The agency faces a formidable challenge fighting the wildfire of speculation surrounding the Olympic athlete since a Panorama investigation was aired.
Read the opening paragraphs of athlete Mo Farah’s Wikipedia page and you’ll be confronted bya roll call of records sufficient to fill the sports category of several Trivial Pursuit decks. But amid the distances smashed and gongs awarded the only section of the page that matters now is a four-line paragraph headed ‘BBC Panorama investigation’.
Having become ensnared in the doping speculation surrounding his coach Alberto Salazar, Farah has learned the only fact worth knowing for the hounded luminaries of our public life: forget the facts – the story is king.
After further ‘revelations’ about missed drugs tests, Farah spent the past few weeks lying low and lagged behind the speculative race to “the truth”.
In the post-Lance Armstrong world the only truth that papers want to print is that behind every sporting achievement is a cocktail of steroids and stimulants. And the bigger the star the bigger the spike.
Much of the chatter has centred on Farah’s choice of crisis managers, Freuds. A carefully crafted statement released last week seems to have afforded the athlete a temporary breather in his low-oxygen tent.
The statement cleverly attempted to reposition the story to focus on the human cost of the rumour treadmill. It tapped into his inspiring back story and emphasised the effect that the attention has been having on his family.
A good start, but the whiff of scandal will remain in his vicinity as long as Salazar and Farah’s training partner Galen Rupp remain entangled in the investigation.
The desperation that much of the press has to expose the next fallen idol will mean that over the next few months Freuds will be having to crank up the counter-briefing to supplant the story.
As compelling as his journey has been, it cannot rely on Farah’s golden glow. Others need to come out to support the athlete.
Since the halcyon days of 2012 Farah’s PR machine has been on the back foot. He has never been adept at disguising his frustration with the press and its tendency to pry into his family history.
Where a war of words with a hostile media may be forgiven, his public battles with fellow runner Andy Vernon on Twitter angered many in the athletics community and bridges were unnecessarily burned.
But even his biggest backers will be wary not to stick their necks too much on the line. Farah and Freuds aren’t fighting a war of facts; they are containing the wildfire of speculation through their own brand of positive story spinning.
Over the next months they’ll be keeping a close eye on Farah’s Panorama entry on his Wikipedia page – every line that comes closer to his laurels is a slip on the track.
This post also appeared on PR Week and in my column of the July/August issue of PR Week