The swirl of attention around Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah, which airs tonight, is approaching a frenzy, with word having leaked about it.
In short, he admits to doping
Traditionally, Oprah’s couch has started the road to redemption for celebrities who have failed to live up to the public’s expectations. An apology, which is apparently forthcoming, is almost always essential to the process.
Now consider this: What if Lance Armstrong were instead Lance Armstrong Inc., a corporation? He’d have additional tools at his disposal for the reputation-saving campaign he is embarking upon.
Let’s explore just how the crisis communications plan would be different for Lance the corporation versus Lance the celebrity.
This is a tried and true technique for companies and other organizations ensnared in scandal: Change your name. Tobacco companies, airlines, and many others trying to get away from the past have done so.
Lance could pick something modern sounding, maybe with its roots in classical Greek—or perhaps a combo of some translations of “arm” and “strong.” Brazofuerte Inc., anyone? His next challenge would then be investing to build up the new brand.
Appoint new management
Often, when a corporation makes a mistake, the executives responsible have to fall on their swords. This has the public value of cutting ties to the errors of the past and letting the company move forward with reset expectations.
The problem is, Lance would have a hard time finding someone to fire, as it’s really a CEO-level issue. If he could fire himself, that might help.
When a business line becomes so toxic that it threatens the entire corporation’s reputation, sometimes the best thing to do is divest it and move on with the remaining businesses. Recently, we saw something like this with Cerberus’s decision to sell its stake in a gun manufacturer
If Lance could find a way to remove his cycling self from the rest of his being, that might do the trick. The advantage is that there’s no need to rebrand.
From an accounting perspective, Lance Inc. would want to move quickly to address all outstanding liabilities. It’d need to take a charge against earnings in the proper amount and then reach an agreement with regulators that calls for a cash payment but stipulates that it would “neither confirm nor deny any wrongdoing.”
Celebrities generally need to admit their mistakes for the public to forgive them. Companies do not.
Lay out steps
When a corporation goofs, it’s important for shareholders and the public to know that it will not make the same mistake twice. Thus, it lays out a plan to address its shortcomings and puts a high-profile person or team in charge. Sometimes, it’s even necessary to add independent directors to the board to ensure that the company takes the proper steps.
Lance could actually do something like this if he stays involved in the sport of cycling.
Of course, it’s amusing to speculate on this sort of thing, but in the end it’s going to be necessary for Lance to execute his communications plan, whatever it is. This will begin with how he handles the Oprah interview.
If one thing is clear, it is that the American public is very often willing to forgive. So he’s got a shot, even if he can’t rely on all the tools available to corporations.
Farrell Kramer a former investigative and financial reporter, is the founder of Farrell Kramer Communications, which merged with MBS Value Partners on Jan. 1. A version of this story first appeared on the agency’s blog.