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Friday, September 14, 2012

Lance Armstrong and the ethics of PR

Lately I've been spending more time than usual thinking about Lance Armstrong.

Picture from

I'm sure we all know the story by now - Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer, beat it, won seven Tour de Frances, started an insansly successful cancer charity, and was constantly accused of doping. He recently surrendered to the doping charges - without admitting he was guilty. He said he was tired of fighting and wanted to focus more on his family and his work with the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

A couple days ago in school, I did a presentation on Lance Armstrong from a public relations perspective. As a class, we discussed how well Armstrong had dealt with the controversies surrounding him. Under great pressure and with much evidence against him, he always came across as the bigger person. And with such a strong brand under his belt, it's not hard to see why.

The discussion veered towards ethics in PR. We wondered how we would act, if we were Lance's PR reps, if he were to admit to doping. Would our morals allow us to continue to represent a fraud? Or would we just keep doing it, because, well, that's our job?

It's a tough question. I'd like to think my morals would stand in the way of representing someone I disagree with, but it's hard to say. I've never been in that situation, and hopefully I never will.

I brought up the point that defense lawyers defend criminals everyday as part of their job. My instructor pointed out that lawyers are an entirely different profession - they have to take an oath before they can start practicing law. Public relations professionals strive to uphold a code of ethics, but really, you can practice PR if you want to.

There is currently no licensing in place for public relations pros. But should there be?

Edit: Ha! I just realised my PR instructor Melanie Lee Lockhart recently blogged about the same thing.


  1. Ha - thanks for the blog topic! :)

    Re defence lawyers: though they sometimes defend criminals (as they took an oath to do), they are nevertheless prohibited from knowingly allowing their clients/witnesses to perjure themselves (i.e. lie).

    1. Interesting. I've got some friends in law school so I'll have to pick their brains about this sometime soon.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Great article by Bruce Arthur of the National Post on Lance Armstrong:

    1. Interesting perspective. I like this line:

      "But so many will forgive him, and they won’t be wrong. Cancer has a way of making stuff like sports and lies and petty betrayals pretty insignificant."

      I think Armstrong has been largely successful in keeping his supporters on his side because he's been focusing more on his cancer foundation, rather than competitive racing, in recent years.

      Thanks for reading!