Stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, and most recently, his Sydney Olympic medal, the only wheels turning under Lance Armstrong right now are those of the press machine. After months of denying the allegations placed against him for doping and being placed under a life ban, Armstrong’s missing the taste of the fame game and has turned to the Supreme Oracle that is Oprah Winfrey to try and redeem his name in a celebrity-bares-all interview.
Obviously, Armstrong has an ambition to try and get back into the public frame. He craves the love of the herd and must be desperate to reinvent this odious legacy. When someone like Armstrong has had such an extraordinary career, they can become addicted to its limelight. He is ambitious, and is already seeding memes about taking part in a triathlon.
Armstrong is currently being held back by a number of unresolved issues. To date, he has kept his head below the parapet, and but for the perseverance of a few dogged and dedicated journalists would probably still be denying the allegations now – like many big brands, Armstrong fell victim to hubris.
Some reports suggest that the Anti-Doping Agency gave Armstrong a chance to plea bargain – a move that could have been one of the most significant moves in the war against drugs that we’ve seen – however – Armstrong seems to have maintained the arrogant belief that he could beat all these charges on his own.
As the crowd have gathered force and the Livestrong campaign has distanced itself from his brand however, Armstrong has had to accept that it’s time to change tack. And change tack he has.
The Oprah Winfrey campaign has been exceedingly well-executed. The interview has been presented as “no holds bound”, with Winfrey claiming to have been “mesmerised” by the interview and to have prepared for it “like a college exam”, bringing over 112 interview questions into the round with her.
In addition to all this pre-release press, Armstrong has the added advantage of having given the interview as a pre-record from his own home. All the props he needs to fashion a comeback are there. The world is watching intently, and the journalists who have hounded Armstrong to date will be baying for answers.
Despite having all the props and the power of Oprah behind him, Armstrong gave a lacklustre first offering. Although this is to be expected in a game of two halves, the confession offered by Armstrong was sterile – offered by a personality that didn’t look particularly full of contrition. He shed no tears and displayed no visible signs of emotion. At times he appeared arrogant and self-contained.
It is time to come clean – but will the exercise reposition him? Who knows.
The PR onslaught is the start of the rehabilitation. Like Chernobyl, he is a voyeur’s toxic attraction. His brand has the radiation equivalent to about 400 Hiroshimas and it’s lonely living in the dead zone. I predict this PR exercise will inch forward and dilute a microscopic fraction of the issues. However, if he hasn’t structured a plan of epic genius, there is more chance of the Russian nuclear sire becoming habitable in the next 5 years.
If Saint Augustine were alive he might proclaim “The media hast made him for thyself , and its heart is restless until it finds its rest in it”. Because the world expected this to be a classic PR exercise the optimised event was indeed a perfect PR pitch. It might not be the best advert for Armstrong and the sport of cycling: the real winner is Mark Fabiani.
Fabiani, lawyer-cum-public-relations-strategist has represented Armstrong since July 2010, when the FDA made its initial investigation into the first doping allegations. With his business partner Chris Lehane, Fabiani has worked the some of the stickiest reputation management issues the world has seen, earning them the title the “Masters of Disaster” for their handling of the Clintons’ reputations in the wake of the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky scandals.