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Communicator of the Week: Team Sky

5th February 2013

Ask a British non-cycling fan to name a cyclist and they will, in all probability, name two: Bradley Wiggins and Lance Armstrong.

In two very different men Team Sky's problem is defined. The British professional cycling team, which includes – in Sir Bradley Wiggins - the first ever British rider to win the Tour de France, has a reputational challenge to deal with entirely not of their making. While Team Sky have set out to be whiter-than-white (critics claim holier than thou) through a zero-tolerance approach to doping, now or in the past, the sport is still over-shadowed and tainted by the actions of former stars. Not least the recent TV confession from Lance Armstrong of how he cheated to win a record seven Tour de France titles despite denying for years that very same thing.

Team Sky are a genuine sporting super team. Hugely successful they are the Barcelona of cycling. Sir Dave Brailsford, the team manager, has instilled in this team the same level of professionalism he brought to the British Olympic cycling squad yet still, in some people’s minds, there are doubts about their credibility.

They will not employ any rider or staff member who they know to have been involved in doping but when asked how he saw the team, veteran Sunday Times journalist David Walsh said: “Many believe you’re clean, many want to believe but aren’t sure, some don’t believe because you’ve been so successful in a sport they don’t trust. I fall into the category of wanting to believe but not being sure.”

When faced with such a stinging – brutally honest – assessment Team Sky’s reaction was first class: a commitment to even greater transparency by inviting Walsh to live with the team wherever and whenever he wants.

Walsh is arguably the most trust-worthy journalist in the world when it comes to cycling. A man who saw his reputation attacked by Lance Armstrong, his integrity questioned and his livelihood undermined through court cases against stories he had written which are now known to have been true. Now, this high-profile journalist has an open invitation to sleep in the doctor’s hotel room, interview any rider whenever he wants and essentially be a fly on the wall of the 2013 season. Warts, saddle sores and all.

It is a punchy, assertive piece of reputation management. There are risks involved; what if a Sky rider isn’t whiter-than-white? Sky has a large number of lucrative sponsorship deals and has developed a very successful brand. But that in itself is the inherent strength of Team Sky’s commitment to be the embodiment of their brand. In return they will get regular coverage in one of the UK’s biggest papers for the team and the sponsors, further credibility and secure a perfect third-party advocate.

Brailsford is confident in a way no cynical journalist such as David Walsh ever could be. When asked by David Walsh “Why are you offering this?” Brailsford replied, “Because we don’t have anything to hide and we want people to see that.” For this I make Team Sky my Communicators of the Week.

Written by Edward Staite, founder of Staite Communications

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