Judy Smith is the real-life Olivia Pope. Her life and career in crisis management inspired the making of ABC’s hit TV show “Scandal.” And Judy’s real-life clients include some of the most famous celebs, politicians, and Fortune 500 companies in the world. This week, she sat down with us to talk about how she tells it like it is. Even to some of the world’s most powerful people.
Carly: I want to go from how you clearly had a knack for taking a step back, seeing what people were disagreeing about and how to find the solution…. At what point did you realize this was a marketable skill?
Judy: Well, you know, I didn't realize it, right? I didn't choose this career. It chose me. And so I think the skill set, I will say...that has been helpful is the ability to give sound advice in a very straightforward way. The ability to not have fear about it. I think oftentimes advisors don't really perhaps do straight talk.
…. I think growing up without a lot and, you know, parents really talking about that you treat everybody with decency and respect...because of that, I feel very comfortable...telling a CEO that, "That is absolutely wrong, that makes no sense.”
Danielle: How do you define crisis comms? And what constitutes a crisis?
Judy: I think a crisis can be, on a company side and probably on the personal side, you want to look at it as: does it really affect your core brand? The other thing I think that you really have to weigh, given where we are, is how do you respond to that and if you respond, right?
Sometimes you don't really need to respond to things that are going on around you, if it's on social media or something like that. So I think you have to weigh it, right? And then determine does it impact your brand in a very real and meaningful way?
.... One of the things that you always want to think about...is...the landscape. What's the backdrop of the problem? And so if you don't have a really clear understanding of that, your advice will be off. And so [you need to be] able to make sure you understand culture, make sure you have a good sense of the… various stakeholders, and you have to stay in tune with things.
Judy: The thing that has been important for me in all of the career things that I have done is being able to take risks and stepping out of zones that make you feel comfortable and safe. There was nothing safe about doing a television show. There was nothing safe about going to the Iran-Contra investigation. It was my first job out of law school. What the heck [did] I know about that, right? And just having faith and confidence in yourself and the ability that you could do it. What is the worst thing that [could happen]? That it won't work out so well? Okay, but so what? You walk away with that experience.
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The actor thought “it meant [she] couldn’t act.”