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Scandal shines as the new show to watch with Kerry Washington in its leading role. Airing on Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC, the show took the number one spot in the ratings for its time slot during its second week. Grey’s Anatomy showrunner, Shonda Rhimes, created the fast-paced drama that showcases Washington as the owner of a crisis management firm in Washington DC.

The series is a propelled by Black girl power, basing its scandalous plotlines on the career of Judy Smith, a noted African-American political-crisis-management expert and former White House aide. Smith has managed the fallout for some of the biggest headlines in recent years including the Monica Lewinsky scandal and Michael Vick’s dog-fighting charges. Surprisingly, this is television’s first foray into the dramatic world of crisis management.

While the show is only inspired by Smith’s career, taking more than a few liberties for the sake of storylines, many business lessons can be learned from the crisis management field. Crisis managers view every crisis as an opportunity. Here are a few tips to help you think like Washington’s astute character Olivia Pope, so you can handle any business scandal like a pro.

Planning Ahead

  • Anticipate threats and prepare for them. You should be able to identify the top threats facing your company. Decide how you’ll face them now, so you don’t have to plan in the midst of crisis.
  • There is no excuse for being unprepared. Every company should have a crisis plan in place. Establish a crisis communication team, at minimum it should consist of you, a public relations advisor, and a lawyer. No one outside of this team should make any crisis-related decisions or speak on behalf of your business.
  • Write down everything. When dealing with sensitive situations, a written record of what transpired is the best way to protect yourself.

Crafting a Response

  • Brainstorm with your team and discuss the situation in an objective way. Don’t cloud your judgment by making things personal.
  • Know your answers before they ask the questions. “Winging it” is not part of an effective crisis management strategy. Identify the questions out of your worst nightmare and decide how you’ll address them.

Confronting a Crisis

  • Address the elephant in the room. Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it disappear; it makes it worse. In most situations it’s better to be proactive than passive.
  • Address your mistakes. Again, hiding or ignoring a problem does not help the situation…ever.
  • Control the flow of information. When crisis hits, there is a race to fill in unknown information. If you don’t provide the facts, someone else will provide their own version of the truth. Establish a spokesperson and a means for disseminating information early on so you can shape your story.

Implementing Response

  • Speed is everything. If you do not have a plan that you are implementing within the first 48 hours of a crisis, you’re doomed.
  • Stay calm. Evaluate your available strategies to address the problem and take action. Don’t allow your emotions and fear to influence you to react rashly.
  • Have key messages in place. When responding to the public, be sure to emphasize that you have a plan, to express compassion for any victims involved, and to display a commitment to correcting the situation.
Cortney Cleveland is a freelance writer and content strategist in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter @CleveInTheCity.


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