How to Handle a Media Crisis

Did Tiger Woods crash his credibility?

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read

Today’s topic is taken directly from the headlines: Did Tiger Woods just crash his car or did he also crash his credibility?  Today, I’ll cover how to effectively handle a media crisis.

How to Handle a Media Crisis

My husband said to me, “Come on, is the Tiger Woods story news? Should it really be the top headline on CNN?”  And my response was, “Well, yeah, I think so. Tiger Woods isn’t just a person; he isn’t just an athlete; he’s the world’s first billion dollar athlete. More accurately Tiger Woods is a company and a billion dollar brand. When Tiger Woods experiences a personal crisis it has repercussions far beyond personal embarrassment. 

Unfortunately for him, the story has grown even bigger since the day of the crash. It seems he’s decided not to follow traditional rules of crisis management.

It is critically important for him--and for any individual or organization that is in crisis--to handle the crisis effectively. Reputations can be washed away or seriously damaged in an instant.

What are the Rules of Crisis Management?

So what are the rules of crisis management? In general, it’s important to be responsive, to be honest, and to be concerned.  You have to respond, because if you don’t, there’s an information gap.  And that gap will be filled by speculation and rumor. You need to be honest, because if you lie, you create a secondary problem--another problem with your credibility. And finally, if you are able to show that you care, people will forgive and forget.

So let’s review the rules in a bit more detail.

How to Respond to a Crisis

Rule #1: Be first and be fast. Be the first to break the news. Don’t wait for reporters to start camping out. Don’t hide, or the media and your supporters will assume you are hiding for a reason. That’s why it’s best for you to come forward immediately, so that you can define the issue in the most favorable terms possible. If you don’t define the issue, others will do it for you. Finally, when you break the news, it helps to release the information to a favorable audience.


When you break the news first, when you’re honest, and when you take responsibility, there is no story.

David Letterman did it right when he was the first to release the news of his affairs with staffers to a loyal and sympathetic studio audience. On the other hand, Tiger Woods waited nearly a week. He did, however, finally post an apology to his supporters through his website. For corporations, it’s also important to remember that immediate internal communication is as important as communication with the public. 


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.