It’s Handled: Advice from the Real-Life Olivia Pope, Judy Smith

May 14, 2015

Last week, LinkedIn had the honor of hosting 100+ leading communications executives at Carnegie Hall in New York City for CommsConnect. Who better to inspire a packed house of communications professionals than Judy Smith, Founder and President of crisis communications firm Smith and Company, former White House Press Secretary to President George H. W. Bush and inspiration behind TV character Olivia Pope in the ABC hit show Scandal. Having handled intense situations from the Iran-Contra affair to the recent Sony Pictures Entertainment cyber attack, she had incredible advice to share about managing crises. I also found her wisdom to be more broadly applicable to LinkedIn members as you navigate your careers. Below are some highlights:

  • Define your brand. Think of the three words people use to describe you. If they’re not the three words you would use to describe yourself, something has to change. A core part of Judy’s professional brand is her commitment to a set of values and ethics, and she doesn’t compromise on them. This means that her firm turns down a lot of business, but she believes it's worth it to uphold the integrity of her brand.
  • Leverage transferable skills during career transitions. Judy was an attorney before she became a crisis manager. Although the professions are quite different, she has been able to leverage her legal expertise in more than a few ways. Her clients feel more comfortable knowing she has a law degree. She also knows legally what she can say and what she can’t say. And her experience standing up and arguing in court as a prosecutor set her up to stand up on a podium to face a room full of reporters in the White House. As you make transitions in your career, instead of starting over, think of how you can leverage your existing skill set.
  • Determine the best social media channel to deliver the right message. Many of us now turn to social media to share updates with our networks, but we need to be thoughtful about the appropriate social media channel for the message we’re sending to ensure it reaches the intended audience. And as Judy advises, social media gives leaders less leisure to make mistakes, so words are more important now than ever.
  • Develop solid relationships before you need them. We often tell LinkedIn members the best time to build your network is when you don’t need it. Judy’s view on relationships is to make regular deposits in the bank so you can withdraw when you need to.
  • Find what you’re meant to do. During Judy’s fireside chat, many attendees commented on how calm, poised and articulate she was. I asked if this is one of the reasons she’s been so successful in her career, and she responded that it has always been in her nature to be calm amidst chaos, and she truly feels like she's doing what she's meant to do.

Check out the full videos of Judy Smith in her fireside chat with LinkedIn Executive Editor Dan Roth:

CommsConnect NY 2015: Judy Smith in Conversation with Dan Roth, Part 1 from LinkedIn

CommsConnect NY 2015: Judy Smith in Conversation with Dan Roth, Part 2 from LinkedIn

For more information about LinkedIn CommsConnect, please visit commsconnect.linkedin.com.

Photo Credit: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for LinkedIn

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