Friday 18 January 2013

Abchat Weekly Wrap Up: The Questionable Case Study of PR Perfection

This week, Lance Armstrong gave a warts and all interview with Oprah Winfrey on US TV to admit to the World that he indeed used performance enhancing drugs to help bring home his seven Tour de France titles. The disgraced former champion’s admission of his guilt is the most recent, and the most momentous of all of the sporting confessions. Other famous sporting confessions include Olympic sprint cheats Ben Johnson and Britain’s very own, Dwain Chambers, former US track and field Olympic Champion, Marion Jones and of course, Lothario extraordinaire, Tiger Woods. All of these once great athletes have used different tactics in front of the camera admitting their guilt, and from a PR perspective it is very interesting.

During a televised statement, not dissimilar to that of a statesman or politician, Tiger Woods aggressively attacked his actions, of which there were many as if he was chastising himself for what he had done. Later on Tiger credited his serial infidelity to losing track of Buddhism; good answer Tiger! It is safe to say the former number 1 golfer in the World, has all but put his misdemeanours behind him and can get back to his day job of playing golf – but strangely enough he has not won a major title since the revelations about his over zealous libido.

Now the job to turn around Lance Armstrong’s reputation is going to be a lengthy, extremely difficult and potentially futile task – and whichever organistion or individual has this responsibility, good luck to you! In Lance’s first public appearance since the doping allegations fully came to fruition in August 2012, when he was given a lifetime ban by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, he finally admitted to cheating. There was no way of getting around it.

Lance’s PR advisers could not have picked a more perfect TV host to interview him, Oprah, whilst not a big celeb in the UK; in the United States is the nation’s surrogate mother! Oprah’s motherly and caring manner provided the perfect balance to Armstrong’s villainous demeanor. If any interviewer was going to extract any sympathy for Armstrong, it was going to be Oprah.

So his PR advisers picked the right journalist, now the next and possibly more crucial decision to make was what on earth is Lance going to say? Well, as Oprah commented post interview “he answered his questions in a way that he was ready.” Whatever he was going to say, in true crisis management style, Armstrong had been prepped and rehearsed well in advance by his PR team. His use of language was quite interesting to observe, most notably when he was talking about finally coming clean, he said “it is too late for probably most people, and that’s my fault” using an adverb like probably and a noun like most allow for that small minority of sympathisers. He also answered some questions with “I’m not sure if this is an acceptable answer”, almost portraying the victim, again perfect for the maternal Oprah.

Lance’s reference to his cancer was however a bit cheap, and whichever PR adviser told him to say that must have their brain tested. The reason Armstrong gave for taking performance enhancing drugs, and cheating was because whilst battling against cancer he developed a win at all costs mentality, and therefore why he was prepared to cheat in order to win. Now you can see the logic behind this decision, mainly because the one area he performs reasonably well in, in terms of public opinion, is the tremendous work he has done raising money and awareness for cancer. It was obviously a tactic to remind the public of the suffering he had to endure years ago, to remind the public of all the good work he has achieved for cancer awareness and to get some of them back on side. I however feel this will have a negative effect, as it is such blatant PR spin, the public and media are (and have not) going to buy it, and also it is potentially deeply offensive to any cancer sufferers and their families.

He has come clean and made the first step towards clearing his name, but of all the sporting super villains out there, Lance Armstrong is bad guy number one. His representatives and PR people are going to have to do a lot more and think a lot harder to win round the international press and people who feel personally let down by someone who only a year ago was a complete and utter hero.

Rio Tinto chief Tom Albanese quits following a £9bn writedown of its assets. The Company’s poor performance has been largely blamed on its disastrous purchase of Canada’s Alcan in 2007. Albanese is to be replaced by Sam Walse, head of Rio’s iron ore division – the biggest and most profitable of its businesses.

Facebook unveiled ‘Graph Search’, a new friends-based search engine, in an attempt to wean users away from Google and allow users to get information on Facebook. The tool marks the first major product launch since its questionable IPO last May, with Mark Zuckerberg claiming it will act as the site’s “third pillar” after Timeline and News Feed.

HMV and Blockbuster join Jessops in the retail casualty list of 2013 as they both collapsed into administration this week. To add more gloom to the equation, a report by Begbies Traynor has identified an additional 14 retailers on the “critical watchlist”.

However, on the contrary, Dixons, Primark and ASOS are bucking the retail trend, with Primark in particular adding a glimmer of hope to the future of the British high street. The three companies all celebrated festive success, with Asos reporting an impressive 41% rise in December sales.

Jaguar/ Landrover further bolstered its good newsflow and growth potential as they confirmed the creation of 800 new jobs at its plant in Solihull. The Company seems to be going from strength to strength, with 2012 marking record sales and an impressive 30% increase.

STOCKWATCH: James Moore of The Independent has analysed some of the recent trading statements, which in turn has left him speculating the nation’s pub companies. The shift of many Brits from posh restaurants to settling in at the local jaunt has translated into some solid performances across the sector. With both Spirit and Wetherspoon’s getting good mentions, Greene King is one to hold for people looking to invest, as it looks to be on a roll.

New year celebrations are continuing in Russia, and our Resources team joined in the festivities at law firm Norton Rose to mark the Russian Old New Year.

We hosted two excellent sector focused Market Lunches this week. One had an Environmental theme and the other was China, with guests who are specialists in those areas.

This weekend we will be taking a couple of Abchums to watch Chelsea play Arsenal. Lets hope the snow on the pitch has melted by then!

This week Richard Killingbeck has received formal FSA approval to take the reigns at WH Ireland. He is appointed CEO with immediate effect.

John Dean and Robert Morton have joined the industry specialist group at Espirito Santo Investment Bank. The analysts join from Jefferies International and Investec.

Smith and Williamson has appointed Harish Dass as an associate director in its London tax and business services division. Dass joins from Grant Thornton.

Law firm Bird and Bird has appointed Brett Hailey as a partner in the London office and international aviation sector group.

John Gilbert has joined Pinsent Masons as part of the natural resources team. He spent the last five years in the litigation group of the legal team at BP.

"Dawn Raid" – An investor or company instructs a broker to buy all the shares available in another company as soon as the stock market opens, usually before the company knows that it is the target. The aim is usually to acquire a significant stake in the company with the view to making a takeover bid.

If you’re a cycling enthusiast, or have had your interest spurred by Lance Armstrong’s admission this week, take a topical trip to The London Bike Show, January 17th – 20th at the ExCel London.

Shelter from the snow with a visit to the National Portrait Gallery to see the first official portrait of The Duchess of Cambridge, painted by Paul Emsley.

If you need your cockles warming, why not tackle the Man vs Food Hot Wing Challenge at The Elk Bar, Fulham: 30 wings covered in their specialty house sauce, red cabbage coleslaw, fries & blue cheese sauce and three shots of chilli infused El Jimador Tequila.

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