“There’s always an opportunity with crisis.”
Real life crisis manager Judy Smith, the inspiration for Scandal’s fictional Olivia Pope, hits the nail on the head with her “glass half full” approach to managing life’s tricky situations.
Friends and family ask me how Scandal could possibly remain one of my guilty pleasures given my own role in managing crises for our clients. They ask, “Don’t you have enough of that kind of stress in your professional life?”
Maybe it’s the pleasure I take in watching the fast and effective delivery of this “fixer’s” reply to the media or her staccato sentences that say enough – and not a word more. It’s the fierce devotion she has for protecting and defending the public images of her clients that I tune in to watch, week after week.
Balancing character traits.
In her book, Good Self, Bad Self: Transforming Your Worst Qualities Into Your Biggest Assets, Ms. Smith outlines the seven shared character traits that, when unbalanced, will likely lead to trouble: ego, denial, fear, ambition, accommodation, patience and indulgence.
These character traits are not foreign to the plot points of Scandal. Crisis manager Pope squelches political gossip that’s fueled by power, money, sex and/or cronyism. Many of the characters that utilize Pope’s services enjoy their “golden child” status, let arrogance reign – and then express shock at having to face the consequences of their actions.
Whether the scandal is on the scale of global business or of a more personal nature, based on truth or rumor, it hardly matters: Today’s uber-connected world necessitates a command of the keys to effective crisis management. They include:
Be forthcoming with the facts. Admit to what you don’t know, and own up to what you do know. Honesty is the best policy.
Reassure. Focus on your stakeholders and address their concerns methodically. The ways in which you have tried to prevent the crisis needs to take a backseat to addressing the public’s concerns.
Parse your message. You need to take a strategic approach to a crisis’ unique components. For example, the interests of your shareholders are different than those of the general public; a legal component means you need to synch with the company’s legal objectives, etc.
Resist absolutes. Avoid using words such as always, never, least, most, etc. Don’t let goodwill trump reality: only say publicly what you can defend factually.
Recruit. Prior to a crisis, create a list of independent, third-party allies who you know will be sympathetic to your company. This list of advocates, combined with a commitment to brand building as a matter of course, will give you much-needed peace of mind should crisis strike.
With the right crisis management team and plan in place, more companies and professionals can find the silver lining of any predicament. After all, giving key stakeholders confidence in what life looks like post-crisis is critical, but knowing that you’ve got a team in place that is ready to roll should a calamity occur, is equally important.