PR Fail Files: Ryan Lochte’s Good Morning America Interview
U.S. Olympic medallist and ultimate-bro Ryan Lochte has a catchline he blasts at every media opportunity post the Rio ‘robbery’ scandal: “I over-exaggerated.” This would be OK if you’re a five-year-old fibbing about the size of your Peppa Pig collection, but when you’re a 12-time Olympic gold medallist with an image to uphold, it only takes one “over-exaggeration” for you to be labelled a liar.. Forever… Across the world. And just like that, the plug is pulled on your career, and the pool water gurgles down the drain taking your millions in sponsorships with it. Bye bye, Ralph Lauren. So long, Speedo USA. Such was the case with Lochte after Rio authorities revealed that the swimming sensation’s initial recount of being “robbed” and “having a gun at his forehead” was false. During his Good Morning America interview in the weeks following, Lochte owned up to his blunder but also rapidly blamed journalists for reporting his “huge mistake” and turning it into “the worst weeks of his life.” Said Lochte; “I have a great team. They are dealing with it, all the legal issues. We’re just trying to get this over with. It’s been dragged out way [for] too long. The media has taken this to a whole new level. I want to put this behind me and move on and move forward, and I think the rest of the world wants that, too. There are other, bigger issues that this world is facing..” There’s a lot wrong with his interview – for example, blaming everything on the media is a great way to attract even further negative press – but the one standout way Lochte made this a PR disaster can be generally summed up in one way. He waited too long to say sorry. And I’m not just talking about the big picture timeline of events. In this interview, Lochte made sure to correct his version of events, made an effort to thank his team, fans and family, and discuss the negative impact of the events on both his teammates and Team USA. His semi-apology – “I’m taking full responsibility” – then came later. By this time, though, it’s too late in the discourse. Lochte’s apologies were also peppered with elements of self-defense. For example, Lochte wasn’t sorry for the incident, he was simply sorry for “not being more careful” in explaining the “traumatic” events. See the difference? Lochte has lost an estimated $1m in sponsorship agreements since the Rio incident, including been dropped from leading brands like Speedo USA and Ralph Lauren, that many hard-working, deserving athletes would jump hurdles for. His swimming career is over, but his recent drama is likely to fuel strong interest in his reality television switch when he appears on US ‘Dancing with the Stars’. In light of this, here’s a sentence that I never thought I’d find myself uttering: Can ‘Dancing with the Stars’ redeem Ryan Lochte? Here’s the crazy part… With the right PR strategy and media training, it actually could.