Tiger Woods & General David Petraeus: Clean Up in The PR Aisle!

793px-Tiger_Woods_drives_by_AllisonLet the reputation resurrection begin!

Both retired General David H. Petraeus and Tiger Woods seem to be on the PR road to resurrection this week  – just in time for Easter. ‘Tis the season, as they say.

While both of these men operate in completely different spheres, their mutual indifference to their marriage vows binds them together in the PR Hall of Infamy.

What’s interesting is the public reaction to these blatantly crafted PR attempts to wash away the past and re-create new and improved personas. What’s even more interesting is the public’s willingness to buy into it.

What is it about sports heroes and war heroes that gives them a pass? Maybe I should modify that and say male sports and war heroes. If it were a woman who had committed the same transgressions as either Woods or Petraeus, would the public be so forgiving?

It’s not as easy for a woman to resurrect her reputation,” says PR pro Matt LaCasse, Account Manager, Kimber Media. “Look at Britney Spears; the obsession with whom she was sleeping with was ridiculous. Men are allowed to mess around on their significant others and recover. If women try to flip the power, they get completely trashed.”

So true; take Taylor Swift for example. Her reputation for serial dating – and writing songs about it – have resulted in a public thrashing threatening to dismantle her good girl reputation.

“Women have a greater challenge because you don’t see that many fall. When they do, though, they fall hard,” says Amy Howell, president, Howell Marketing and co-author of the recently released book Women In High Gear.

That’s not to say men don’t experience the same downward spiral when they have publicly transgressed. When Tiger Woods’ infamous dalliances with many, many women were revealed, the fallout threw his career  – and his golf game – into a tailspin. While General David Petraeus’ planning of on-the-ground tactical maneuvers, that apparently had little to do with the Iraqi invasion, triggered his undoing.

In the days following the revelations of both their indiscretions, the avalanche of screaming headlines seemed to bring an instant and unrecoverable halt to their careers. In Tiger Woods’ case, sponsors fled; as for the General? Well, the word “retired” is now attached to his title. Seemingly, there was no way they could ever recover their reputations, nor would the public ever forgive them. Or so we thought.

“I think men probably fare better under public criticism because it’s more common to see men under fire in the press than it is to see women in similar circumstances,” says Amy Howell.

Witness portrait-like pictures of Tiger Woods and superstar Olympic skier Lindsay Vonn and their beaming smiles all over mainstream and social media. Tiger is back. And his fans are ready to re-embrace him.

In the same time period, General Petraeus made an appearance at a University of Southern California dinner, using his opening remarks to publicly apologize over his past transgressions. Clearly, his words had resonance as he was given two standing ovations during the course of the speech. Retired or not, the good general is ready to move on and the public is ready to let him.

“I’ve always found people are willing to forgive screw-ups, but cover-ups? Not so much,” says LaCasse. “Tiger didn’t cover anything up, and neither did the General, once the story broke. But our willingness to forgive will be based on whether both take real measures to change their lives.

The sad part is, these “real measures” will likely be a choreographed set of appearances and photo ops, leading us to believe they have changed. Both men generated a base of goodwill early in their careers, which may allow them an easier path to resurrection.

“I don’t think any public indiscretion made by man or woman is totally forgotten. These men will forever be tainted,” says Howell.

And that, I suppose, is the only equal treatment we can expect.

Contributor PR consultant Elissa Freeman brings more than 25 years of communications experience to the pages of The Broad Side. Named one of Twitters Top 52 PR pros and Top 75 Badass Females, the Toronto, Canada-based Freeman is also a contributor to PR Daily/PR Daily Europe and is a guest columnist at Canada.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @elissapr.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Keith Allison/CC License

  • I honestly don’t think we should be judging anyone for their relationship shenanigans. We don’t know, we weren’t there. I’m sure we’ve all done crappy things to people we love in the past. If the person’s philandering ways actually affected the public somehow (like when my tax dollars went toward Eliot Spitzer’s prostitutes) – THEN we’re justified in some public outrage. Otherwise, it’s something that is really only between the affected parties, and it should be none of our business.

    • Elissa

      Good point, Christina. However, the very public way these two high profile figures are being managed (photo ops, televised speeches) suggests otherwise; we ARE being asked to provide ‘approval’ of sorts. At the end of the day, it would be for their own gain; eg sponsors would come back to Tiger and the General would regain his favourability rating and not end up as an ignoble footnote in the history books.

  • Interesting post Elissa and thank you for the inclusion. I wish Christina could be 100% right. Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a world where people minded their own affairs and we didn’t have to write about it 24/7?

    • Elissa

      Firstly, thank you for adding your POV to this article, Amy! Secondly, so true…the new normal is to give media full license to tear people down…then build them back up again…

  • I agree with Christina AND Elissa. 🙂 I find myself no more judgmental of women than men in their bad behavior, but the rest of the world doesn’t apply fair standards in that way. Women are excoriated to a much more intense way – ways that make it much harder for THEM to take advantage of the PR machine that might help them back to their proper paths as artists, politicians, sports heroes, etc.

    This is a great article, Elissa – loved it!

    • Elissa

      So true, Aliza. You rarely see a woman leverage her PR machine – is it mainly because the media won’t bite? Only if they’ve been ‘wronged by a spouse/lover/bad boyfriend’ does the media allow for a platform in the form of a ‘tell all.’ And thanks for the kudos!

  • While men may embrace the second coming of Tiger Woods, I don’t think many women will. Taylor Swift sort of creates her own drama by constantly writing about her relationships breaking up. If you invite media attention, than you get what you get. Great discussion here.

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