By Susan Venables

I did sit and contemplate what to write about this week, not because I had no subject matter, but because there are a number of topics I would like to consider.

With several ideas running around in my head – one on the issue of business location and its increasing lack of relevance in our technology driven world, another on reaction to Jeremy Hunt’s bold and ambitious announcement that the NHS should be paperless by 2018 – there was really only one that stood out which I felt compelled to comment upon. Not because the others are not important, as more can come on these later, but because it’s a story that has captured the world’s attention, the story of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, a man that has lied, misled and cheated for over a decade – so where have you been if you missed it?!

I picked this for a number of reasons, some personal but others around the significance of his confession, not just for the sporting world, but also the questions it potentially raises around those we are asked to trust and respect, such as other sports players, business leaders, politicians and even healthcare providers. Plus this was one of the best staged PR exercises I have seen for a while – however, one I am hopeful that people will see through the insincerity of.

After years of defiant rejections of his critics, whom he often accused as being “moral inferiors”, recovery from cancer, seven now-discredited Tour de France victories and a position in the heart of ‘the most sophisticated and professionalised doping programmes sport has ever seen”, Lance Armstrong was given the opportunity to seek redemption on the Oprah Winfrey show last week.

Astounding I thought, considering the allegations against him, surely he should have been sitting in a court of law testifying under oath, due to the scale of his deceit and fraudulent activities, rather than sitting on a comfy sofa with Oprah!

However I felt compelled to watch, I think really out of curiosity and my own sense of personal disappointment having, in the past, been inspired and motivated by his determination and achievements.

As a dedicated sports player myself I remember, after a serious leg injury, feeling despondent and fearing the worst, my GP gave me a copy of Armstrong’s book ‘It’s not about the bike’. This gave me the inspiration I needed and adulation for a man whom I now think has not only let me down but the millions of others he also inspired. Maybe I was naive and a bit of a fool to believe and defend him when he was constantly accused of cheating in the past. But it does come down to ‘trust’, which is now apparent he blatantly abused!

My other disappointment and concern is that a dishonest, deceitful individual can once again legitimately use the power of the media for their own end gain and benefit. This whole process for Armstrong has been based on concession rather than confession to fit his own agenda, that is damage limitation and a rapid return to sport. He has also picked his moment well as he allowed his critics to have their say and left enough elapsed time since the US Anti-Doping Agency’s reasoned decision was announced, so as to make the details a little hazy in some people’s minds.

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Quite clearly his performance was not about warding off retribution, as he is wise enough to know that the Sunday Times, the US Department of Justice or others will pursue him, but what can be shifted is public perception in the event of retribution. He presented himself as a victim of his time, he had no choice because “the others were all doing it” and so was “brought down by a multifaceted conspiracy”. Surely this is a clear case of complicity not conspiracy!

In my view his apparent objective was to not only start the process of repairing his image and preparing the ground for his rehabilitation, but primarily to get his lifetime ban reduced so that he can participate in triathlons, running events and mountain bike races, rather than return to road. He showed no remorse, made no apology to the people he bullied or challenged his honesty and those that believed in him.

So, of this whole episode what really does disturb me is that this PR exercise has been permitted; particularly now it is clear he has abused the media machine in the past, when he stood in front of microphones and cameras lying and deceiving and using it to his own advantage to manipulate and control.

These staged confessions must no longer be allowed, especially when there are such wider legal implications and clearly others involved, be it the teams he was part of, the sponsors, the doctors or even the official organisations set up to monitor and protect against doping. In my mind this is fraud and deceit on the most extreme scale, so Armstrong’s voice should only be heard in a court of law under oath – revealing the names and organisations involved so they can all be punished accordingly – not on our TV screens where he can obtain such global public exposure and opportunity to work towards his own end game.

And what this also makes me think about are all those honorable qualities such as honesty, truth, respect, trust, transparency and individual privacy, without which our societies could not function. These must remain as the core principles for all those areas that affect our lives such as businesses, financial organisations, the world of sport, governments, public services and healthcare.

So to protect these values, don’t give liars and cheats air time!!

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Susan Venables

Susan Venables

Founder and Client Services Director
Susan takes a fresh approach to marketing and public relations. She established Highland Marketing in 2002 after a long career working with well-known agencies and clients ranging from SMEs to multi-nationals. During the past 20 years she has helped many companies within the technology and healthcare IT sectors to raise brand awareness and reach new potential customers. Susan is respected by clients, getting them and their services noticed when and where it matters, and by the media where she has many long-standing contacts.

“Effective marketing and communications demands a lot of passion, commitment and experience, and that's exactly what we provide for clients. Right from the start I match them with a team of people who each have at least ten years' experience, and who often know what it's like to run their own business. That mixture of maturity and determination is very potent. Clients really notice the difference, especially those who have previously worked with agencies that send in their top people to win an account then hand the actual work to inexperienced junior staff.”
A little about Susan:
  • Champion athlete - During her first year at Durham University she thought she would have a go at rowing. By the third year she was winning national competitions and was later part of the GB women's lightweight rowing squad.
  • Dog lover - Susan developed a love of dogs when she was a little girl in the Warwickshire market town of Southam when the family's pet used to protect her pram. These days she has a black Labrador, a golden retriever and a young Samoyed to exercise.
  • No second best - As a child she always had a rebellious streak combined with a determination to excel, especially at sports like hockey, athletics and netball. Those traits carried over into adult life where she found her niche establishing and building her own business rather than following a corporate career path.

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