SBD/January 25, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

PR Roundtable Evaluates Crisis Management By Armstrong, Te'o

With the recent controversies surrounding disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong and Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o, THE DAILY reached out to PR professionals for their take on how each athlete handled their respective image crisis. Former White House Communications Dir Kevin Sullivan, VMW Communications Owner Vince Wladika, former NBA Global Communications VP and DigitalSportsDesk.com Founder Terry Lyons, and DKC PR Managing Dir of Marketing & Government Affairs Scott Miranda each weighed in. Wladika set up the discussion by saying, "Tell the truth in the first place and in almost every instance, you'll not need crisis communications. ... A crisis communications plan is not to try to make you look as good as possible; it's to try to make you NOT look as bad as possible."

PR experts agree Armstrong's interview with Oprah
was not as effective as it could have been
Q
: What could Lance Armstrong have done better -- either prior to, or during his interview with Oprah Winfrey?
Sullivan: Lance’s case shows that likability matters. Even though he was honest, took responsibility and thoroughly admitted he was wrong, his demeanor keeps people at a distance. All the emotion was on the second night when far fewer people were watching. He also could have addressed what he is planning to do to win back people’s trust.
Wladika: Tell the truth to everyone, not in a pre-conditioned set up with Oprah. His interview with Oprah was marked for failure before it ever happened. And just look at the press coverage afterwards. They didn’t move the needle one bit in Armstrong’s favor.
Lyons: Lance Armstrong was, is and always will be a pathetic figure -- the Bernie Madoff of sports. I found the decision to appear on Oprah interesting, and I think it was a good choice by his handlers. The problem was obvious: He showed zero remorse and did not come across as a sympathetic figure to an audience seeking an honest explanation. He has no chance.
Miranda: I feel he either lacked or failed to benefit from whatever formal media training he might have had prior to his Oprah interview. His answers and body language showed minimal sincere regret for those he hurt, the charity he forced into crisis mode, the sponsors he betrayed and the millions of fans to which he lied. The only glimpse of humility we saw occurred when talking about his son during part two when the rating was much lower. 

Q: What immediate steps can Armstrong now take to rehab his image?
Sullivan: With the chip hopefully permanently extracted from his shoulder, he can double-down on the community of survivors who still believe in him. He can quietly volunteer his efforts to raise awareness and funding for survivorship and over time talk about the “process” he referred to as his path to becoming a changed person.
Wladika: Come fully clean (pun intended). Tell the full truth. But, of course I realize that he also has a few potential lawsuits hanging over his head, so that is a factor in any plan.
Lyons: He has no way to earn back the respect. America has the ability to be very forgiving, but I don’t believe Armstrong will EVER be forgiven.
Miranda: If I were advising him, I would suggest he take the necessary steps to rehabilitate his life and decline further media opportunities for the near future. If and when he ever feels comfortable enough to get back into the public eye, I would suggest he focus on educating young athletes about the perils of doping as well as supporting Livestrong in whatever capacity they deem appropriate. His problems did not begin overnight and will not go away because of one interview. He will be dealing with this for the rest of his life.

Te'o sat for an interview with Couric after first 
giving ESPN's Schaap an off-camera interview
Q
: What could Manti Te’o have done better -- either prior to or during his interview with Katie Couric?
Sullivan: Appearing with (Notre Dame AD) Jack Swarbrick at the press conference would have taken much of the heat out of the story, even if he only answered a few questions. Then the next day he could have sat down with Jeremy Schaap -- on camera, for a longer-form conversation that could have aired on both ESPN and ABC -- reaching the same audience he ultimately pursued three days later with Katie Couric. His inaction made the story bigger each day. He wasn’t any better off after the Katie Couric interview than he was before he sat down with her.
Wladika: Unless he is complicit in some way, then he just should’ve told the truth -- as quickly as possible when he found out. ... Some of the things he is saying are questionable, and some things are still bothering me here. Armstrong needs to be very careful because of all the lawsuits and such against him, but Te’o has no such potential lawsuits so: Why did he wait so long to speak in the first place? Why was there a lawyer in the room? He and his team must’ve not gotten what they wanted out of the (Jeremy) Schaap interview for them to now run to Couric.
Lyons: It was painfully obvious that Manti Te'o was in over his head with the way he handled the entire situation. Yes, he could've done better, but I honestly believe his mistakes are the same as those made by thousands of high school and college kids who are duped online. I'm not sure I would've had him sit down with Katie Couric. I would’ve advised him to work within the sports world first, then do Katie’s show the same day. It would have forced Couric’s producers to air it, instead of tease it.

Q: What immediate steps can Te’o now take to rehab his image?
Sullivan: Unlike Armstrong, Te’o has the enormous advantage of being able to get back on the playing field. He needs to develop a credible answer to briefly explain how naive he was without re-hashing every detail, develop an extra-thick skin, and let his play on the field help put this behind him the way Kobe Bryant, Ray Lewis, Miguel Cabrera and countless others who faced personal crises have before him.
Wladika: Tell the full, complete truth. When you do that, you basically put the story to bed. When you keep telling partial truths, you keep feeding the media fire that’s consuming you. However, with (admitted Te'o hoaxer Ronaiah) Tuiasosopo still out hanging out there and not talking, Te’o will still have trouble controlling his message.
Lyons: Te'o has the opportunity to earn the respect of a legion of football fans and all he has to do is go out every Sunday, play hard and perform at the high levels he is capable of and it starts at the NFL Combine. If he becomes an All-Pro linebacker, the entire moronic controversy will be reduced to re-runs of "SNL" skits. By the way, the best line that I've heard is that Bill Belichick orchestrated the whole thing so he could pick Te'o with the 29th pick. I wish I had thought of that one-liner.
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