U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte has a PR-induced catchphrase: “I over-exaggerated.”
When you’re an Olympic gold medalist with an image to protect, a simple case of over-exaggeration can lead to being branded as an international liar.
Such was the case with Lochte after Rio investigators revealed that his initial story—of being “robbed” and “having a gun pointed to his forehead”—was inaccurate.
During an interview on “Good Morning America” on Tuesday, Lochte owned up to his wrong-doing, though he quickly blamed journalists and reporters for taking his “huge mistake” and turning it into “the worst weeks of his life.”
From the interview:
I have a great team. They are dealing with it, all the legal issues. We’re just trying to get this over with. It’s been dragged out way [for] too long. The media has taken this to a whole new level. I want to put this behind me and move on and move forward, and I think the rest of the world wants that, too. There are other, bigger issues that this world is facing. I am human. I made a mistake, and that’s something I am going to have to live with.
Although Lochte used the term “over-exaggeration” several times during today’s ‘GMA’ interview, he fessed up to flat-out lying about one aspect of his story.
The thing that I told that wasn’t true was having the gun pointed to my forehead and cocked.
That was over-exaggerated.
The crisis basics
Ferroli Communications principal and media relations consultant Marge Ferroli says Lochte’s interview wasn’t as convincing as many might have predicted.
In his GMA interview, he came across as unsure of himself but made the effort to sincerely address the incident and the impact on his teammates and family. He waited far too long in his comments to admit to making a mistake—that should have been said at the top of the interview. He also should have been much stronger in saying he was cooperating fully with legal authorities in Brazil. I believe he should have used the simple words “I’m sorry” for disappointing or hurting his family, teammates and Olympics fans.
Assembling a team
Lochte has lost an estimated $1 million in sponsorship partnerships since returning from Rio. He’s been dropped by four brands, including Speedo and Ralph Lauren.
For help with handling the backlash, ABC News reports Lochte hired top-tier crisis manager Matthew Hiltzik, who has helped restore the images of high-profile athletes and celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Tony Parker. RELATED: Stop being an order taker and become a strategic partner.
The corporate communications and PR guru is no stranger to athletes in crisis: He’s worked with football player Manti Te’o (who claimed he had a cancer-stricken girlfriend), basketball player Tony Parker (who’s alleged infidelity was splashed across tabloid covers) and baseball player Ryan Braun (who tested positive for an abnormally high level of testosterone). Hiltzik—a licensed attorney—has also worked with a slew of Hollywood figures, including Justin Bieber, Alec Baldwin and Katie Couric.
It was reported that Lochte agreed to be on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” before the incident in Rio.
On being asked this morning whether it’s a good idea to continue with his plan to appear on the reality show, Lochte responded:
The emotional part is the hardest thing. The past two weeks have been the lowest part of my life. The fans, my family, my friends have been really positive, keeping me going. This is perfect with the show, because I want to put that behind me. I want to move forward, and I want the whole world to move forward. [I’ll] put on my dancing shoes, or at least try to.
Ferroli says appearing on “DWTS” will give Lochte the opportunity to showcase his hard work and determination to succeed in something beyond the swimming pool.
Ryan Lochte is a young man whose reputation has been seriously damaged by his night of celebration in Rio, but the opportunity to begin to redeem himself with the public is now—while media attention is still on him. He can demonstrate more responsible behavior. I don’t think it’s too soon for him to make the DWTS appearance.
Lochte didn’t waste any time promoting the show, which will start its new season on Sept. 5:
— Ryan Lochte (@RyanLochte) August 30, 2016
— Good Morning America (@GMA) August 30, 2016
Although many Twitter users are showing support for of the swimmer, others continue to use the hashtags #LochteMess and #LochteGate to criticize his decision to appear on the show:
— Deborah Ford (@DebLFord) August 30, 2016
— Miss Myrtle (@MissMyrtle2) August 30, 2016
— âï¸ Sveta – Ð¡Ð²ÐµÑÐ° âï¸ (@svknyc) August 30, 2016
— HanDan (@han_dan) August 30, 2016
How do you think Lochte’s ‘GMA’ interview went, PR Daily readers? Is he making the right decisions to restore his public image?