Did Anyone Media Train Lance Armstrong?

Cover of "The Power of Body Language"

Cover of The Power of Body Language

During the Lance Armstrong interviews on Oprah’s OWN station (there were two of them), I was particularly interested in body language, facial expressions, and an earnest apology with sincerity.

What we got was a stone “who” only on occasion succeeded in being sincere. Only once did he tear up and that was when he was speaking about the regret he had for his eldest son. Not once did he look into the camera and speak one to one with any viewer; in particular those he most bullied and abused.

When media relations specialists work with spokespeople, we do what’s called media training.
Everyone is familiar with the word “handler” in political and celebrity circles. That’s the pro who manages the media and turns away reporters getting too close for comfort. That’s also the publicist who has the frontline backdoor role to be on top of current events with a snappy response.

It’s obvious Lance Armstrong didn’t have a handler (they probably couldn’t lie like he did) nor did he have any formal media training.

Here’s what the pros say about Lance Armstrong’s performance (from “Experts: Lance Blew Last Chance” in Advertising Age, Jan. 21, 2013):

Lance Armstrong’s Marketability

  • Darren Rovell, Sports business reporter, ESPN: “Lance Armstrong doesn’t have any future marketability; it’s over. It was his inspiring story of a cancer survivor triumphing in races that made him marketable. If the wins are not legit, then neither is he.”

Lance Armstrong’s Body Language

  • Tonya Reiman, author, “The Power of Body Language:” This is the first time I ever heard the term “fig-leafed” – he nervously covered his groin with his hands. He was also wringing his hands, crossed his legs, tucked his hands between his legs, touched his face, bit his lip, took deep breaths, and swallowed hard. Tonya says these are all signs of a man under serious pressure and his face showed “so much arrogance and not enough real remorse” which is what viewers wanted to see.

Lance Armstrong and PR

  • Mike Paul is a crisis PR expert quoted in Advertising Age. He believes Lance only partially told the truth. In not so many words, Mike believes Armstrong failed his first crisis-PR move (when “scandal-plagued athletes often do confessional interviews where they come clean and throw themselves at the mercy of the court of public opinion.”)

How To Prepare For Media Interviews

Regardless of whether you’re a “scandal-plagued athlete” or a bona fide Wall Street executive, there are stones to turn over and it’s reporters’ jobs to find them (except in the case of the Manti Te’o scandal!). Preparing for an interview with the Wall Street Journal is akin to Lance Armstrong preparing for an interview with Oprah. It takes hours and hours of pre-interview preparation prior to sitting in front of an investigative reporter or someone with the skills the likes of Oprah Winfrey.

Here are several media training tips:
1. Use a message map. This tool is golden when it comes to putting a story on one page.
2. Hire a media trainer who consults with a media relations professional. You need someone from the outside who isn’t close to the situation to come in and drill. In the case of Lance Armstrong, he should’ve been preparing and practicing just like it was a presidential debate.
3. Write a Q&A document with every single possible question that could be raised. Answer these questions using a message map. In the case of Lance Armstrong, however, there was more than a decade of lies to address and rectify in advance of the Oprah interview.
4. Rehearse, but be careful how rehearsed answers become. Lance was too stone-faced; however, no amount of preparation was going to allow him to break down in front of an international audience. He failed to earn respect from anyone; he succeeded in being labeled a consummate liar.
5. Review reporters’ history of interviews and writings. This is a job for any good media relations professional. It’s called writing a brief. It allows spokespeople to reference previous stories, break the ice, and also be prepared for the type of style and to expect a barrage or line of questioning.

Here’s the nutshell…no one in this era of visible online identity should ever assume anything is private. Prepare for an interview as if you’re Lance Armstrong being interviewed by Oprah.

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13 comments
ginidietrich
ginidietrich

Actually, he did have media training and his PR "guy" is the same person who works with big names when they get in trouble (Bill Clinton, for one). He's been working with him for nearly two years. Having spent a lot of time in media training with professional athletes, celebrities, and politicians, one of the things they are taught is NOT to look into the camera. For some reason, it comes across to most viewers as lying. Plus, he was being interviewed by Oprah, not by any of us or his accusers. It was appropriate for him not to look into the camera.

That said, my feeling is he's not sorry. He still thinks he's the best (and, likely, if he didn't dope and no one else did either, he'd still have won) and he's doing this only to reform his image and get back to competing. He's listening to his handlers (finally) and the advice they're giving is very sage.

SandyAppleyard
SandyAppleyard

I can't speak for any of this as I didn't watch or read any coverage, but what I'm wondering is how many more athletes have done this and just haven't been caught?  

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

I like sports and am a PR, yet just can't bring myself to care enough to watch anything more than interview clips. But from the blips I've seen, the criticisms seem more or less accurate. This is clearly forced attrition; he probably did get some media training - or at least someone surely tried?! - but the impression I get is that he's not gonna change himself, get all emotional when it's not him (Amy) nor put on a show for the cameras (Adi). I just keep reading how arrogant he seems, how defiant, shirking both guilt and responsibility - not the type to really listen what others advise, right? IDK I just get the idea this is part of some Redemption: Cheatstrong Edition - only so long as what he's willing to do anyway. FWIW.

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

I listened to an interview with one of his teammates who said he NEVER showed emotion - ever.  They said that from their perspective, this WAS emotional for him.   I think he still can have redemption - we LOVE that in our society. It all depends on what he does NOW .  Look at Michael Vick.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

Breaking news today that Lance is on the skids for $12 million civil suit for winnings paid for winning Tour de France and also for perjury. He may face 10 years in federal prison. Woah.

Adi Gaskell
Adi Gaskell

I'm not sure there was much he could have done really.  His credibility was already shot to pieces so if he'd have ticked all the media boxes then he'd have been too well drilled and un-authentic, and if he was more 'natural' he looked nervous etc.

 

That said of course, given the fraud he's undertaken, the perjury and so on, it seems baffling as hell to me that he's been allowed to make this 'confession' on a chat show rather than in a police station.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @ginidietrich Perhaps because the man has gone astray so drastically and has never listened to any coaching (maybe his team coach?) but his own makes the perception we have about him raw.

 

I can't imagine how he was before he was trained. I get it, not looking into the camera; however, when he was hemming and hawing about bullying his "friends" and their families there was no remorse. I wanted something; anything.

 

For you, an ardent fan, to believe he's not sorry is exactly the impression he did give. Happy Birthday, Gin Blossom!!

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @SandyAppleyard I don't think we've ever seen an athlete, IMHO, who has accomplished so much for the sport of cycling and taken it down so far. What the sports reporters have said is that his star was due to being a cancer survivor.

 

He also has attested that he tried a comeback on the Tour de France with NO doping and placed third. That's still a feat, if  you ask me.

 

As for other sports; world wrestling?, they condone steroids, right? I mean how can guys get that huge and strong. Armstrong had to have help; yet, he's the one who's being taken down all the way.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @3HatsComm I am the best juror; always innocent until proven guilty. It took them long enough to find the proof; he had airtight alibis for seven years! It's astonishing, really.

 

Gini says he was media trained; can you imagine pre training? Good to know he at least had some smarts to allow a professional media trainer help him out. He probably would've got in front of Oprah and flipped everyone off.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @AmyMccTobin Apparently, the charges today are going to be pretty severe. Can you imagine not showing emotion much? I guess it was a big deal for him to tear up then when speaking about his son. This is such a shame; he's gonna be a pauper soon. I hope the kids have trusts established so no one can get to it. Thanks for coming over, Amy.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @Adi Gaskell The perjury is astonishing; don't people get convictions as a result of that? I guess when you look at his punishment, it's killing him not to compete which for him is almost like being imprisoned.

 

I was watching his face; it hardly ever wavered. There was no human emotion there!

SandyAppleyard
SandyAppleyard

 @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing I agree.  Personally, I think this is just another way the media is hyping things up.  They need to relax.  Nobody's perfect.  Sometimes people are pressured so bad they feel there's no other alternative.  Who knows what happened.  Besides, you can't take back the past.  What's done is done.  Move on.

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