What Golf Needs Now - Tiger Woods, PR & ORM

It's 11:00 AM EST on Thursday morning. A google news search for "golf" just yielded me the following:

1. Roar of the Tiger: You're back, man! and 2,340 similar articles.

2. Northern Trust CEO Defends Sponsorship of Golf Events
and 589 similar articles.

3. Morgan Stanley suspending most participation at Memorial golf ... and 273 similar articles.

4. Wells Fargo Scales Back Golf Event as Pressure Builds
and 83 similar articles.

5. Lesson for Bankers: Golf and TARP Don’t Mix and 10 similar articles.

This is a search for "golf", not "golf economy" or "golf sponsorship" or "golf TARP", and the first conclusion to be drawn is that the deep dept of gratitude golf owes to Tiger Woods IS real and must be deeper than ever right now.

The "Tigers Return" stories were powerful and numerous enough to push the "Arrogant TARP-funded Golf Outing" stories down on the results page... and they provided the only positive news connected to the game at this time. Had the Northern Trust flack, and ensuing sponsorship withdrawals happened a few months ago while Tiger was on the mend and out-of-sight, I think we can assume that the search for "golf" would have produced pure negativity. And this is where golf has to get with the program.

Many of Golf's taxpayer funded sponsors have proven to be as clueless about empathizing with the average American as they are about keeping their companies afloat. Northern Trust's complete disregard for the "the way this is going to look" is what caused the recent fracas, not the event per-se.

With the proper PR, an "ear to the ground", and just a bit of empathy, Northern Trust could have made a few adjustments to their event, and communicated with honesty and transparency about it. These simple gestures would have prevented most of the backlash and negativity that this week befell the Northern Trust Open... and by association, professional tournament golf. This is where PR comes in.

What's frustrating is that Northern Trust's response to this debacle has continued along the same clueless lines it started on; an open letter to their shareholders, clients and staff, is defensive, terse and inept. The out-of-touch, arrogant mind set still buries the many positives that could be emphasised. This is where the ORM (online reputation management) comes in.

Other Tournament sponsors have reacted with similar ineptitude. A Morgan Stanley spokeswoman announced yesterday that the company will continue to sponsor the Memorial Tournament, but company representatives won't be going. "We're not participating this year due to the (economic)environment," she told journalists, then refused to elaborate. Wells Fargo also announced reductions in spending on the upcoming the Wachovia Championship. The thing that was remarkable about both responses was that the backpedaling resulted in the message that they too felt it was "inappropriate to fritter away money on entertaining at golf tournaments". What about about adapting their "entertaining" to include positives? This doesn't seem to have been considered.

In the end, I feel that the PGA Tour, Inc. and the LPGA must work with their befuddled sponsors to amend the message, repair (as much as possible) the reputation and promote all the positives that can be generated by participation in professional tournament golf The tours, and the tournaments, have always been about charity, the fact is that majority of people tend to overlook this. We're in a new era the charity aspect has to be communicated much more clearly than it has been. Sponsors can work with this aspect as well. But first the need for a PR/ORM change has to be understood and acknowledged, and that's where I'm putting faith in the tours...and keeping my fingers crossed.

Tiger is back and his influence has proven extremely powerful, but he's one person and history has shown us it's dangerous to place everything on one man.