At the Hem of a Gladiator
Is there something better than Olivia Pope? You bet. I had the privilege last week to attend LinkedIn's CommsConnect in New York, where one of the guest speakers was Judy Smith, founder and president of Smith & Co., a crisis-management firm well known inside the Beltway. But, Smith is more popularly known as the inspiration for Olivia Pope of TV's Scandal. One half of me wanted to know whether Ms. Smith—like her counterpart Olivia on the show—also drank red wine, what kind of relationship she had with her parents or whether she was ever in love with any of her many presidential clients. (She made it clear that last one was a "no.") Not one of the senior communication executives in the audience asked any one of those questions. Instead, we heard several bits of wisdom that can make all PR professionals more like a gladiator—the show's term for hard-core crisis fixers—than mere message developers.
- Build a plan: You have 75 percent of a recovery from a crisis if a plan is already in place (or my twist: plans are useful but planning is essential)
- Think ahead: Always 10 steps in front of the problem; determine how will any likely response/action play out ... way out
- Leverage allies: Use third parties to deliver the message when appropriate to keep your client out of the news cycle
- Level set: Measure your base of awareness with your audience now on social media so you can gauge during a crisis how severe the damage
- Don't backpedal: Never retract; make sure the first statement is on the money (or at least what you want to say) the first time around; and
- Perhaps most important and one I found most interesting: Facts can't override emotion; meet people where they are emotionally and look for the right time to hit them with the facts.
Now, go out and gladiate!