Posts Tagged ‘cycling’

Lacklustre Lance Better Peddle Fast If He Wants to Remain in the Fame Game

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.

Bradley Wiggins- a new breed of celebrity

This post originally appeared yesterday on The Huffington Post.

Bradley Wiggins’ success in the Tour de France was testament to the willpower, training and raw talent of an individual. His stellar status in the media- whilst certainly not hindered by his victory – has more to do with his suitability as a new kind of celebrity in the post-Leveson world.

Wiggins is perfect fodder for a media conscious of a need to prove its moral worth and a public operating zero tolerance for excess or frippery in its icons. Frugal, modest, for the most part softly spoken, Wiggins nonetheless radiates self-effacing charm. His embodiment of the classic attributes of the British sportsman- fair play, quiet confidence, team spirit- make him a perfect proposition for those in search of a comforting icon for an austerity age.

What’s more, he is possessed of something essential for lasting success in a ‘now economy’ age defined by freedom of information and a voracious public: a powerful narrative element. This operates across two interlinked axes: his compelling battle against dopers as a kind of angry young man of cycling, and a troubled childhood defined by the departure and alcoholism of his father, Australian cycling champ Gary Wiggins. Brad’s effortless actions and easy grace win the headlines, his tortured past and occasional four letter outbursts fill out the features.

It’s also worth noting that Wiggins is free from the burden of hype which surrounds those sports previously perceived to be of premier interest- notably this summer international football and grand slam tennis. For the majority of the public he emerged from nowhere, a figurehead for a sport previously firmly under the radar. As such, his actions were both surprising and illuminating, and carried a corresponding freshness.

There is much that brands can seek to imitate on the basis of the Bradley Wiggins effect: calm confidence, outspoken comment on pertinent issues, making oneself transparent without appearing self-obsessed. Most importantly, though, Wiggo- or ‘Le Gentleman’ as he is affectionately known- is committed to an ideology which is deeply meaningful not only to he but to the British public. In his case, this is the age-old code of good old British sportsmanship, but a similar resource might just as easily be found in a well-crafted and honest brand vision statement.

The Now Economy rewards those who define their terms according to personal passion, measure their success against hard-won personal milestones, and are willing to allow the media to discover their commitment and energy in their own time.

Borkowski