ABC’s popular hit Scandal is inspired by real-life crisis management expert Judy Smith. Played by Kerry Washington, fixer Olivia Pope helps her clients – mainly government employees and politicians – avoid scandal, manage the media, and rebuild their reputations. Olivia Pope has a few lessons to help crisis management professionals and business owners handle a crisis before, during and after it rears its head.
5 Crisis Communications Tips from Scandal
1. Be prepared. An unforeseen crisis can happen at anytime, and to anyone. Crisis communication professionals anticipate a crisis before it even happens: even if they don’t know what crisis will occur. Denial is not your friend: the first step to address your communications crisis is to admit there is a crisis; ignoring it will not make the crisis go away. Evaluating your situation, planning, researching, and rehearsing a “mock crisis situation” are great ways to prepare for a potential issue and control damage if a crisis occurs. Carefully choose who your spokesperson will be, and prepare that person with media and communications training.
2. Build a solid team. Regardless of how good you are at handling a crisis, you need a strong support team. The most successful crisis communications experts are supported by a diverse team of experts with knowledge and skills ranging from media relations, to ethics and the law. Experts from the field or industry of the crisis should be consulted for additional viewpoints and resources.
3. Know your audience and tailor the communications to your audience and the specific situation. There will be questions that must be answered. Anticipate those questions and try to answer them before they are even asked. Be aware of who might be asking these questions: stakeholders, the public, media or suppliers. If you’re dealing with print and TV media, remember that reporters have deadlines. With social media, news is now a 24/7/365 endless cycle. Understand the situation: your audience, the severity of the situation, the industry, and the potential reactions you might get.
4. Keep your cool. Think before you speak. It can be easy to let stress get the best of you when you are dealing with a crisis situation. It can create a chaotic environment for you, your team, and anyone else involved. Be confident. Keep a cool, calm, and collected head during a crisis. Both the crisis communications professionals and the client must remain calm throughout the crisis.
5. Learn from your mistakes. Reputation management and communications planning are ongoing for any business or entrepreneur. Experience is a great teacher and the more that happens, the more you know. Learning from past mistakes and victories will help you better manage the future.
Above all else, in a communications crisis honesty trumps everything. In Public Relations honesty and trust are the absolute foundation of the work we do. Honesty and ethics must be at the forefront for every crisis communications expert, PR practitioner, business owner, and entrepreneur.