Crisis Fixer: Judy Smith, The Real Olivia Pope

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ABC’s smash hit show isn’t completely fictional, Shonda Rhimes based her drama on the crisis management world through the life of Judy Smith. Smith is the founder and President of Smith & Co, a leading strategic and crisis communications firm with offices in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles.  Just as Olivia Pope, Smith has worked with high profile clients including Monica Lewinsky during her scandal with former President Bill Clinton, Senator Craig from Idaho, actor Wesley Snipes, NFL quarterback Michael Vick, Clarence Thomas during his Supreme Court Confirmation hearings, Kobe Bryant and his legal issues, and the family of Chandra Levy. She also worked with the congressional inquiry of Enron, and the United Nations Foundation and World Health Organization response to the SARS epidemic. Recently Paula Deen hired Smith to help her battle her racism allegations.

Smith’s “fixer” skills aren’t the only thing she has going for her, she also works as a corporate consultant for BellSouth, Union Pacific, Nextel, United Healthcare, Americhoice, Wal-Mart, Radio-One Inc., Waste Management Corporation, and American International Group, Inc. (AIG) assisting them with corporate communications issues such as mergers and acquisitions, product recalls, intellectual property litigation, corporate positioning, and diversity.

Smith’s role in the White House coincides with Pope’s role because both women held the position as Press Secretary for the White House.  Smith however, was an Assistant United States Attorney and was Special Counsel to the U.S. Attorney of the District of Columbia, where she oversaw legal and communications work on a number of high profile criminal and civil cases prior to joining the White House staff.

Before the show, Smith floated well below the radar.  In 2012, it was reported that Smith’s crisis management and communications firm, Smith & Co., was not listed in phone directories and had no Web site. Smith also said she did not have business cards.  When asked to meet, she insisted on coming to you. Her caller id only showed “Verizon”.  Olivia Pope portrays this same life, and demonstrates the importance of confidentiality and concealment that is beneficial to both Pope’s and Smith’s clients.

Crisis Management is a field that Smith dominates. Attempting a Google search for “Crisis Fixer” yields the top 20 results all referencing Ms. Smith.  Contrary to a quick Google search, Smith is not the only crisis manager out there. Crisis management is a field that lawyers sometimes find themselves in, working as solo practitioners or  with firms.  Companies also use internal legal personnel to serve this purpose.  Legal professionals are equipped with the communication skills, legal expertise, and strategic thinking to attack crisis and create a solution.  However, it is evident that Ms. Smith has created a monopoly in this area by being the most sought after “fixer” to solve high profile problems.

Judy Smith serves as Co- Executive Producer of Scandal and provides insight and technical expertise on crisis management issues, but continues to maintain confidentiality for her clients by not sharing information regarding their specific situations.

Scandal airs on ABC on Thursday nights at 10/9c.

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