Ryan Lochte: An Example in Crisis Communications

November 17, 2016 / Uncategorized /

Matt Hazlett, Getty Images

What has happened to Olympic gold medalist, Ryan Lochte? After falsely claiming he was robbed at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro and flooding our news networks, he seems to have disappeared from our radars.

Following the incident in August, Lochte has had numerous setbacks. He was suspended by USA Swimming for 10 months, lost all four of his sponsorship deals, including one with Speedo, and was charged by protesters on Dancing With the Stars. One of his better moves was hiring Matthew Hiltzik, a crisis public relations executive who’s represented celebrities such as Justin Bieber.

So how has Hiltzik helped Lochte with his credibility?



Soon after retaining Hiltzik, Lochte did two back-to-back interviews. In one interview conducted by Matt Lauer, he apologized to the American people. The other interview, by a Brazilian network, was an apology to the community of Rio. It would have been ideal if Lochte had apologized prior to the interviews so he could’ve focused the interviews to rebuild trust with the public. However, since he avoided coming clean for a week, he had to make a grand gesture of apology.



After apologizing, Lochte needed to convey to the public that this was a one-time lapse in judgment. Hiltzik had him show that this isn’t who he is. His strategy appears to be this: This isn’t a character flaw issue; this was a mistake and he’s learned from it.

According to USA Today, Lochte said, “Everything happens for a reason and maybe that (Rio incident) was a blessing in disguise. Maybe this was God’s way of teaching me a lesson.’’

Soon after the controversy, Lochte agreed to join the cast of Dancing With the Stars. This gave Lochte the chance to get his name out in the media in a positive way. Interviews with his dancing partner portrayed him as humble and a changed man.

In the same interview with USA Today, his dancing partner Burke commented on Lochte’s involvement on the show. “I feel like it’s such an accomplishment, what he’s doing,” she said. “He is changing and he’s becoming a better man and I can see that.”


Eric McCandless/ABC, Getty Images

Now three months after the incident, Lochte’s biggest new stories include his recent engagement to model, Kayla Rae Reid and departure from Dancing With the Stars. In late October he left the show on good terms, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.

Lochte appears to be on the upswing after his Rio debacle. His first ad campaign since the incident was released earlier this week with Pine Bros.

Pine Bros. CEO Rider McDowell said, “Not to forgive Ryan, it was a stupid move, but I’ve done lots of stupid things in my life and I turned out OK. When the sponsors backed off, I thought it was quite cowardly. Shortly after [the incident, Ralph Lauren] Polo dropped off, then Speedo, then these companies you have never heard of, I thought: That’s just kind of gross.”

It appears that Hiltzik’s strategy is working. In a few months, the public will look back and remember Ryan Lochte’s mistake in Rio as just that: a mistake. PR professionals on the other hand will look back on this as a lesson in crisis communications done right.

Like Hiltzik, Meridan Group knows that when a crisis happens, you need to have an offensive approach to the situation. Whether you’re a public figure, local business group, or a internationally-known company, our experienced team is ready to strategically tackle any crisis you have.

This blog post was written by Jennifer Morasco, public relations intern at Meridian Group.




About the author

Sarah Taylor:

As a Public Relations Specialist, Sarah utilizes her passion and positive attitude as she generates media coverage for clients. Before joining the team at Meridian Group, Sarah gained experience in community relations, marketing and event planning through positions at the Norfolk Tides Baseball Club and the United States Collegiate Athletic Association. Sarah graduated from Old Dominion University with a Master’s in Education with a concentration in Sport Management. In her spare time, Sarah enjoys attending as many country concerts as possible, cheering on the ODU Monarchs and hanging with her golden retriever, Chief.