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.

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.

Nike Drops Charity, Yet Their PR Image Lives Strong

 Nike Drops Charity, Yet Their PR Image Lives Strong

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Nike, which very quietly severed a costly tie with Livestrong.

Yesterday, Nike announced they would cease production of products associated with the Livestrong brand. Livestrong, the charitable organization founded by cyclist Lance Armstrong, had a nine-year relationship with the world-famous sportswear brand that raised over $100 million through the sales of products. “We expected changes like this,” said a Livestrong spokesperson. As did the PR world.

After Armstrong admitted to doping his way through all seven of his Tour de France wins, his sponsors jumped ship faster than any of Armstrong’s cycling records, Nike included. But how would it look if they abandoned a charitable foundation? Livestrong was blameless, their only crime guilt by association.

Nike’s PR team knew that withdrawing money from a charity, even in the wake of a disgraceful scandal could backfire on them. The more sensible and low risk option? Pull the plug on the products and continue to fund the charity directly.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Nike for beginning to sever ties with a high-profile charity with minimum fuss.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When ties must be cut, don’t hack; slice gently. The harsh fact is that Nike had to distance itself from Armstrong and all to do with him. However, this is a charity; how to distance without looking like villains? Stop production of products –  a practical measure anyone could agree with – while confirming to the media that the company will keep making donations to the charity. Without patting themselves on the back, Nike still comes out looking like a decent company, despite dealing what may well be a fatal blow to Livestrong. (Actually, their founder did that.) What happens to Livestrong remains to be seen, but Nike has already come out ahead.

Nike’s Risky PR Move?

 Nikes Risky PR Move?

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

Everyone loves a winner – especially Nike. The company has just launched a PR campaign via social media after Tiger Woods recently won the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The campaign includes a photo of Woods with his quote, “Winning takes care of everything.” Cheeky! Especially since it was Woods’ original retort when asked by the press about his extramarital affairs with prostitutes.

That rather public scandal, which came after the death of his beloved father and which resulted in divorce from his wife, led to Woods’ downfall. Previously a golfer who couldn’t be beaten, he had a fall from both grace and rankings. His sponsors, all but Nike, left him.

The world-famous sportswear brand has had a tough time with its athlete representatives. When Lance Armstrong admitted that he’d cheated to win all his Tours de France, Nike raced to drop him as it did with Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius who shot and killed his girlfriend. But in the case of Tiger Woods, Nike’s market research must have shown Woods was still resonating and worth spending the $20 million a year. The reaction so far? Media and online responses seems to be suggesting that Nike is more in love with its representative than the general public, particularly the female half.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Nike. Is this latest controversy on-brand?

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  Consider language in its broadest context. Yes, everyone loves a winner, and while it’s well known that winning does, in fact, take care of everything, some female customers buying Nike products may not be on the same page. Perhaps, in consideration of Woods’ transgressions, it might have been better if Nike had simply congratulated Woods using the single word by their swoosh – VICTORY – and allowed the public to be happy about a sports legend’s return. Instead, Nike may have inadvertently sent a message to female customers who don’t see it Tiger’s way. The right wording, more than winning, really does take care of everything.

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.

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 Oprah Winfrey. First, she beats out the US Anti-Doping Administration, to whom Lance Armstrong should technically be confessing. Second, she gave tantalizingly vague quotes (to BFF Gayle King on The Early Show) about the interview, never quite saying he confessed, never quite saying he didn’t. We all know now that he did; as one pundit put it, “Oprah Winfrey doesn’t get on a plane and fly across the country for nothing.” But she knows better than to give away the candy store. Millions will tune in to watch Lance squirm, thereby giving Oprah’s embattled network OWN a whole new audience, and parent company Discovery breathing space about previously low ratings.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “D” (PR PROBLEMATIC) TO the National Rifle Association. The group suggested in a video that President Barack Obama thinks his own children are “more important” than others because they are protected by the Secret Service. The charge is just plain silly, and reinforces the NRA’s PR image as extremist and out-of-touch. Every modern president has mandatory armed protection and the Obama children are obviously a greater target for ne’er-do-wells than pretty much any other children in the world. With the extreme right already locked up, the NRA should be courting moderate gun-rights supporters – the very demographic likely to be rolling their eyes at the video.

 

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE PR AWARD TO Mark Sanford. Nothing beats a comeback – even a longshot. In 2009, when he was Governor of South Carolina, Sanford told aides he was going hiking for a week and then mysteriously disappeared. Later, it was revealed that Sanford had taken an unauthorized break from his official duties to visit a TV reporter in Buenos Aires with whom he later claimed to be madly in love. The episode guaranteed a messy reputation, a divorce (from one of the few political wives who refused to stand by her man with a benign smile), and an entry in political folklore. Earlier this week, Sanford announced his decision to run for Congress. Really? No, really? We may be underestimating the American voting public when we say there’s nothing to discuss here. Then again, his new campaign will prove entertaining and underline the obvious truth: Scandal is always more interesting than policy. Let the games begin!

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.

Which Stars Need PR Rehab?

As the PR Verdict looks back over the best (and worst) of public relations and media in 2012, we can’t help but notice that some rather high-profile stars have fizzled this year. Former juggernauts who were on a first-name-only basis are now in need of some serious re-examination of PR strategy if they are to keep shining in 2013 and beyond. Here’s a look at some of those in most dire need.

 Which Stars Need PR Rehab? Lance Armstrong undoubtedly experienced the most precipitous fall from PR grace. Years of fighting the allegedly good fight against the United States Anti-Doping Association came to an end in 2012 when Armstrong relinquished all his Tour de France wins – as good as an admission of guilt. The timing could not have been worse; the public humiliation of watching his multi-million dollar sponsorships cutting him off one by one came within hours of the annual fundraiser for LIVESTRONG, his cancer charity. There, too, donations went down, right alongside Armstrong’s credibility. Can LIVESTRONG survive on its own? Only, alas, if its founder lays low.

 Which Stars Need PR Rehab? Lindsay Lohan‘s public image continued unerringly along its course; shame that trajectory is solidly downhill. Her Q Score looks like the stock market crash that preceded the Great Depression. Even a reasonable turn at portraying Elizabeth Taylor was met with much eye-rolling about how well suited she was to play an addicted Liz. Ah, but let it not be said that La Lohan does this all on her own – her family helps in every way possible, from taped phone accusations to police calls. Can this career be saved? Considering the amount of attention Lindsay gets, we’re no longer sure she even wants it to be.

 Which Stars Need PR Rehab? What a difference a year can make. In 2011, Tom Cruise was once again Hollywood’s golden boy, with a terrific Mission: Impossible movie, Ghost Protocol, and a seemingly happy marriage to ever-smiling Katie Holmes. Cut to this year, during which Katie left Tom and the public turned on him; fans of the wildly popular Jack Reacher novels gave the casting of Cruise a universal thumbs-down. It’s not the first time; Cruise was publicly sneered at by Anne Rice, who later recanted her disapproval when Cruise gave a great performance in Interview With the Vampire. Jack Reacher opens Friday; it remains to be seen whether Cruise still has enough pow for a holiday box office. Our advice? Make another M:I as good as Ghost Protocol, and don’t remarry.

 Which Stars Need PR Rehab? All things being relative, to say that Oprah Winfrey‘s star has faded is a bit like saying the sun cooled a degree or two; does it make any discernible difference? It does to the many who benefit from “the Oprah effect,” meaning whatever the media mogul touches turns to gold. Now that her daytime show is off the air, her magazine sales have taken a dip, and her Book Club selections don’t have the exposure they once did. Worse, her network, OWN, has lost an estimated at $330 million. The Discovery Network, partner of OWN, which has invested approximately $600 million in Oprah’s network, knows firsthand about the potentially devastating effects of a sun gradually cooling. PR strategy? Recreate what worked: Get madame back on a daytime TV show, stat.