Steelcase, the global office furniture provider, has built a brand based on product innovation, consistency, and above all, reliability. This brand promise is reinforced by every interaction with the public and not merely when the public is using their product. When a Steelcase truck breaks down on the highway, the first thing the driver does is to cover the Steelcase brandmark with a white canvas tarp. The goal? To make sure passing motorists don't make an association between a stalled truck and a provider of high-performance office furniture.
The message? Steelcase does not break down.
It's a solid way of reinforcing their brand promise, one that Tiger Woods should have taken to heart. Steelcase makes $3.4 billion in revenue a year, Woods makes $100 million a year. Small change by comparison but more than many companies generate in revenue. His recent late night car accident and subsequent admissions of infidelity are the brand equivalent of his truck breaking down on the highway, without a canvas tarp in sight. Putting aside the issue of marital infidelity, this was an object lesson in how not to handle crisis communication.
No one is perfect nor is every (or any) brand. However, when your entire brand is predicated on excellence, high-performance and the most squeaky clean sports image this side of Wayne Gretzky, you need to do a better job of protecting that image. Compare the stonewalling of Tiger Woods to the full disclosure of David Letterman's infidelities weeks ago. Letterman owned the narrative from the start, announcing his mistakes on his show, apologizing and asking for privacy and the right to move on. After a few days in the headlines, the public did just that. Woods stonewalled, creating curiosity and doing significant damage to his brand.
No one expects a truck that will never break down. But when someone peeks under the canvas tarp, you better be prepared to admit it's your truck and take accountability for the situation.