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His words were unequivocal, his face somber. To Oprah Winfrey’s direct questions about whether he previously used banned substances to improve his athletic performance, Lance Armstrong, seven-time winner of what’s regarded as the most grueling sports event on the globe, cycling’s Tour de France, answered simply, “Yes.”
The person who became an American hero of mythic proportions by beating life-threatening cancer, dominating his sport and raising many huge amount of money for cancer sufferers is currently, forever, life-size.
For a long time Armstrong waged total war against his critics, including journalists who implied that he previously taken drugs. But he could no more continue the pretense of righteous indignation. Following the U.S. Department of Justice dropped a case against him, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency conducted its investigation into Armstrong. The revelation earlier this fall of damning evidence that he and his teammates had doped from 1999 to 2005 shattered the cyclist’s reputation.
He now faces the chance of climbing a mountain steeper than any he ever conquered on a bike — that of rebuilding his personal brand. “The story [of my life] was so ideal for such a long time,” Armstrong said in the much-publicized interview that aired on Winfrey’s OWN network yesterday evening. “Now [it’s] so very bad, therefore toxic.”
Joey Reiman, the founder and CEO of an Atlanta-based branding consultancy and writer of The Story of Purpose (Wiley, 2012), thinks that story could still have a happy ending. “Lance could become Sir Lancelot if he previously a larger purpose,” Reiman says. “When brands don’t operate for an objective beyond themselves, they enter trouble.”
Tactically there are three things Lance must do to redeem himself, says Reiman.
1. Speak right to the people. Lance should make a television spot appealing right to the American people. Reiman suggests the next copy: “I cheated the chances. I cheated the wind. I cheated you.” By installation of his life in such stark terms, Armstrong could make a heartfelt apology while reminding folks of that which was admirable about him. “We are able to all celebrate how he cheated cancer,” says Reiman.
Businesses may take the same road to redemption. In an emergency of trust, whether large or small, get out before the problem and speak right to those you have wronged. These folks could be your visitors, clients or business associates. Tell them you realize the magnitude of your fault and remind them of your good qualities.
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2. Ride for redemption. Lance should reunite on his bike, however, not to compete. Reiman suggests a cross-country ride, stopping at hospitals and schools atlanta divorce attorneys city to talk with children about cheating, lying and bullying. Armstrong could have a documentary film crew follow him and create streaming web videos of his journey.
“That is a Tour de Trust,” Reiman says, pointing out that it is easy for disgraced athletes to be symbols for causes they once ignored. Football player Michael Vick “went from quarterbacking dog fights to becoming an animal-rights activist.”
Similarly, companies must move from ads to actions. While it is critical to demonstrate good intentions in the wake of a scandal, excellence is a 24/7 job. Customer support, employee management and other areas of your business ought to be visibly admirable. “Brands that do something will be the winners. Brands that just do ads add nothing to the world,” Reiman says.
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3. Do an act of good faith. Through the years, the Livestrong Foundation sold an incredible number of yellow Livestrong bracelets, symbols of the fight cancer which were also symbols of Lance’s winning lifestyle. Now many people could be reluctant to put them on.
Armstrong should ask everyone at hand in their bracelets and provide, for every one returned, to donate some money out of his own pocket to the treating cancer patients. Companies which have been caught selling defective products may use an identical tactic to regain the public’s goodwill.
Ultimately, however, these gestures will ring false if Lance doesn’t get back to his roots as an advocate for cancer sufferers, Reiman says. If he does, he could become bigger than ever before. “For those who have an objective beyond yourself as a brand, in the event that you are a symbol of something meaningful, the rest will observe,” Reiman says. “The amount of money will observe, the people will observe and the reputation will observe.”
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