Rae Bazzarre has weathered a PR storm that would have tested the best in the industry. As director of communications and external affairs at Livestrong, she found herself in a difficult position when the organization’s founder Lance Armstrong’s once-fêted career crashed amid a global scandal. She drew on more than 15 years’ experience in media relations and public affairs to steer the cancer charity through the toughest of times, including Armstrong’s wellchronicled interview with Oprah Winfrey in which he admitted using performanceenhancing drugs.
As the charity was reluctantly pulled into coverage of the scandal, Bazzarre led a rapid response operation to field hundreds of media inquiries from around the world as Armstrong resigned ties with the group. And with a mere six days notice leading up to Armstrong’s confession with Winfrey, she worked around the clock to devise a communications plan to reassure patients who relied on the foundation’s services and reinforce the message that Livestrong had been misled along with the rest of the world.
Perhaps her biggest challenge, though, was to ensure the charity was able to carry on after the highly publicized separation from its famous founder and stay in the spotlight for all the right reasons. Bazzarre brought in disciplined policies that helped cement that separation in the minds of reporters and the public, including a mandate that there be no more comments on any aspect of Armstrong’s personal or professional life. This helped generate positive media attention that brought the voices of cancer patients to the fore.
Thanks in no small part to Bazzarre, the foundation has survived and remains one of the world’s most highly regarded cancer charities, explains Katherine McLane, VP of communications and external affairs at Livestrong.
"Few communications professionals face global scandals of this scope," she adds. "Fewer still are able to say they handled the firestorm with Rae’s wisdom, efficiency, strength, and devotion."