When big things happen, they sometimes go relatively unnoticed. Such is the case with a tweet sent by cycling legend Lance Armstrong in May of this past year. The whole incident was recounted by Ragan’s PR Daily newsletter as #7 on the list of best PR stories of the last year (which inspired me to write this post).
Of course, the story itself was huge. Three ex-teammates of Armstrong provided sworn testimony to a federal grand jury that they witnessed the seven-time Tour de France champion taking performance-enhancing drugs. CBS conducted a “six month 60 Minutes investigation.” According to the article in PR Daily, Armstrong granted no interviews in response to the breaking story.
So, how did Armstrong decide to deal with the explosive situation? Just before the show aired, he posted the following succinct tweet:
“20+ year career. 500 drug controls worldwide, in and out of competition. Never a failed test. I rest my case.”
I’d like to pause now and ponder the significance of this tweet.
60 Minutes has run on CBS since 1968. It was ranked #6 on TV Guide’s Greatest TV Shows of All Time.
Gil Rudawsky of GroundFloor Media in Denver writes in the article that the refusal to appear “robbed 60 Minutes of the drama of two former teammates squaring off on national television—a near-certain ratings booster for a network that has been struggling to retain an audience. And it effectively took the steam out of the much-touted interview with onetime Armstrong teammate Tyler Hamilton.”
But a professional athlete, facing one of the biggest reputational crises of his career, had instant access to an audience of 2.9 million via Twitter.
Keeping it simple
140 characters. Rudawsky writes that the tweet was retweeted thousands of times. The media had no choice but to quote the tweet verbatim.
Filters off, direct to the audience
This type of mass communication was once the realm of only large media conglomerates. All that has changed. For better or worse.
Canadian Moment: By the way, did you know that 60 Minutes was inspired by a Canadian news program which ran from 1964 to 1966 called “This Hour Has Seven Days?” (a show discussed frequently in my old j-school days at Carleton University!) But, I digress.