Three PR Lessons from Scandal’s Olivia Pope

ABC's ScandalTonight’s the night. Olivia Pope is back in action as Scandal returns from its midseason break. If you’re like me, you are what’s considered a Scandal addict; if you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the basic premise: Pope is a crisis communications consultant for Washington’s finest (or not so finest), helping them manage their image, press and more when crisis calls. A few weeks ago, Arik Hanson hosted a slew of opinions in a blog post about whether or not Olivia Pope represents the PR industry well. Arik polled 10 friends and colleagues in the PR world to answer his question, and as a new fan of the show, it made me consider the portrayal of PR and crisis management on the show.

The steps Olivia takes to remedy a crisis – from hiding bodies to erasing evidence – is not necessarily a true representation of something that would happen in the PR world. Let’s chock that up to the need for more primetime TV drama. Murders and adultery aside, there are indeed several ways that Olivia embodies a true PR professional when it comes to crafting a client’s image and messaging.

Here are three ways we can emulate Ms. Pope:

  • Build out your dream team. Each member of your communications team is an important piece to the puzzle. Everyone will have different strengths or weaknesses but together you should make up one killer group. Olivia sets a great example of managing her team well by assigning them tasks that play to their strengths. As you come to know who excels at what, the work will flow much easier. Get to know your teammates – not only their skills but also their personalities. Be there to support each other – whether that’s stepping in for someone who is sick or who is overwhelmed with a long to-do list. At the end of the day, you win as a team and you lose as a team.
  • Master media training. Olivia’s media training skills are impressive. She prepares her clients for any and all media interactions, so they are confident answering even the toughest questions, succinctly and on message. Think about preparing your spokesperson the same way, regardless of whether or not they’re currently in a crisis. Run them through a sample of potential questions they could run into – good and bad. Coach them to give a response that’s genuine to them but still on message. Encourage them to control their emotions when they respond to tough questions and be as clear as possible.  If you can enable your spokesperson to understand more about the media and what their tendencies are when it comes to writing stories, it will help them be ready to face their next reporter.
  • Always be in the know. If you’re a public relations or marketing professional and you don’t have your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the world, you’re already behind. It’s PR 101 to be up to speed on the news. This means not only being immersed in what your clients do and what’s happening in their industries, but also what’s going on in the news in general. Whether it’s creating Twitter lists to monitor real-time, or setting up a Feedly account to keep a list of important publications in one easy location, find something that works for you and stick with it. Not only will your knowledge improve, you’ll start to feel out how to capitalize on trends and fit your client into stories. In Olivia’s case, her knowledge of what’s going on in the political sphere enables her to build smarter client strategies.

At the end of the day, Scandal is a fictional TV show that certainly takes some “artistic” liberties. But Olivia Pope’s grace under pressure and her ability to “fix” most things thrown her way is something that any PR professional would be envious of. What qualities do you admire in Ms. Pope?

Jena Rossi
Senior Account Manager

Photo Credit: ABC


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