Shonda Rhimes took primetime by storm when she launched Scandal and introduced the world to high-profiled crisis communicator, Olivia Pope. Pope’s character was not just a figment of Rhimes’ imagination. The character was actually based on Judy Smith, a prominent crisis communicator who has worked for the White House and assisted many companies and high profiled individuals through a crisis. During the 2017 national conference, PRSSA members had the honor of attending a workshop session hosted by Smith.
Smith began the session, by interrupting her introducer, she wanted to spare us the long list of her accomplishments. She immediately began to engage with the moderator and took it upon herself to moderate her own Q&A. Warm and friendly in her ways, Smith began to answer questions and provided the audience with great advice on how to succeed in the world of crisis communication.
What I found to be the most interesting is Smith sharing her story about deciding on becoming a crisis communicator. She shared how she didn’t find crisis communications, it found her. There were many things that happened over the course of her life that geared her towards the career she has today. It shows that her work was not about finding the job that paid the most but finding work that was meaningful to her.
Smith informed us how much the crisis communication scene has changed since she first began. Social media plays a huge part in this, with it only taking 20 seconds for news, bad or good, to spread over the internet. Whereas it takes companies almost 18 hours to craft a solid statement. Smith’s advice is that companies must plan in order to get ahead of situations like that and they must cut down the response time.
Judy Smith’s Top Skills to Strive in Crisis Communications
1. Know the Basics
– Know all you can about public relations and the basics of the industry. You can’t build a sturdy house with a weak foundation.
2. Can You Hold a Conversation?
–Smith affirmed us, that one of the most important skills in communications is the ability to hold a conversation. Often time it’s a skill that many people overlook, however, if you can’t speak to people you will not be able to do your job.
3. Good sense of Judgement
4. Use of Discretion
In addition to industry advice, Smith also provided insightful words with being a Black professional. She stated how we will always be judged for something but we can’t allow the things others say to throw us off of our game. She stressed the importance of using that energy to focus on our growth and work.