June 23, 2022 — For someone who reportedly just pocketed $200 million, Phil Mickelson should have spent a little cash on public relations counsel. Showing up at a news conference for the breakaway, Saudi-funded golf league wearing black and sporting a couple day’s growth of facial hair couldn’t have sent a worse message.
Mickelson’s recent appearance at the inaugural LIV tournament near London confirmed that KPMG, Heineken, Amstel Light, Workday and Callaway all made a good decision to drop their sponsorships of the 51-year-old, six-time major championship winner.
Appearance doesn’t match words
Mickelson tried his best to say many of the right things. “I don’t condone human rights violations at all. I’m certainly aware of what has happened with Jamal Khashoggi, and I think it’s terrible.” He even hinted at players criticism of the PGA and its monopoly-like polices. “I have also seen the good that the game of golf has done throughout history, and I believe LIV Golf is going to do a lot of good for the game as well.”
But his appearance as the bad boy of golf, complemented with black hat and black sunglasses, overwhelmed his message.
Albert Mehrabian, professor emeritus of psychology at UCLA, conducted ground-breaking research into how humans form opinions when individuals provide an ambiguous message. Or, said another way, when one’s words don’t match his or her nonverbal cues.
In brief, Mehrabian found we trust tone (38 percent) and facial expressions (58 percent) more than the literal meaning of words (7 percent). This is known as the “7%-38%-55% Rule.”
Though his tone was not overly defensive, Mickelson communicated something entirely different with his appearance. Any PR pro with even a modicum of experience would have recommended Mickelson arrive clean shaven at the news conference and to wear neutral colors.
Who knows? Maybe Mickelson wants to cultivate a rebel image. If so, the damage to his brand will leave significant amounts of sponsorship money on the table, which would be puzzling for someone who seems to place as much value on his bank statement as his scorecard.