Let’s face the music and dance

August 26, 2016

In the week that Strictly Come Dancing unveiled this year’s line-up of celebrities, it was actually another pair of public figures who were being asked to face the music.
Both swimmer Ryan Lochte in the United States and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the UK were asked to front up to claims they had made which, to put it mildly, didn’t quite stand up to scrutiny.
While the stories were dramatically different, Lochte claiming he had been robbed at gunpoint while Corbyn posted a video of him having to sit on the floor of a ‘ram packed’ Virgin train, the difference in their responses to being caught out is the more interesting comparison.
Ryan Lochte, realising that his number was up, came clean this week in an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer about his claim. Although he didn’t go so far as to admit that he’d lied, he expressed regret for having “over-exaggerated” his story, described his actions as a “stupid mistake” as a result of “immature, intoxicated behaviour”, and apologised to the Brazilian nation for the tarnish his claim had put on the games.
Jeremy Corbyn however took an altogether different approach. When Richard Branson’s team released footage of the Labour leader walking past carriages of empty seats in order to be filmed sitting in a vestibule of a ‘ram packed’ train (and claim he also suffers as commuters do), rather than apologising, Corbyn’s response has been to lash out in defiance.
Responses have so far ranged from making excuses, getting angry with a journalist who tried to raise the issue at a press conference, accusing Richard Branson of being trivial and even calling Branson a “tax exile” on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Instinct may tell us that when your back is against the wall attack may be the best form of defence, but is name-calling and trivialising the matter a helpful response?
Reputationally, when caught out in a falsehood, history has shown us time and time again that acknowledging the truth with contrition, humility and remorse goes a long way in limiting the lasting damage that can be caused.
Coming clean is often a very uneasy process; Share prices may dip, stakeholders may be unhappy and clients and customers may trust you less in the short term. This being said, addressing an issue with a measured response and taking responsibility stands an individual or company in much better stead when it comes to long term reputational and brand value.
With his leadership seemingly being brought into question seemingly every day, it may be months or even years before Corbyn is able to shed the stigma of ‘traingate’.
By comparison, Lochte has lost some of his key sponsorships but his reputation can’t have been completely damaged beyond repair. Rumours are he’s signed up to this year’s Dancing with the Stars.