Ryan Lochte Flunks Crisis Communications 101. Now What?
By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
Remember playing Clue when you were a kid and the crime was committed by Mr. Green in the Library with the lead pipe, Miss Scarlett in the Conservatory with the rope or . . .? You know how it goes.
In this case, Mr. Lochte did it in the media with his own words.
He probably robbed himself of millions in endorsements. He robbed himself of his good reputation as one of the world’s great swimmers who also has a lot of charisma. And he may have robbed himself of the opportunity to compete for a while — taking away some of his remaining opportunities to compete and earn money through endorsements.
And so far he’s done a lousy job of repairing the damage. Where’s his public relations support? He needs a crash course in Crisis Communications 101.
Nothing Lochte does at this point will undo all the damage. But here are some things he can do that would help:
- Lochte used his celebrity to deliver a highly visible insult to Brazilians. He also drew attention to an already sensitive issue in Brazil — street crime against visitors. Lochte needs to offer a sincere, unequivocal apology to the people of Brazil. Not one of those non-apology apologies. But a real apology: “I insulted you and your nation. I was wrong. I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again.” And then he should make a meaningful contribution to an important cause (in the eyes of Brazilians) that will benefit Brazilians.
- The negative publicity also delivered a black eye to the Olympics. Lochte needs to apologize to both the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee. They’re downplaying the incident in public to minimize damage to their own reputations. But the U.S. committee felt compelled to issue an apology on behalf of Lochte and his fellow swimmers. And despite their public stance downplaying the incident, Olympics officials don’t take insults or embarrassments lightly. They’re likely to exact retribution. Lochte needs to show sincere contrition and humility during whatever disciplinary review IOC and USOC do. And he needs to convince them he’ll never embarrass them again. They may still suspend him for a while or punish him in some other way. But this is his best chance to minimize the damage to his ability to compete.
- He needs to apologize to the American people. Lochte’s escapade hurt Brazil and Olympics officials. It also damaged his image here at home. That will reduce his ability to earn money from endorsements. Restoring his reputation with the American public is essential to restoring the value of his endorsements. His earning power depends on it.
Lochte has come across during this incident as an arrogant product of a privileged life. He’ll have change that image if he wants to restore his reputation and earning power.
We all mess up sometimes. The next time you mess up, don’t be a Ryan Lochte.
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Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.