Strategy and perseverance were key to protecting the reputation of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in the face of a massive negative campaign from Lance Armstrong after the non-profit accused him of using performance-enhancing drugs in competition.
“Strategy was very important,” Annie Skinner of USADA told members of the Colorado School Public Relations Association. “When you can’t attack the truth, attack the people and process. Lance used all his connections — including 4 million social media followers– to attack us.” The attacks included “fake blog posts” from Armstrong allies and attempts to get federal funding cut from USADA.
Skinner gave these tips for surviving a red-hot media environment.
1. Prepare your strategy early. USADA decided to “take the high road” and keep the agency’s mission of clean competition at the core. Transparency was another important value.
2. Anticipate questions. The agency drafted 95 if-then statements in advance, “so your response can be in the first Reuters story,” Skinner noted.
3. Engage with your target audience in advance. USADA is building Twitter followers with athletes who want to be clean for direct communication in the future.
4. Use surrogates to speak on your behalf. People who know USADA and its mission spoke to the media on their behalf before they could release specifics.
5. Amplify your message. The agency retweeted stories from the New York Times to spread their message to a wider audience.
6. Consider technology needs. The USADA IT department knew they needed to increase bandwidth for the avalanche of hits their site would receive when the findings were released. USADA changed to a host that could handle the volume.
Preparation of messages, developing strategy and routing requests through the PR department are critical to successfully navigating crises. Gonder PR is a crisis communications firm in Denver that can help your organization develop and implement a plan.