White Hats On! Navigating Crisis Communications [National Conference Recap]

Courtesy of JaCey Yonke, Vice President of Digital Communication

Session: Mitigating and Gladiating: Crisis Management

Presenter: Judy Smith, Founder and President of Smith & Company

Recap: Olivia Pope, the main character of the hit television drama Scandal, is an inspiration to countless aspiring public relations professionals. In the moments when we must handle crises, many of us do as Olivia and her team at Pope & Associates do—we put on our white hats and we “handle it.” Olivia’s character was inspired by real-life crisis communicator, Judy Smith. Smith is best known for her crisis management advising skills and has been called upon by a wide range of clients—from Monica Lewinsky to Michael Vick—to “handle” some of the most formidable crises in recent American history.

Smith spoke to PRSSA members about how she turned her passion for helping others, whether individuals or organizations, into a career. She said that as a seven-year-old, she broke up a fight that erupted from a dodgeball game that she had no skin in and that as an eleven-year-old, she rallied her friends to help fight to keep their neighborhood playground open. Smith said that these instances were proof that she hadn’t chosen the field of crisis management but that it chose her. She offered students in attendance words of wisdom for not only breaking into the field of crisis communication but staying true to yourself and your passions in the process.

Takeaways:

  • You have to figure out what you really like and what you are good at.”
  • “Bad news travels fast.”
  • “When you are in a crisis, you are not going to make friends”
  • “Money is important but don’t let that be the only reason you take a job.”
  • “Facts are facts. They don’t change.”

Maura Fenske is a senior public relations major with a journalism minor. She serves as the Chapter president for the Waynesburg University Public Relations Student Society of America Chapter and as an account executive for Waynesburg’s nationally affiliated Student-run Firm Red Brick Communications. She also serves as the copy editor for FORUM and has written for Waynesburg University’s award-winning student newspaper “The Yellow Jacket.” Maura hopes to combine her passion for public relations, writing and sports in her future career and plans to someday own a golden retriever named Rooney. Follow her on Twitter at @maurafenske and visit her LinkedIn.

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