NEWS & Views

LANCE ARMSTRONG – SPEARHEADING A PR PELOTON


A teacher at school once told me that the 11th Commandment was ‘Thou shalt not get caught’. I’m not sure what moral lesson that was supposed to teach me while I sat in detention after detention but I feel that Lance Armstrong could have benefited from the sharing in that school experience.

More valuable still would have been the advice from my dad who was, and still is, of the opinion that there is only one thing worse than doing something wrong, and that is lying about it afterwards. My dad’s rule was simple: when questioned, own up to a wrong doing and you will be punished for it, but lie about it and the punishment doubles.

My dad’s advice is certainly something that Armstrong could have benefited from. It is one thing to cheat – the worst sin in sport – it is another entirely to lie about it when caught. And to repeatedly lie for years even in the face of overwhelming evidence, making rallying cries to your faithful supporters and dragging them into the mire with you – shameful.

There is an old saying that ‘it’s never too late to tell the truth.’ And after passing up several opportunities to do so, Armstrong has decided that tonight, in front of a predicted audience of 3.5 million viewers, will be his moment of purging.

Anyone that has followed the timely leaks from Oprah’s OWN network aimed at further stoking public interest in the interview will know that we are in for some carefully constructed responses to her line of questioning.

Will there be tears? Possibly, no confessional interview is complete without them. At the very least expect a well crafted sincere look of remorse for the upset he has cause his family, friends and followers.

Armstrong’s interview tonight is not the result of a sudden pang of guilt but rather it is a response to being completely trapped by uncompromising evidence of his guilt. Tonight’s interview is the culmination of a very strategic PR plan, one that began with Armstrong consulting his lawyers about what he could admit to whilst avoiding legal ramifications.

Armstrong’s team will almost certainly have seen every one of Oprah’s questions in advance (at the very least they will have seen the areas of questioning in advance) and will have produced carefully crafted answers to each question, paying great attention to the specific language used to ensure that Armstrong is able to suitably stress his remorse and to explain that he wasn’t the only one, it was just the culture of the sport at the time, while allowing him to be suitably ambiguous around specific incidences of doping, and the exact nature of his involvement as the epicentre of ‘most sophisticated, organized and professional doping scheme in the history of sports’.

Then there is Armstrong’s choice to go on Oprah in the first place. His PR team would have advised him that this was his best bet for an easy ride. Oprah is a highly successful woman, but her interview style lends itself more to discussion and conversation, and her audience is typically more sympathetic. Oprah is certainly not from the Jeremy Paxman ‘why is this lying b*stard lying to me’* school of journalism.

I say tonight’s interview is almost the culmination of a very strategic PR plan, but it is, in fact,  just the beginning. Armstrong’s apparent aim in doing all of this is to be able to compete as a tri-athlete. If his PR team are really good (and I’m sure that they are) Armstrong’s appearance on Oprah and the to be expected subsequent follow up interviews will drum up enough sympathy to convince the world’s sports governing bodies to allow him to compete again.

And then of course, there will be the bestselling book ‘Lance Armstrong: The Confession’. (And if successful as a tri-athlete ‘Lance Armstrong: The Redemption’).

Like everyone else, I’ll sit down to watch this interview, but for me the big question is why should anybody care what Armstrong has to say? Sure, it will be good TV, but does the world really need a confession when we have over a thousand pages of documented evidence against him? What do we really get from this? Not much. The biggest downside to this PR Peloton is that once again international cycling is all about Lance. My Dad is unlikely to be impressed.

*A quote often attributed to Paxman but was in fact written by Louis Heren, a former Deputy Editor of The Times, in his memoirs and later quoted by Paxman.

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Author

danny wilding

Senior Account Director

Danny has led a number of successful campaigns to change the law and the public perceptions of businesses, including campaigns in the transport, infrastructure, financial services, gambling and sports.Danny directed the successful campaign to scrap Air Passenger Duty for Children in the 2014 Autumn Statement, working with a coalition of airports, airlines and travel agen...

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