What can the Tour de France teach us about public relations?

Can we take lessons from arguably the world’s toughest sporting event and apply them to communications?

Chris Froome took his second Tour de France title on Sunday, sailing down the Champs Elysee in the yellow jersey he’d held for nearly three weeks. Froome had an incredible race, cementing his position as one of cycling’s greats. At times, however, his calm demeanour seemed close to cracking under accusations of doping from across the cycling and media universe.

Professional cycling is piecing its reputation back together following the Lance Armstrong debacle, which saw the seven times Tour winner stripped of his titles and revealed as an all-round bad guy following evidence of systematic doping and harassment of everyone who stood in his way. Where cycling goes now is a bigger issue, but the way Team Sky responded to Froome’s critics is a move in the right direction, and an interesting lesson in reputation management.

So, what happened? As Froome gradually extended his lead, cycling fans resorted to ingenious ways of communicating their distrust and the media called for Froome’s race data, held by Sky, to be analysed by impartial physiologists. Rather than battening down the hatches and cutting themselves off from the media circus that clings to the Tour as it as zips across France, Sky coach Dave Brailsford said okay.

Taking the initiative, he released Froome’s race data to the experts, who verified he was riding without performance enhancers, proving to the doubters that Froome isn’t a drugs cheat but a truly phenomenal athlete, and putting Brailsford’s Team Sky at the forefront of the battle against doping.

Can we take lessons from arguably the world’s toughest sporting event and apply them to communications? How can organisations use communications single-mindedly to drive success?

  • Develop a compelling narrative and engage in dialogue with your audiences. Team Sky nurtured an ‘underdog’ reputation, which helped them to build a loyal fan-base that leapt to Froome’s defence  when required.
  • Use data to support your point of view. Independent analysis, combined with stories told on by third parties, builds credibility.
  • Find the right partners to help drive transformational change. Brailsford called on other teams to join Team Sky and start a movement to change the sport for good. Partnerships can be incredibly powerful – this is as true for cycling as it is for improving animal welfare across your supply chain, or developing market-based solutions to the sanitation crisis.

 

Photo credit: Jaguar MENA