Lance Armstrong’s highly effective public relations campaign, which began more than a decade ago, has finally coasted to a halt.
The cycling icon’s team of PR pros can no longer compete with the stacks of damning evidence that alleges he cheated throughout his career. The years of acerbic statements, social media campaigns, and legal maneuvers aren’t enough to overcome the revelations of the last several weeks.
Today’s decision, following the release of a 200-page investigative report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, was the latest blow for Armstrong. Cycling’s governing body
decided to strip Armstrong of all seven Tour de France titles and ban him for life.
In the last week Armstrong has lost his primary sponsors
—Nike, Trek, Anheuser-Busch—
and he has stepped down as chairman of his $100 million Livestrong Foundation.
Even Armstrong, known for his sharp statements, has lost his fight. In remarks at Friday's Ride for the Roses, he didn't address the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's allegations, but did say: "People ask me a lot: How are you doing? And I tell them I've been better, but I've also been worse."
That’s hardly the Lance we know, the guy who took on “60 Minutes” with a tweet
Although it took more than a decade, Armstrong is finding out what all clients facing apparently indisputable evidence need to know—public relations can’t cover up evidence and can only re-direct the conversation for so long.
Even diehard supporters are finally coming to grips that it’s possible Armstrong’s against-the-odds victories might have been the result of something more than just sheer strength and will power.
Without taking sides, those of us in the crisis communications field can learn from Armstrong’s PR campaign tactics, fully acknowledging that he crossed the line from offering balance to powering up a turbo-charged spin machine. Some highlights:
• Less is more: A short, strong, well-crafted statement can blunt the sharpest of attacks.
Gil Rudawsky heads up the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. He is a former reporter and editor. Read his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Taking responses to the masses: A strong social media following is effective in taking your message straight to your supporters, bypassing the media.
• Coordination and consistency: Getting your legal team on the same page as your PR team can help win the courtroom of public opinion.
• Staying on point: Steadily sticking with messaging through the years.
• The big picture: A PR campaign is only as good as the evidence against it.