Out of the woods

Tiger Woods has been restored to innocence by means of a cunning ploy. The latest ad by Nike to feature the golfer carries the slogan ‘Winning takes care of everything’.

Tell that to Tony Hayward, former CEO of BP when the Gulf of Mexico was covered in a thick film of shrimp-killing crude. All it took to destroy him were five words said at the wrong time and in the wrong place: “I want my life back.”

Everything appears to have changed. Once, all the power lay with corporations, today it lies with consumers or at least with digital communicators who may or may not be customers or shareholders. More bandwagon riders than anything else.

It doesn’t matter how many PR folk you employ, or how many agencies, when your CEO makes a complete pillock of himself with an injudicious comment, or one of your products fails to perform as advertised, popular wisdom ensures you are put on the back foot with no way of regaining control, while the social media storm whirls around you.

Stock markets are as driven by reputations as they are by analysis and gambling. The pressure that they bring to bear makes BP’s trial by Twitter look like a turn on X-Factor.

In this case popular wisdom may be wrong though, and there are ways to move past the problem.

First, as you cannot engage effectively against anonymous critics, don’t waste your time trying. Ignore them. The problem will disappear as the trolls find new targets who rise to their bait.

Second, follow the Tiger Woods method and stick to excellence as a company creed and behaviour value. Excellence in everything mind, not just communications – everything.

Third, make sure that the CEO and other senior managers know that everything they say and do is not private and hasn’t been for some time.