‘Scandal’ could be ‘The West Wing’ for crisis managers

Aaron Sorkin, Martin Sheen, Stockard Channing, Rob Lowe, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford and The West Wing elevated presidential governance and morality during and after the Clinton years. Here’s hoping that Shonda RhimesScandal will do half as much for crisis management during the Republican presidential nomination process.

Debuting on ABC April 5, the show stars Kerry Washington (right) as Olivia Pope, a top-level crisis manager in D.C., based on George H. W. Bush‘s aide Judy Smith.


We’re fairly certain that the inescapable glamour, pace, and adrenaline rush of crisis management work will be accurately and effectively portrayed in the show. By itself it has the potential to alter the plans of MBAs and law school grads from Harvard to Stanford, detouring them from Wall Street’s millions into crisis management’s hundreds.

The plot synopsis and cast read like a summary of the work and colleagues who sit not far away from me here at Eric Mower + Associates.

Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) dedicates her life to protecting the public images of the nation’s elite and making sure their secrets never get out. Olivia is a former White House communications director for the President, but has left to start her own crisis management firm, Olivia Pope and Associates. She is hoping to begin a new chapter of her life, but is finding out that she cannot leave parts of her past behind.

Olivia Pope and Associates staff includes Stephen Finch (Henry Ian Cusick), a womanizer considering settling down; Harrison Wright (Columbus Short), a smooth and efficient litigator; Abby Whelan, (Darby Stanchfield), the firm’s investigator; Huck (Guillermo Diaz), a hacker with a CIA past; and Quinn Perkins (Katie Lowes), a fresh-faced lawyer quickly learning the world of crisis management.

Seriously, crisis work can be fun, but glamorous it’s not. And not everyone works for the president — of anything. Nonetheless, it’s necessary and increasingly needed work as social media turn foibles and mistakes into worldwide jokes or messes. That someone as successful as Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy) and ABC think it’s worth a television show is clear testimony to its growing relevance.

Rhimes, the daughter of a college administrator and professor, went to Dartmouth and USC before working in advertising for awhile, so she knows the biz.

What one can hope — though not expect given inclusion in the cast of a former CIA agent/hacker — is that some of the immutable rules and practices of effective crisis management will be, well, communicated.

Never duck and cover or stonewall. Always tell the truth. Deliver bad news first, yourself. Take responsibility. No comment is not an option. Apologize if necessary. Never cover up. Facts are your friends. Prepare now for the inevitable crisis down the line. A crisis is an opportunity to demonstrate exceptional leadership.

I can’t wait to see the show. I’m sure my autograph-signing days are just ahead.


About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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