Yet Another Blow for LIVESTRONG

 Yet Another Blow for LIVESTRONG

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Lance Armstrong’s cancer charity LIVESTRONG.

As Lance Armstrong entered a public event for the first time since his admission of doping banned him from professional cycling, news show CBS Sunday Morning did a segment on Armstrong’s cancer charity LIVESTRONG. Just as there were questions about whether Armstrong won seven Tours de France without enhancement, some are now asking whether LIVESTRONG is a charity, or an enhanced way to make money.

The first blow to LIVESTRONG was, of course, the doping scandal. Armstrong stepped down from the organization to avoid tainting it, and for a while, that seemed to work. Months later, Nike dropped its lucrative sponsorship deal with the company, saying it couldn’t tacitly approve of Armstrong’s doping and lying by maintaining sponsorship. Still, LIVESTRONG insisted they’d soldier on in their efforts to benefit those stricken with cancer.

And what, exactly, are those benefits? A donor and former LIVESTRONG volunteer is asking, via a lawsuit. The Sunday Morning report revealed that LIVESTRONG no longer invests donated funds into cancer research. A LIVESTRONG spokesperson says they help cancer survivors improve their lives via  free advice and referrals and that 82 cents of every dollar donated goes to help cancer survivors. The report reveals that the figure includes marketing, a “rainy day” fund of $13 million, and executive salaries. Whatever the breakdown, while Armstrong distanced himself from LIVESTRONG, questions of truthfulness haven’t gone far.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for LIVESTRONG. Revelations such as this may be the death of this “cancer survivor” organization.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Stay true to your mission, or face possible consequences. Consumers reacted badly to New Coke; how will donors react to the revelation that LIVESTRONG, a cancer fund, does not fund cancer research? This switch in focus came about rather quietly, as has the fact that LIVESTRONG sold their name to a for-profit health and fitness company that runs LIVESTRONG.com, as opposed to LIVESTRONG.org. Among charities, transparency is key to long life and steady funding. When that transparency reveals an inconsistent message, prepare to divert some of those funds to damage control.

To read the CBS Sunday Morning report, click here.

Michael Douglas’s Loose Lips Sink a PR Opportunity

 Michael Douglass Loose Lips Sink a PR Opportunity

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Michael Douglas.

There isn’t a big enough candelabra in the world right now for Michael Douglas to hide behind. Douglas, currently promoting his starring role as Liberace in Behind the Candelabra, shocked the world by telling a British newspaper that his throat cancer was caused by oral sex. Previously, the cancer had been attributed to smoking and drinking in Douglas’ younger days.

The story played out over multiple news cycles, first with the admission itself and then with a clumsy “clarification” by Douglas, who now maintains that he was speaking more generally about links between human papilloma virus (HPV) and certain cancers – an explanation that doesn’t quite jibe with the journalist’s audio tape of the interview. Imagine the scene chez Douglas, with a livid Catherine Zeta-Jones, the Welsh actress and Douglas’ wife, berating her husband for his loose lips, and what this implies about her.

The great shame here is not the potential cause of Douglas’ cancer, but that he missed a golden opportunity to turn an embarrassing gaffe into a cause celebré. Before his backpedaling, Douglas was being lauded by health experts and pundits the world over for openly discussing the touchy subject of HPV, considered an epidemic yet still a taboo topic because it’s sexually transmitted. Having a major celebrity recount his experience and urge HPV prevention strategies could have prompted a much-needed national conversation, but Douglas wouldn’t put his reputation where his mouth is.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Michael Douglas’s clumsy retraction and lost chance to redirect the story toward a good cause.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Everyone makes mistakes, but with the right PR they can be spun. As much as Douglas may not have relished becoming a spokesperson for HPV, the truth is that everyone now believes this is how his cancer was caused. By turning the blunder into a platform, Douglas could have both spun himself out of a PR mess and contributed to the greater good. If a celebrity can’t handle the truth and its consequences, perhaps it’s better for him to keep his mouth shut in the first place.

Lance Armstrong Loses the Battle… and Wins the War

 Lance Armstrong Loses the Battle... and Wins the War

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Lance Armstrong and the LIVESTRONG brand.

“Enough! “ said Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France medal winner. He is no longer prepared to subject himself to the anti-doping Stasi that has been pursuing him relentlessly for the last fifteen years. Armstrong is waving the white flag, returning his medals, and instead will dedicate himself to his cancer charity, LIVESTRONG, and being the “fittest 40 year old man on the planet.” Any further questions?

Well yes, there are a few, but most likely none will ever be properly answered. What is beyond doubt is that the world is still VERY confused. Did he dope to win all those races, or didn’t he? Armstrong’s PR, on the other hand, has done an excellent job of positioning the doping investigations as a witch-hunt. The whiff of scandal was always present with Armstrong; SEVEN wins by simple hard training and eating right? But now the truth will never be known. Game over for Armstrong’s detractors, who will never get to prove their claims.

Armstrong, by legally refusing to submit to further investigations by giving up his wins, hasn’t given in; he’s taken the wind out of his nemesis’s sails. For his accusers to brag that they won will only confirm suspicions that somehow, their allegations were personal. Meanwhile, for Armstrong, the lack of any definitive finding leaves the door open to ongoing image rehabilitation.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Lance Armstrong and the LIVESTRONG brand. Tough times, but survivable for both. Soon it will be business as usual.

The PR Takeaway:  Steal your opponent’s thunder and you run the show. Imagine the disappointment: Armstrong handed in the medals before they could be taken from him! Despite longstanding accusations of winning by doping, Armstrong has had little problem in securing lucrative endorsement contracts and funding for his eponymous charity. Those days seem set to continue. If he’d had the awards taken away from him, that might have been different. His accusers may be wondering if it was tactically advisable to push him so publicly into a corner. In doing so, they may have missed their much-anticipated moment. Armstrong seems destined for the final PR victory lap. He deliberately lost the battle and won the war.

(Editors’ note: The PRV is published on Monday and Thursday until Memorial Day weekend.)

Do you think Armstrong gave up his TdF wins because he was guilty or incredibly savvy? Give us your PR Verdict!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Google and Larry’s Laryngitis

 Google and Larrys Laryngitis

The PR Verdict: The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Google. (Pictured: Google CEO Larry Page.)

Larry Page, Google’s CEO, regrets he is unable to lunch today. And not just today, it seems, but all the way into mid July. The reason? Larry has “lost his voice” and “can’t do any public speaking engagements for the time being,” says Google. That includes the second quarter earnings conference in three weeks’ time. His voice is gone, and it isn’t coming back anytime soon.

The announcement has spooked investors. In an industry that endlessly speculated about the on again, off again health of Steve Jobs at Apple, this sort of news gets the rumor mill activated. Google says it is business as usual and that Page is “OK”  and continuing to run the company. “He’s running all the strategy business decisions and all that,” reassures Google.

Not all investors buy it. JP Morgan described the announcement as ”odd,” and others are wondering. One told the Wall Street Journal that the decision to miss an earning call was “highly unusual.” He said, “It’s hard to imagine a CEO missing that much stuff and not having a serious problem,” echoing what could become a rumbling chorus.

The PR Verdict: “D” (It’s a Dud) for Google. Who knows what the real situation is, but this explanation doesn’t reassure the market. Already suspicion is growing that Google is being less than frank.

PR Takeaway: Don’t over-complicate. Let’s face it, losing your voice doesn’t last three weeks. If Page can’t speak at earnings in three weeks’ time, it’s not a bad idea to flag it beforehand–but why not suggest that he’s having a minor medical procedure/treatment that will put him out of action for a fixed period? Use calming words to minimize the fuss and reinforce that it’s not market moving and material. Something is up, and now Google has more explaining to do. It might have been easier to have been straightforward from the start.

Should Google have anticipated investor worries, or is this a case of the truth just not being good enough these days? Give us your PR Verdict, below.