Livestrong Bigger Than Armstrong

Lance Armstrong has had a rough year, to say the least. On Aug. 24, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and banned him for life from competitive cycling after they concluded that he used forbidden substances. Armstrong decided he wouldn’t challenge the USADA on their findings.

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When the USADA stripped Armsrong of his titles and barred him from competing, one would think that the company he founded, Livestrong, would suffer a decrease in donations. In reality, Livestrong donations increased dramatically within the 24-hour period after Armstrong’s announcement that he wouldn’t fight the USADA charges. The foundation received $78,000 in donations in that 24-hour period, compared to $3,200 that Livestrong collected the day before, according to Doug Ulman, chief executive of Livestrong. Sometimes the old saying “any press is good press” is the truth.

On Oct. 17, Armstrong stepped down as chairman of Livestrong. With donations up from previous years, some people might have wondered why he would leave the foundation he started. For PR practitioners, we recognize this as one move of many to execute a plan to distance Livestrong from himself before he would admit to doping in an interview with Oprah.

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Oprah’s interview with Armstrong aired on Jan. 17, exactly three months after he stepped away from Livestrong. People will still wear Livestrong gear to represent the fight against cancer, and the hope that one day there will be a cure. Many people, including myself, don’t care if the man who founded Livestrong used banned substances during his cycling career. Starting a foundation that has raised millions of dollars for cancer research should never be overlooked.

The PR practitioners who handled this situation did a good job. Livestrong is here to stay even without its founder. It was good to try and distance the two to avoid the occasion where a possible donor would second guess their gift because someone who admitted to doping was still involved.

According to the financial information page on the Livestrong website, it has raised more than $470 million since 1997, when Armstrong launched the foundation. Livestrong will continue to raise millions for the fight against cancer because now, more than ever, Livestrong is bigger than Armstrong.

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9 Responses to Livestrong Bigger Than Armstrong

  1. Josh Skalniak says:

    I am surprised to hear that Livestrong received an increase in donations after Armstrong announced he wouldn’t fight the USADA charges. You would think this situation would be a PR nightmare for the organization but it seems to be quite the opposite. Whoever is in charge of the crisis at Livestrong certainly knows what they are doing.

  2. Devon Shaw says:

    Great post! I agree that it was a smart PR move to have Lance Armstrong step down from Livestrong. It isn’t worth risking the foundation’s livelihood and well-being to keep Armstrong as chairman. I don’t think that his doping and drug use during his cycling career should affect people’s generosity towards Livestrong, but the fact that he is now stigmatized as a cheater would only harm the company in the long run if he stayed as chairman. Removing the founder from the company was a tough call, but distancing this scandal from Livestrong will definitely ensure the company’s stability and longevity.

  3. Daniel Rasmussen says:

    Great job, Chad! It’s very interesting that Livestrong actually made money out of this controversy; I’m sure many, like myself, would have thought the opposite. It’s great that the Livestrong foundation is temporarily experiencing a boost, but I hope that it continues in the long run. There is no question that Lance Armstrong has made some very poor PR decisions recently but it will be interesting to see if his foundation can survive with his new reputation.

  4. Michelle Rivas says:

    Although no one can argue that doping should be illegal and the anti-doping rules should still exist, I think the main issue to focus on is the fact that so many cyclists use performance enhancing drugs. I’d like to see him raise awareness of the issue and act as a catalyst for positive change in the cycling realm.

  5. Tessa Turnbow says:

    I think that the PR practitioners in this case, did a great job. It was a good idea to separate Armstrong from Livestrong because if Armstrong was still involved, it could bring a negative connotation to Livestrong. It is important to remember what Livestrong represents and the money it has raised for cancer research. With Armstrong still connected to the brand, the public could forget or overlook this and focus on the negativity surrounding Armstrong.

  6. Minda Elliott says:

    I completely agree with most of the things you said, Chad, especially the importance of the impact Armstrong has had on cancer research. The one question I have about this situation is how much the revenue dropped after it was announced that he had allegedly used illegal substances. Once he had passively admitted to the allegations by refusing to deny them, of course the donations would increase because people like the truth. But as far as the quote “any press is good press,” I think Amanda Bynes and Lindsay Lohan beg to differ. Armstrong and his PR practitioners made a good move by admitting to the truth and by having a transparent interview explaining everything from Lance’s point of view. Without the PR practitioners and Lance admitting the truth about the doping, Livestrong may have never been the same.

  7. Alexa Chrisbacher says:

    I agree with Michelle, from an athlete’s perspective. However, from a public relations outlook, the Armstrong camp handled this controversy gracefully. The strong reputation of Livestrong and their huge contributions to cancer research will allow the organization to stand on its own. Supporters seem to be backing the decision to distance the cycler from his charity by donating in the wake of the doping controversy, as opposed to withdrawing support. Clearly, the PR team and Lance alike, realized the breadth and importance of Livestrong and its cause, and they made a good decision to keep the drug scandal as a separate entity instead of using it as leverage to show how Armstrong is a good guy in spite of his doping. I’m interested to see if Sheryl Crow experiences backlash considering her involvement with Armstrong and his cycling career.

  8. Kelsey Pfeffer says:

    Interesting post! In Armstrong’s interview with Oprah, I noticed that he was not only admitting to doping, but also admitted to having a personality that was addicted to winning. As a PR person, it would be easy to promote his victories, but difficult for a personality like Armstrong to admit defeat, especially in the public eye. I thought it was interesting the way you connected how the PR practitioner dealt with Armstrong’s personal failure, and how they were able to create positive publicity for Livestrong.

  9. Morgan Theys says:

    I am still a supporter of the Livestrong campaign, even after Lance Armstrong’s confession to doping. Armstrong’s mishaps should not interfere with the focus of Livestrong, which is to fight cancer. In PR practice, it was an excellent idea to let the campaign continue to flourish even without its founder. Armstrong did not create Livestrong to make money; it was created to fight cancer and one day find a cure for a sickness that plagues so many.

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