Lance Armstrong’s Road to Redemption?

 Lance Armstrongs Road to Redemption?

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Lance Armstrong.

This Easter week, Christians around the world  celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Disgraced professional cyclist Lance Armstrong is apparently trying to resurrect his career. Armstrong popped up this week  in a rather strange place: a two-minute instructional video on OutsideOnline.com.

Dressed in a cap and bike mechanic’s apron, he introduces himself as  “Lance Armstrong, seven-time winner of the Tour de France” before quipping “Hey, I didn’t write the script.”  Trying to be both humble and humorous, he shows viewers how to fix a flat tire: stripping the rim of a deflated inner tube, replacing it and ending with “And off you go,” saying under his breath “I broke a sweat doing that.”

Armstrong, of course, was himself stripped of his seven Tour titles and banned for life from the sport after evidence showed he had used performance-enhancing drugs. After years of denials, he eventually admitted his drug use.

Media coverage is almost universally harsh. The Bleacher Report calls the video “a drop in the bucket of some egregiously foul substance,” while Sports Illustrated sees “a blend of smugness and faux-humility” and  “[a] subtle play for all the American hearts he broke.” But he got a much better reception on Facebook, where he posted the video. As of this writing, the simple how-to film earned him nearly 9,000 “likes” and legions of fans expressing their unwavering support.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Lance Armstrong, cycling slowly uphill toward a better image.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When all is lost, there’s nothing to lose. Lance Armstrong’s legacy will always be tarnished. But with public figures admitting transgressions almost daily, hope springs eternal for those who want an asterisk next to their names in the history books.  The  media may not be inclined to give Armstrong a pass, but his fan base seems a lot more forgiving. Whatever Armstrong’s motivations and goals, this video of him performing a prosaic task just may be a start down the road to redemption.    

Braun “Apology” a Foul Ball

 Braun Apology a Foul Ball

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Milwaukee Brewers player Ryan Braun.

It’s no easy feat to outdo Lance Armstrong, but Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun is giving it his best shot. After more than a year of denials, Braun acknowledged this week that he is indeed guilty of taking performance-enhancing drugs. His statement was issued by Major League Baseball, which said it would suspend him without pay for the rest of the 2013  season.

Even in this era of Armstrong-level deception, Braun’s turnabout was still a shock to the fans, players, and supporters. They could not have been mollified, either, by his narcissistic and insincere “apology”: “As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. […] Finally, I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed — all of the baseball fans, especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization, and my teammates.” Too much mea, too little culpa.

Braun neither apologized nor admitted wrongdoing of any kind, and the statement was rife with of language suggesting he still thinks this isn’t fair – he “may have made some mistakes,” though he’s “willing” to accept the consequences. Most strikingly, he reminds us again that he’s “not perfect,” just in case anyone still thought he was.

The media, who a la Lance also feel bamboozled, were unrestrained, calling Braun everything from a “liar nonpareil” to a snake and a cockroach. We’ll have to wait the cold Milwaukee winter to see if Brewers’ fans are the forgiving types.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Ryan Braun, for issuing an apology as meaningless as his stats.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When you say you’re sorry, say it. There will always be those who deride your words as hollow, but if you don’t actually apologize for your actions it’s likely that camp will grow. In the old days, it used to be game over for public figures who got caught with their literal or figurative pants down. Today’s fans and constituents are more forgiving, but there is still a limit to their compassion. Saying “I’m sorry” for mistakes made will always be the best course of action.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners and Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) TO New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for pulling off another political pirouette. A week after rekindling his late summer hurricane “bromance” with President Obama, the Republican governor put the partisan gloves back on in the wake of Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s death. Christie appointed the state’s Republican Attorney General to caretake Lautenberg’s seat and called an early, off-cycle election to fill the seat permanently. No matter that the special election will cost taxpayers an extra $24 million; Christie successfully sold it as being in the state’s best interests. Of course, it nicely serves the GOP’s and his own interests as well by keeping a popular Democrat and his strong partisan support out of the November general election. A purely political calculation, but Christie made it look like he was just doing the right thing for his constituents.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) TO Major League Baseball’s latest steroid scandal. Twenty baseball heavyweights, including Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees (left), are under investigation for alleged involvement in a Florida “anti-aging clinic” whose elixir of youth was performance enhancing drugs. A-Rod previously admitted to taking PEDs from 2001-3, but has denied taking them since. If found to be lying, he could face a 100-game suspension. No word on the effect that will have on his 10-year, $275 million contract, especially after a bad season.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to The Guardian, the British newspaper that breathlessly reported that the National Security Agency (NSA) issued a “top secret” order for the daily phone records of millions of Verizon customers. The order, the paper said, “shows the scale of surveillance under the Obama administration.” US lawmakers, who can usually find outrage in a cup of coffee, were unmoved. Senior Democrats and Republicans in Congress said they know about it and have no particular problem with it, especially in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing. The White House simply said measures are in place to ensure that the program, which does not permit authorities to listen in on phone calls, complies with various laws. It also appears this clandestine order The Guardian stumbled upon may just be a reauthorization of a program that’s gone on for years. Phonegate it’s not. Ho-hum.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners and Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to the Respect for Marriage Coalition. In PR, nothing succeeds like the element of surprise. The ambiguously named Respect for Marriage Coalition pulled the proverbial rabbit out of its hat this week with the launch of a million dollar advertising campaign aimed at promoting the legalization of gay marriage. Obama’s inauguration comments are inevitably featured, but the TV advertisements and full page ads in the New York Times, Washington Post  and Wall Street Journal contain a far bigger surprise: Dick Cheney, Laura Bush, and Colin Powel relaying the message “Freedom means freedom for everyone.” The sound bite has already reverberated around the web world. An unlikely PR coup that nobody saw coming.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) TO Joe Biden. The vice president is known for what admirers say is a no-nonsense way of talking and detractors call regular meals of shoe leather. Earlier this week, during a Facebook “town hall” meeting with Parents Magazine on gun control, Biden advised a participant who was concerned about protection. His advice? “Buy a shotgun,”  He meant that shotguns are better than assault-style weapons, and, in typical Biden style, he related a homespun personal story – in this case, telling his wife that if intruders were afoot, two shotgun blasts would scare them off. Mr. Vice President, this was a town hall meeting about gun control for Parents Magazine readers, not Garden & Gun subscribers. Sigh.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO Lance Armstrong. After finally agreeing to come clean to authorities about doping his way to seven Tour de France wins, Armstrong announced he would testify – but only to an international tribunal. What’s the problem? No such tribunal exists. Nor, it seems, does any pure intention on Armstrong’s part to tell the truth. It’s become clear that teasing about testifying is only to get the US Anti-Doping Administration to lift the lifetime ban on Armstrong competing in professional sports. If he testifies, they may lift the ban; however, he’ll also face civil and criminal suits and charges. For the moment, the only way he can get through this now-galling fall from grace is to abandon thought of competition. That might lead to a different strategy, but at the very least it will keep him from appearing in this category again.

“Sorry” Seems To Be the Hardest Word for Armstrong

OprahLance2 150x150 Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word for Armstrong

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Lance Armstrong.

How was Lance Armstrong’s weekend? Presumably he was disappointed reading the reviews and press commentary following his vaguely dull two-hour confessional with media pope Oprah Winfrey. Did his interview hit the PR targets he was aiming for – sympathy from the public, and the green shoots of a PR turn-around? The critics say a definitive no, and the public seems to agree.

There are many reasons why this confessional moment didn’t quite work. He didn’t seem sincere. He didn’t seem sorry. Why come clean now – why not take any of the myriad opportunities he had before? The list goes on. Above all, what rankles most is that Lance over the years was a bully, no doubt. And for the bullying, he has yet to make a sincere apology.

Renowned for suing and using his considerable financial muscle to silence his critics (ie, anyone telling the truth about his doping), he has made life for some journalists and former team members a “living hell” via the court room. One woman who is not going away is Betsy Andreu, wife of former Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu, who says their lives were ruined by Armstrong’s legal maneuvers. Appearing on CNN, she made it clear that all is not forgiven. Lance has more to do than just make a general apology.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Lance Armstrong. Confessions to Oprah are not enough; personal clean-ups are needed.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: One blanket apology won’t absolve. This PR train wreck needs multiple apologies, in particular to the numerous aggrieved parties who have been on the receiving end of Armstrong’s heavy-handed tactics over the years. With some of the most aggrieved still coming forward, Armstrong’s efforts will at best have a half life until he has cleared up the personal messes. Making peace with your critics before going public is the wiser move; afterwards is always too late. And do try for a bit more sincerity while you’re at it.

To see Betsy Andreu’s interview, click here.

Lie Strong

 Lie Strong

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Lance Armstrong.

The interview that Oprah Winfrey calls “the biggest” of her career – with Lance Armstrong – hasn’t even aired yet, but the reaction to Armstrong’s apparent admission to doping is already in. However, it may not be what he was hoping for.

Over seven Tour de France wins, Armstrong was repeatedly accused of using performance-enhancing drugs; he denied all. After the US Anti-Doping Agency amassed an incredible amount of evidence against him, much of it from Armstrong’s former teammates, Armstrong relinquished his medals and watched sponsorships and contributions to his LIVESTRONG cancer charity burn. But he never admitted anything.

With his career and foundation in freefall, there seemed to be two courses to take: lay low and wait for the storm to pass, or have a “come to Jesus” moment with the only person who can influence public forgiveness: Oprah Winfrey. That moment came this week on Oprah’s OWN network. (At last, a ratings boost!

However, even Oprah may not be able to save Armstrong. The New York Post‘s front page, above, summed up public reaction at being duped and their sympathies played upon. Morning show pundits brought up a damning point: Armstrong began doping before he contracted testicular cancer, the disease that served as the launching pad for LIVESTRONG. Oprah apparently did not ask Armstrong if he thought the drugs led to the cancer, but if that theory is even hinted at, LIVESTRONG won’t survive the month.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Lance Armstrong. He may come to regret coming clean.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Better to admit to something or everything? Were Armstrong on his own, sure, tell all. But there is the foundation to consider, and should Armstrong not seem repentant enough, the public will turn on him and anything he touches. An admission also lays Armstrong open to lawsuits that will mean repayment of millions of dollars, as well as a suit by the US government for lying. The inevitable tell-all memoir offer may be waiting, but is there anything more the public will want to hear? Confession may be good for the soul, but in this case, it may harm everything Armstrong holds dear.

Armstrong’s Brand at the Finish Line

 Armstrongs Brand at the Finish Line

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Lance Armstrong

So, Lance Armstrong doesn’t have nine lives after all. The US Anti-Doping Agency report released last week implicates Armstrong yet again in using banned substances. Previously, he’s denied everything; recently, he gave up all seven of his Tour de France medals, and yesterday, Armstrong announced that he would stand down as Chairman of his Livestrong cancer charity. Yet the rumbles continue.

With a net worth estimated at $125 million, Armstrong is one of the world’s best-paid athletes, pulling in over $15 million in endorsements a year. Despite years of allegations, his sponsors stuck with him. His agent recently told the media that Armstong’s primary sponsors have been “incredibly supportive,” with Nike confirming its endorsement, given that Armstrong had been “unwavering” regarding his innocence.

That all changed yesterday. Less than a week after pledging support, Nike has had a volte face. “Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him,” said a spokesperson. Anheuser-Busch, another sponsor, immediately fell into line, as have others, including RadioShack, Trek bicycles, and Oakley sunglasses. Nothing can change the direction in which this train is headed.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Lance Armstrong; with each sponsor that  falls away, the USADA report gains in credibility. Is there a Plan B?

The PR Takeaway: When one domino falls, they ALL do. Having to hand back his awards and stand down from his charity as Chairman, Armstrong is hoping to avoid the complete collapse of the Armstrong brand. Now that his sponsorship deals are null and void, he may want to think about a radical rethink and complete change of his legal strategy and start afresh from there. Next step: start studying how fallen heroes rehabilitate their reputations. Livestrong may hold the key to his ultimate PR salvation. What Lance Armstrong now needs most urgently is time out of the public spotlight to regroup and think what a new legal and PR strategy might bring him.

To read more, click here.

Is there any way Lance Armstrong can save his reputation? Give us your PR Verdict!

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!