Ryan Lochte: A PR crisis case study

By: Abby Cousineau



Source: Abcnews.com

Ryan Lochte sets an example of what not to do in a crisis situation.

This past summer was filled with ‘hot’ topics to talk about, between Taylor Swift and Kanye West’s social media drama, the presidential election, the release of “Suicide Squad” and the Summer Olympics in Rio, my Facebook feed barely had space for any other updates.

Celebrity news is certainly hard to ignore, but hey, who doesn’t secretly indulge in pop culture drama? Since I’m a PR student, I actually love reading about the latest celebrity crises, my current favorite being U.S. Olympic Swimmer Ryan Lochte’s “over-exaggeration” of a robbery that occurred in Rio.

Anyone who has kept up with the news or with social media this summer has probably heard about Ryan Lochte and what went down in Rio. From a PR student’s perspective, I think this case really shows the importance of media training when dealing with a crisis.

Ryan Lochte found himself in a media firestorm when he decided to lie about a robbery that took place at a Rio gas station. Upon the swimmer’s return to the states, he almost immediately ended up on talk shows like ABC’s “Good Morning America” discussing the false claims and apologizing to his fans. Unfortunately, his public “apologies” didn’t make the situation any better because he came off as insincere.

One of the guiding rules of crisis relations, especially when trying to win back the trust and support of the public, is to be sincere. PR News ran a story titled “Ryan Lochte and the 3 F’s of Crisis Communications” in which they interviewed Gene Grabowski, a Partner at Kglobal. Grabowski stated that “the key to any successful apology is to show that you won’t make the same mistake.” Although Lochte did apologize in his interview with GMA, he did not succeed in making people feel like he really was sorry for his actions. Instead, “the highly decorated swimmer continues to ignore what Grabowski and other PR pros call the three F’s of crisis communications: you foul up, you fess up and then you fix up.”

Lochte has stated multiple times that he just wants to put the whole thing behind him and move on. He has attempted to do so by advertising his new role on the popular TV show “Dancing with the Stars.” But just leaving the Rio situation unsettled is definitely not the best thing to do.

Mark Renfree at PRNewsonline.com really said it best when he wrote, “In this day and age the public expects mistakes, but it also expects people and companies to own their crises and show that they can move forward. By ignoring the latter two F’s of crisis communications, Lochte continues to make audiences suspicious of everything he says.”

Do you think Ryan Lochte’s apologies were sincere? Did he “own up” to his crisis?

Abby Cousineau is a junior at EMU majoring in public relations and minoring in graphic design and marketing. Abby is currently serving her first year on EMU PRSSA E-board as Social Media Director. She was drawn to social media because it allows her to merge her passions of writing and design. You can usually find her outside any time the weather is nice, or exploring the Ann Arbor restaurant scene. Connect with Abby on Instagram @abcattt.


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