Principles will set you apart from the competition

“Being a brand with a set of values is going to be vital in 2013,” said Andrew Garrihy, corporate marketing director at Samsung at an event run by Marketing Week and YouGov last week. The message was echoed by another speaker, AMV BBDO’s Cilla Snowball, who quoted her client Sainsbury’s internal motto ‘our values make us different’.

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So in 2013, being ruthless is out and being a caring capitalist is in. It’s about time. Under 20 per cent of people globally believe business leaders can be trusted to make ethical and moral decisions, according to the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer.

But I’m not sure cyclist Lance Armstrong got the memo, based on his TV “confession” to US talk-show host Oprah Winfrey last week. His was a textbook example of how not to manage a crisis – the first rule of which is to be believable in saying sorry.

Tony Hayward, then boss of BP, also fumbled saying sorry after the company’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010, claiming the “environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest”. An enraging understatement.

Lance Armstrong took the latter route when he said: “I looked up the definition of cheat and it is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe that they don’t have. I didn’t view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.”

No Armstrong, you were not a renegade competitor overcoming a restrictive system, you did something wrong. At least say sorry properly. Even as he confessed to Winfrey that he had taken drugs to enhance his performance, he felt compelled to add, “I never tested positive”. Which implies to anyone listening: yes, I did it, but I still care that they didn’t catch me doing it. Again, not a sign of genuine remorse.

Second, don’t make it obvious you have another motive for apologising other than being sorry. Lance was quick to mention that he didn’t see his extensive doping crimes as any reason for not becoming a sportsman again, summing up: “I think I deserve it [to compete again].”

If I was Lance Armstrong’s reputation adviser, I’d be crying into my coffee. I think Nike is wrong to say it would “never say never” about re-signing him. Sportswear brands endorse athletes because it tells the world that the top talents choose their equipment to excel in. If someone excels because of doping, who cares what trainers they wear?

If 2013 is really the year for values, Armstrong and his brand will fade away. Meanwhile, those companies and individuals that are about more than making money at all costs will race to the top.

Have you excelled in the past 12 months and want everyone to know about it? Enter our Engage Awards before 29 January at marketingweekawards.co.uk.

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