The word is out that Lance Armstrong will come clean (no pun intended) in an interview with Oprah to air on Thursday.
I can imagine the discussion among Team Armstrong debating who would be the “best” interviewer:
“Let’s see, 60 Minutes would make a great forum to reach the masses. What about Morley Safer? No, he’s got a prickly style. Let’s go with Lesley Stahl. No way. Did you see the way she carved up Arnold Schwartzenegger? Piers Morgan at CNN? There’s talk he’s not going to survive the week. Hey, how about Oprah? Her idea of a tough question is to ask Doctor Phil why he doesn’t cut carbs from his diet. While the Oprah Network doesn’t exactly reach the masses, we can count on the rest of the media to give the story legs. Done.
Such are the makings of a crisis communications war room.
According to The New York Times, Lance “will give a limited confession.”
Does this mean Lance will say “I’m kind of sorry?”
Or perhaps Lance will share he’s feels badly that so many people have been hurt by his poor judgment.
Here’s the thing Lance is about to find out.
The American public will forgive anything short of murder if, and this is a big “if,” the person comes across as genuinely sorry and contrite.
This is not the time for language gamesmanship.
But the same mentality that shaped Lance into a world-class athlete makes it tough for him to utter two simple words, “I’m sorry.”
For this interview to truly serve as the first step in rehabilitating the Lance Armstrong brand, he needs to say these two words and mean it.
While “hard-hitting interview” and “Oprah” will never be found in the same sentence, we can expect even Oprah to ask Lance why he did it.
How Lance handles this question will also go a long way toward rehabbing or sabotaging his reputation. No doubt, he will want to blame others; i.e., it was frustrating to watch other riders cheat, knowing no matter how hard I worked it wouldn’t be enough.
Don’t go there.
This is an opportunity to show the new Lance, explaining that ego drove the desire to be the best regardless of the costs.
One last point —
Don’t overplay the cancer card. Yes, you’re a cancer survivor and yes, your Livestrong foundation has helped countless others battle cancer. It’s an easy way to elicit sympathy.
But this is the time to show your failings, not what a great guy you are.
I’m looking forward to hearing what Lance has to say.
Note: I encourage you to check out the post “The Lance Armstrong PR Crisis” by colleague Gini Dietrich published in October.