Golfer Mickelson Takes a PR Gamble

With apologies to my bevy of female readers, golf has long been called the “gentleman’s game,” but probably lost that moniker when Tiger Woods hit that tree in his SUV back in 2009.

We learned this week that the gentleman’s game has taken another hit, as golf superstar Phil Mickelson filed—and won—a lawsuit against an Internet service provider in Canada to reveal the identity of a person who has been posting scandalous statements about Mickelson and his wife on Yahoo! message boards. They include posts that claim the golfer has an illegitimate child and that his wife has had affairs.

Mickelson’s predicament should be familiar to PR pros who have come up against scurrilous online posts about their brands. Do you ignore them and hope the chatter dies down, or do you take proactive steps to stop the bleeding? Both strategies have risks.

Mickelson’s lawyer says the service provider has 10 days to provide the full identity of “fogroller.” Time will tell if taking this person to court will cause more negative attention to Mickelson than he ever bargained for. In any case, the move could turn out to be a test case for brands hesitant to take action on social posts. Will it be a hole in one for communicators, or a bogey?

–Scott Van Camp