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Lance Armstrong and The Power of Reputation
By: Kimberly Shrack
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I go to spin classes and own clipless pedals, so I feel I am qualified to call myself an expert on cycling. And I was as bummed as anyone when I saw the news on Friday that the USADA was stripping Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles on charges that he used performance-enhancing drugs. Since that announcement, I think we have all seen our fill of phrases like “fall from grace,” “fallen hero,” “disgraced,” or other similarly uninspired combinations of the words “fall” and “grace.” But unlike most falls from grace (See? Even I can’t help myself...), Lance’s landing will be extra cushy. More like a tuck n’ roll into memory foam mattresses and sunshine than a half pike into the pavement. And it’s all because of one very important thing: reputation.
 
In PR, one of the things we stress to our clients is the importance of building and maintaining a positive reputation. You need to be a good community steward, donating not just money, but time. You need to be open and honest, being very frank and transparent with your publics. You need to have an amazing product or service, providing the best quality every time and taking action when it’s not. And this has to be done not because you think it will get you something in return, like a purchase or reward, but because it’s the right thing to do. That’s building and managing a reputation, and it ain’t easy to do.
 
So what’s the payoff? Well, you’re looking at it. In general, the better and stronger your reputation, the better you’ll fare in a crisis. If, up to the point of the crisis, you have been credible, trustworthy, and built up a nice reserve of goodwill, people are more likely to take your side of the situation — or at least hear you out. That’s exactly what’s happening with Lance Armstrong.
 
Don’t believe me? Believe this: as of print time, not one of his sponsors has backed out. Not Nike. Not Anheuser-Busch. Not Oakley. Not nobody. And that’s certainly not because they are trying to be nice. It’s because they know Lance’s reputation extended far beyond his athletic prowess. If he did dope (which, for the record, he has not and likely will not admit to), it doesn’t take away from the fact that he has poured millions of dollars and hours into serving cancer survivors through his Livestrong Foundation. That’s a pretty big reserve of goodwill. In fact, after the announcement that Armstrong had been officially stripped of his titles, the Livestrong Foundation saw a 30% spike in donations. Trust me that didn’t happen to Tiger Woods’ foundation after Elin came after him with a nine iron.
 
And while I really, really hope the doping charges aren’t true, in terms of Armstrong’s legacy, it hardly matters. And while cycling enthusiasts the world over might be smashing their computer screens reading this, they can’t deny the fact that there are likely far less of them than there are people affected by cancer. And to those people affected by this disease, Lance will always be valued much more for his yellow than his gold. And that’s good news for everyone. 


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About the Author
Kimberly Shrack is a PR pro based in Philadelphia, specializing in writing and content development. She has worked in communication for a variety of industries including technology, travel, art, and healthcare. Follow her on Twitter at @kjshrack.
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