Crisis management vs Lance Armstrong vs Oprah Winfrey

HE’S been back in the news again, so time to revive a blog post on crisis management from my old website.

IT’S still only January and the world already has one of the biggest news stories of 2013, and possibly the biggest in terms of public relations and particularly crisis management, and it hasn’t really happened yet.

Lance Armstrong needs no introduction and within the next couple of days Oprah Winfrey versus Lance Armstrong – or should that be Lance v Oprah – will have been seen by millions of people across the globe.

What a coup for Oprah, who is a global superstar in her own right, in securing the exclusive of all exclusives; a potential confession from one of the world’s biggest sports starts and for the past few months the world’s biggest sports cheat.

And you can bet your bottom dollar that he’ll have been to University of Crisis Management and no doubt come away with a first class honours.

Armstrong has been scripted by one of the very best in the industry, Mark Fabiani, the former White House special counsel who advised Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, meaning he’ll have rehearsed and rehearsed.

Fabiani will have told him the type of questions to expect and the answers will have been drummed into him repeatedly. Along with when to look ashamed, crestfallen or humbled.

He might well be persona no grata on a global scale but he’s still very rich and, therefore, powerful so can we really be certain that Oprah’s questions are her own?

Part of the interview deal seems to be that it was held in Armstrong’s home city of Austin, Texas. And as part of that, surely Armstrong would have access to the questions and been able to say ‘no’ to any he disagreed with. That’s the way the modern world of celebrity PR works – you can have my client but on his or her own terms.

Regardless of what he does or doesn’t confess to there’s a lot of people, his fans or rather ex-fans, across the world angry that they bought into Brand Armstrong. Yes, they feel cheated; while the rest of the peloton are left behind to pick up the pieces.

I’ve been involved with cycling for 30 years and I was never a fan of his; I was always sceptical. I’m not denying that he was ever a great athlete, but it was things such as his arrogant demeanour, and that he rarely competed in any other cycling events such as the Spring Classics or the tours of Italy or Spain.

And when in interviews he was asked a tricky question he’s suddenly forget that he could speak French.

He wasn’t from a cycling background; firstly a swimmer then triathlete, and I often thought he regarded the sport as just a day job as opposed to a passion.

He joined the Motorola team in 1992 at a time when cycling was really beginning to emerge in the US so the corporates where keen to get involved, which meant that as he rose through the ranks there was more money to assemble a team, more money for equipment, more money for scientific training methods – which ultimately might have lead him down the path to doping.

I’d also questioned how he – and for that matter any cyclist – could keep going day in day out without ‘assistance’. Long gone are the days when the riders, particularly in a stage race, would stop at a roadside cafe and grab a beer, or roll a cigarette in the peleton.

But back then the peleton was mostly from mainland Europe; there was lots of affinity between the riders thanks to the semi-professional club system.

This saw riders leave their home town cycling clubs to live far away from family and friends and focus on cycle racing in the hope they would make the big time. Then along came people such as Armstrong without that European pedigree and empathy yet helping to put the sport on to the global arena.

And the more powerful he was allowed to become, the more power he sought. Simple addiction!

Enjoy watching Oprah take on Lance, but remember it might not be all it seems.

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