Why Lance Armstrong Can Mount a Comeback

Late last week, the New York Times reported Lance Armstrong might come clean regarding the doping allegations which led to his ban from professional cycling and stripped him of his Tour de France titles and Olympic medals.
Lance Armstrong
While I don’t know if cycling’s authorities will lift his lifetime ban or if he can ever compete at a high level again, it is possible that he can “come back” as a sports figure of some kind.  It’s uncharted territory, but I believe such things are possible.

Forgiving Culture
Americans embrace forgiveness.  While we all feel cheated by Armstrong’s actions and the damning evidence against him, no one, I presume, wants to see him hanging from the gallows.  In Miami, the former adopted refuge of O.J. Simpson, I saw people publicly back-slapping Simpson, a man who was convicted of killing a man.*  And while infidelity isn’t a crime, former President Bill Clinton is cheered at every turn.  In America, we like to forgive and forget (Don’t even get me started on underdogs).  So, anyone in America can come back.

Will Take Time
It won’t happen quickly.  Former home run king Mark McGwire, who handled performance enhancing drug allegations worse than most, now serves as a hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals.  He was out of baseball for eight years before being hired by the Cardinals in 2009 and officially admitting his steroid use in 2010.  It’s doubtful that McGwire will ever be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but he certainly raised his stock among the vast swath of disgraced former athletes.  Armstrong needs to take his first step and see where it leads him.

Legal Mess
One thing that public relations can’t fix and is likely holding him back is his legal mess.  Sponsors feel jilted, and former teammate Floyd Landis is, ironically, a party in the whistleblower case which could cost Armstrong millions.  When meting out PR advice, we need to check with the lawyers and make sure a needed public apology won’t land our client in prison.  If Armstrong can come clean and not get led-away moments later in leg irons, then he should do it.

Why Do It?  Why Now?
This goes back to the forgiving culture argument.  Life is short and while Armstrong may never be viewed as a national hero again, he can be a contributing member of society.  His fundraising efforts for Livestrong were tremendous, and I imagine that cancer survivors can still look to him as inspirational, albeit less miraculous.  There’s a place on this spinning orb for Armstrong, as long as he confronts the past.

Start with the Truth
My recommendation to Armstrong would be start with the truth, and it might look something like this: U.S. Anti-Doping Agency testimony (as summarized in Sports Illustrated last October) suggests that years ago Armstrong knew other cyclists were doping, and he, tired of losing to them, wanted to level the playing field.  Two wrongs don’t make a right, but it’s a plausible beginning to the arc of his cheating.  He certainly could have only fantasized about later winning seven tours, dating a rock star and being the head of a globally recognized powerhouse charity.  A dramatic upward spiral, much like that experienced by Bernie Madoff, would have been difficult to simply step-away from.  I’m not condoning what he did, but you can surmise that he found himself in a situation where continued cheating was easier than doing the right thing.  Such messaging makes sense.  From there, he will have to try to justify his arrogance, obfuscation and lying.  But a believable and relatable narrative makes a comeback possible.

What TV-Producers Call a “Get”
With message points in-hand and well-rehearsed, Armstrong will begin a whirlwind tour of another kind.  Starting with the biggest “Get” of 2013 with Matt Lauer, Piers Morgan, or Diane Sawyer, he will do the media circuit with his apology tour and try to start anew as a sports figure.  Will he cry?  I doubt it, but he can make himself look human and vulnerable and hopefully appear genuine.

Time Heals, Right?
And then we will wait.  If reinstated, Armstrong will start competing in triathlons, mountain biking or the like and attempt to mend his battered reputation.  It will take years, but he’s still young, and we know he is stubborn and determined.  If he approaches his climb back with humility, he has a chance to make a return like that of McGwire.  If he remains arrogant and in denial, then he may be doomed to a reputation like that of Barry Bonds or Pete Rose – unrepentant to the end.

In summary: Get approval from the lawyers, lead with the truth, be humble and then let our forgiving culture and time heal the wounds.  He can do it.

What do you think?



Author: John P. David

*On February 6, 1997, a jury unanimously found there was a preponderance of evidence to hold Simpson liable for damages in the wrongful death of Goldman and battery of Brown.

Resolve to Start by Starting

With the fiscal cliff averted and the holidays behind us, it’s time to yet again get back to work.  Many of the firms we represent, dominated by small business owners, attorneys and financial services professionals, are looking at 2013 as the year they more fully engage in marketing.  Most companies have plenty to say, but just don’t know how to say it.

Here are a few tips for the New Year:

Start by Startingimage
If your business isn’t using social media, then you are behind, but it’s never too late.  My advice to business owners is to “start by starting.”  Registering your company on Facebook is an easy first move, and it’s not just for kids.  In fact, most kids view FB as uncool because their parents use it, which is precisely why every small business should be on FB.  More people visit FB each day than visit Google, and if you look over the shoulder of many American white collar workers, you will see they are viewing FB on a regular basis.  It’s where the eyeballs are, so get to it.

Prepare to Share
When your company has news, be prepared to share it – across social media platforms.  If you write a news release, make sure you distribute it to your e-mail contact list, post it to your FB page, send out a tweet and encourage your employees to do the same.   Of course, a main public relations goal is to have your news published by a major news outlet, but you can reach a tremendous audience by publishing news yourself.  You want to build your name recognition among your key audiences.  Most professional services firms, for instance, are referral based.  By publishing your news to your customers and the friends of your firm, you are increasing your chances of referrals.  Trust me, it works.

Consistency and Frequency (Repeat), Consistency and Frequency (Repeat)
Marketing and public relations is a marathon not a sprint.  While it is fantastic to be featured on CNN or Good Morning America, such great media hits do not make for a comprehensive marketing strategy.  Every business owner should be looking for ways to consistently and frequently communicate his or her message.  If you are publishing an e-mail newsletter, set a goal of distributing it monthly or quarterly and stick to it.  If you want to get value from social media, post daily or weekly.   If you advertise, buy a flight of ads that will cover several weeks or months of impressions.  And most importantly, continue to keep at it.  Augment your marketing efforts but always hit your main goals – consistently and frequently.

Quick and the Dead
The 24-hour news cycle offers up many opportunities, as news outlets (online and broadcast) have massive content needs.  But the world is spinning really fast, and today’s hot issue is tomorrow’s “old news,” literally.  Be prepared to quickly comment on the news of the day and capitalize on opportunities which may be fleeting.

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This and That
I went to two sporting events over the holiday weekend: the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic and the Discover Orange Bowl football game.

In order to buy a beer at the basketball game at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, the clerk swiped my ID.  So, now I’m officially on the grid for buying Advil Cold and Sinus at the pharmacy and for buying a beer at a ball game.  Please tell me they will do the same if I ever buy an assault weapon…

Keep your eye on Instagram.  Two boys in the row ahead of us at the football game spent most of it posting photos and texting on the social media photo sharing site.  I joined it myself, much to the chagrin of my 12-year-old daughter.

Best of luck and prosperity to everyone in 2013.



Author: John P. David