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.

“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.

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.

Scouts’ Honor At Stake

scoutshonor 118x150 Scouts Honor At Stake

PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for the Boy Scouts.

In the past six days, headlines have heralded the downfall of Lance Armstrong and our presidential candidates’ heated debates. Yet it’s shocking that one news item gained only brief attention, especially given its name: The Boy Scouts of America Perversion Files.

That was the actual internal name for files kept on Scout volunteers who were accused of child sex abuse. The files date from 1965 to 1985 and number 1,247 “ineligible volunteers” – who were merely banned from further service. “In certain cases,” admits a Boy Scout statement, “our response to these incidents and our effort to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong.” Bizarrely, the group only enacted a policy of contacting authorities in 2011, well after the scandal of the Catholic Church had entered national consciousness.

Charges are likely to be pressed and the headlines will inevitably resurface, but for the moment the Boy Scouts are out of the media firing line. The Scouts played their PR card well. Acknowledge the problem, apologize, then apologize again. Next, point to reforms (however late in the day) and assert that management has changed, at which point the news story might have a short shelf life and be on its way to disappearing. The Vatican may want to take notes.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for The Boy Scouts of America. It’s uncomfortable for us to give a high grade given the circumstances, but the Scouts followed the PR handbook and, in so doing, neatly side-stepped the media spotlight.

The PR Takeaway: PR won’t make a crisis go away, but it can shorten its life span. From a PR perspective, the most striking point is how the Boy Scouts handled this issue versus the Catholic church. The Boy Scouts made it clear that these were largely accurate and truthful files and conceded the error of not bringing in the authorities. Though grave implications remain for the victims, the long-term PR impact on the Scouts already seems less substantive than what happened to the Catholic clergy faced with similar circumstances. Does it simply come down to effective PR?

What should The Boy Scouts of America do now to save their reputation? Give us your PR Verdict!

 

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!