentsfaux pasUnintentional TerrorismTransgressionsIntentional ExternalInternal Figure XX. Coombs/Holladay Crisis Categories Based on these categories, the J&J crisis can be classified as “Terrorism” because the source of the crisis was external and intentional—unknown person/persons willfully tampered and poisoned the Tylenol capsules. Tiger Woods’ situation definitely falls into the “Transgression” category—he is the source of the crisis is internal and completely within his control.
REPUTATION REPAIR STRATEGIES If there are different categories of crises, there must be different methods to rebuild or repair reputation following the crisis. Many researchers of communication, public relations and marketing have written about repairing the damage to an organization’s reputation caused by a crisis. Coombs (2007) integrated the work of other researchers to create a master list that integrated various writings into one list, Table XX. The reputation repair strategies vary in terms of how much they focus on the victims of this crisis (those at risk or harmed by the crisis).
The reputation repair strategy list is arranged in order of increasing focus on the victims of the crisis. Table XX, List of Reputation Repair Strategies (Excerpt from Coombs, 2007) By the end of the crisis, J&J had utilized three of the Coombs’ (2007) nine strategies. Initially, J&J immediately took responsibility and apologized for the poisonings even though the actual cause was not yet identified. Once it was determined that they were not responsible, they used the scapegoat strategy, assigning blame to the unknown perpetrator(s).
Additionally they compensated the victims through discounts and coupons for replacing the recalled product. It could be argued that role of apologies in crisis management should be minimized to avoid the possibility of legal liability. Coombs (2007) indicates that compensation and sympathy may be better strategies than apology because they focus on the victims’ needs instead of the crisis itself. Using sympathy to express concern for victims and compensation to offer victims something to ease the suffering shapes the perception that the company is taking responsibility—actions speak louder than words.
Unfortunately, in Tiger’s situation, he could not compensate nor would he garner much sympathy from his wife, his sponsors or the public. The only strategy that seems applicable to crises of Transgression is apology. On February 19th, 86 days after the initial incident and after conflicting press releases, Tiger held a press conference in which he apologized to multiple audiences. How did he do? STUDY QUESTIONS 1. Would holding the press conference sooner have lessened negative impact? Why or why not? 2.
What reputation repair strategies, if any, should the sponsors use to deal with the impact on their brands by the association with Tiger Woods? CITATIONS Benoit, W. L. (1995) Accounts, excuses, and apologies: A theory of image restoration strategies. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press Berge, D. ten. (1991). The First 24 hours: A comprehensive guide to successful crisis communication. New York: Basil Blackwell. Coombs, W. T. , & Holladay, S. J. (1996). Communication and attribution in a crisis: An experimental study in crisis communication. Journal of Public Relations Research, 8(4), 279–295. Coombs, W. T. 2007). Ongoing crisis communication: Planning, managing, and responding (2nd ed. ). Los Angeles: Sage. Fink, S. (1986). Crisis management: Planning for the inevitable. New York, NY: American Management Association. Heider, Fritz. (1958). The psychology of interpersonal relations. New York: John Wiley & Sons. Lewin, Tamar. (1986). “Tylenol maker finding new crisis less severe. ” The New York Times. 02/12/86. Malcolm, A. H. (1982) “Another poisoned Tylenol bottle is found by Chicago investigators. ” The New York Times. 10/22/1982. Weiner, B. (1986). An attributional theory of motivation and emotion. Springer-Verlag, New York