Lance. Lance. Lance. Why didn’t you call me?
Several people asked me how I would have handled the Lance Armstrong situation. It’s a question we get a lot. Even though we spend most of our time on threats like natural disasters, cyber, terrorism, etc., scandal/malfeasance is something we hope we’d never have to deal with, but we still prepare for it.
So, how would the conversation with Lance Armstrong have gone?
It’s the year 2005. First reports that Lance Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs.
BC: Lance, like your lawyer, I need to know the absolute truth. No one will know what you tell me, but for me to give the best advice, I need to know the truth. Did you use banned substances before, during or after any of your competitions?
Lance: well, ya. I mean, everyone did it.
BC: Lance, if everyone jumped off a bridge…oh, wait..that’s the kids’ speech. Lance, is there one or more people alive right now that have seen you using banned substances?
Lance: well, ya. I mean everyone was doing it. Why? Do I need to make them disappear? I can. I have millions of dollars you know.
BC: Umm. No. Let’s keep moving forward. Ok. So you had a lapse in judgement. You were weak (from your cancer) and needed to take something to get yourself to a compettive level. Then you stopped doping, right?
Lance: haha! Weak? Me? No! Don’t say things like that to me. I won seven Tour de Frances! No, I did it before and after cancer. Have you ever tried blood doping? Whoa! Good stuff. You feel like…well…you can ride as far and fast as you want.
BC: Ok. So you doped, there are witnesses that have seen you doping, and it has helped you win races. Is that correct?
Lance: well, ya. I mean, everyone was doing it. They should have won too, but I’m better.
BC: Lance, here’s my advice.
- We’re going to draft a press release that is going to confirm that you used banned substances. You will say that you are profoundly sorry for the pain this has caused the people you know and love, and to the sport of cycling. You are going to say you wanted to inspire cancer survivors by showing them what they could accomplish even after being diagnosed with Cancer, but you lost your way and became too selfish. Winning and money became everything to you and you want to change your life.
- You’re going to resign from Livestrong and donate the majority of your money to the foundation.
- You are going to do a prime time interview and come clean. You will answer every question honestly. You will be humble and you will ask for forgiveness. You will tell the audience that Livestrong is an amazing organization and should not be penalized for your sins. For the benefit of the organization and the good work they do, you will not be associated with them again.
- You will use some of your money to fund an anti-doping campaign and be a spokesperson against using performance enhancing drugs.
If you do these things, this will blow over in about a year and you will be able to move on with your life.
Lance: you’re an idiot! I thought you were a crisis manager?! You’re going to get me sued and I’m going to lose all my money. People will hate me! You’re fired you fat jerk!
…and remember, you can’t tell anyone what I told you. If you breath a word, I have people….here’s a buck for your services. Go get something to fix that shiny cueball head of yours – it’s hurting my eyes.
Fat jerk? Ouch! That was mean. I just lost five pounds without using drugs to do it…
It’s the year 2013. After countless accusations countered by lawsuits and name calling; after years of threats and sacrificed friendships; after millions of dollars of endorsements and litigation awards, the truth comes out. It always does. Lance is alone. Lance will be broke. Lance Armstrong’s name is poison.
Lance: Bob, can I talk to you? I’m in a bit of a jam right now.
BC: Lance, sorry. I’m a little busy right now with a football player who has a girl problem. Good luck though. You’re going to need it…
The only way to avoid making a crisis worse is to start by telling the truth. Whether it’s a personal or professional mistake you have made, come clean. As cliche as it sounds, the cover-up is always worse than the crime. You tell the truth, accept the consequences and move on. It may hurt at first, but nowhere as bad as it will if you try to sustain a lie.
Truth always has a way of rising through the lies. It can take weeks, months or years, but it will rise up – with a vengeance!