When the news about the USADA ban came out about Lance Armstrong, I posted this “Can Livestrong Live on” post. At the time I wondered if the brand could live on, in the wake of the scandal, and suggested yes it can.
In light of the 1,000 page novel that USADA released this week where they said that he was a “serial” cheat who led “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen”. It’s probably pertinent to re-visit the question and ask can the charity survive?
In short, I believe Yes they can. But…they need to do a few things:
- Distance themselves from Lance Armstrong. I am not suggesting they dump Armstrong, but they would be well advised to distance themselves from him. What do I mean? Well I wouldn’t use him for media events, don’t feature him on the site, get a new chairman. They cannot deny their foundations, and nor should they, but they now need to move on and be an organisation that is about cancer survivors and not Lance Armstrong Cancer Survivor
- Be clear on their mission. When you go on their site the What We Do statement is “We look at the experiences of the cancer community, find problems and develop solutions. Then we roll them out to help more people in more situations.”. I don’t actually know what this really means, it sounds like research, but Livestrong don’t do or fund research. So they need to really say who they are and what they do. To be fair their homepage does break down where they spend their money, but things like grants are vague (it sounds like research)
- Be squeaky clean: Livestrong.com is a for profit website that was sold by the charity. A lot of people (including me) end up here looking for information when there really is none. These kind of activities need to stop as the charity comes under scrutiny. Bill Gifford wrote this piece in Outside about the charity in January where he looks at how what they do and how they spend their money. In parts he focuses on a lot of the wrong things (CEO salary) but he does raise some interesting points. For the charity to survive now they need to be squeaky clean (and I am not suggesting they are not) as they come under increasing scrutiny
- Shore up their partners: Livestrong need to shore up their own corporate partners and ensure they are supporting the cause and not Lance Armstrong. So, for example, the Nike sponsorship is of Lance Armstrong and Livestrong. The foundation now need to make a distinction between the two and ensure that Nike, even if they decide to continue to support Lance, differentiate their support.
- Say something: So far Livestrong has said nothing. This cannot last. They are celebrating 15 years, so they need to focus on that, but they need to say something. While Armstrong says he is innocent, this will be a challenge for them, but with the best lawyers and comms people around, surely they can script something that says how disappointed they are but how focussed they are on cancer survivors. They need to talk to their advocates and get their support shored up too.
- Get new heroes: Lance is no longer a hero. So they need to re-align themselves with new heroes, new survivors. Ordinary people, like you and me (they do some of this already, but they need to do more)
- Dont go on a marketing blitz: I actually think a brand positioning piece, with a massive media spend, would be a bad move for them now, so I hope they hold off on the temptation
- Armstrong steps down: Ideally Armstrong should step down. If he truly wants his legacy to be his work in cancer, then he should move aside now and allow the organisation survive and grow without him.