Normally, this is the kind of topic I would avoid. However, one blogger I try to follow, Andrew Sullivan, wrote a post decrying the following argument: that having milked his personal brand to the tune of a billion dollars, it’s hard for Woods to now make the argument that his brand is entitled to privacy. Specifically, he writes:

Is anyone else alarmed that conventional wisdom now treats human beings as though they’re synonymous with the “personal brand”? Or that defining someone as a “public figure” is meant to imply, without further argument, that we’re entitled to investigate, publicize, and discuss the most intimate details of their personal lives?

In essence, the underlying assumption is that a celebrity who consciously makes money off a public image is entitled to sell a fake image, milk the public for huge money, and has no obligation in any sense to live contrary to this image; and furthermore, that we should not question this, because it is behavior that happens in the person’s personal life, which belongs only to himself.

This is a romantic throwback to when reporters simply refused to report on the failings of certain important people, such as JFK, Babe Ruth, etc. Furthermore, when a Tiger Woods asks us to respect his privacy, he is actually asking us to respect his reputation… the reputation of three weeks ago.

Personally, I don’t really care who he’s been sleeping with, but I didn’t put a sword to his back and command him to marry a woman, to publicize images of the happily (?) married couple, and to use that image to further his reputation. Funny, but I didn’t hear anything about his private/ personal life before he got married and allegedly cheated on his wife of that marriage.  However, I will say this.

When you are a celebrity, your fans are your stakeholders. You have the option of treating them well, or badly. The choice is yours.

I mean, really, if you just don’t care about the money, if you think you have enough hundreds of millions and you don’t care any more, by all means, betray the image that your stakeholders have invested in. These investments are not necessarily monetary; they may simply be investments of attention, goodwill, praise, and respect. By all means, throw all that by the wayside if that’s how little you think if the people you are profiting from. Just please, don’t come to us pleading for mercy after you do it. It’s demeaning. You had your choice.

No one forced Tiger Woods to do the things that… well, actually, we have no idea exactly what he did or didn’t do, but it’s hard to see this as a proper defense of a personal brand. There is an older, meatier term for what we are discussing: your reputation. There is a way to defend a reputation against scurrilous, unfounded charges. This isn’t it.  At any rate, no one forced Woods to behave in the manner he has, pleading privacy after doing something that thrust him into the news where people minding their own business – like myself – cannot fully escape hearing of it.

Here is the golden rule of personal branding: control that which is under your power to control, i.e. yourself. Your stakeholders may be many, but you have only one shareholder: you. If you cannot be responsible to them, be responsible to yourself. That is what personal responsibility – a concept I do believe is championed by conservatives – is all about.

I say this because the only way to bring one’s person in line with a favorable brand image is not to pretend to be better, but to be better. That is controlling that which is under your power to control.

For those who would prefer to sacrifice the respect of many and the money of major corporate brands for a few flings on the side, that’s your choice, too. Expecting to be able to still have your cake sitting in front of you, even as you eat it and relish the taste, is hypocrisy to some, romance to others… but unrealistic in the extreme.

One more thing: in Woods’ case, writers naturally ask (as Andrew does), what does an athlete have to do with razors or driving Cadillacs? That’s failing to understand the subconscious context. Woods is emulated because of his legendary ability to make the right choices. That’s what makes him better at putting a little ball in a little cup than anyone else in this generation, and perhaps all preceding generations in that sport. That’s where the deeper damage has been done. Thinking it’s simply an issue of prudish morals seems a misreading of the context to me, though a completely understandable one.

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