Crisis Management: What Would Olivia Pope Do?




ABC’s award winning TV show, Scandal, has captivated audiences for over two seasons. The show’s protagonist, Olivia Pope, is based off of real life ‘fixer’ Judy Smith. In the show, crises range from murders, hostage situations, infidelity, missing people, and political secrets; essentially, anything that could ruin a person’s career and/or reputation. Pope and her team of gladiators never know what their next project will entail but without a doubt, they always have a plan. So what can we learn from these gladiators that we can apply to our brands active on social media when they are dealing with a crisis?


Speed is essential. Pope and her team excel at being quick and efficient. As soon as a client comes to them with a crisis, they get to work. An 8-5 workday does not exist when a crisis hits and we agree. As outlined in the  Social@Ogilvy Playbook for Digital Crisis Management 3.0, “smart is the new fast.”

When faced with a crisis, Pope uses her extensive knowledge of crisis management as well as her gut instincts to execute rapid-fire decisions. In the world of social media, it’s vital to work fast even when you don’t have every detail available to you. Even by candidly addressing the crisis in saying that you’re working on a response can be a way to gain trust and empathy.


Without fail, Olivia Pope is always prepared with a meticulously prepared statement regarding the crisis, whether she herself or her client is the one actually delivering it. While social conversation cannot always be controlled, you can help propel it forward with the message you deliver.

In framing the conversation, you can provide the boasted first-mover advantage that has proved to be resolute in crisis-planning effectiveness. This is critical as we now live in an era where journalists are checking Facebook and Twitter accounts for company statements rather than picking up the phone.


Seeing as a majority of us spend time behind a computer connected to social media, opinions are rapidly shared. When you are knee-deep in a crisis and your client’s brand page is being flooded with negative feedback, it is important to be as transparent as possible. Putting out a message reading, “We’re working on the problem and will let you know as soon as we have information,” is infinitely better than going radio silent. 

When Pope is working with a client that is in the wrong, she doesn’t sugarcoat it; she is eloquent in her speech and makes sure she is as transparent as possible. In this regard, we can take another page from the Social@Ogilvy Crisis Management playbook: “Listening is a given, but data-driven emotional radar is the new requirement.” By using listening tools, you can get in front of the most pressing questions you need to address during a crisis and the answers that result become part of an ongoing dialogue with your community. In this case, what was once a company statement is now a co-created story.

If there’s one thing that we can take away and learn form Olivia Pope, it is that crises cannot be ignored and they can almost always be fixed when working with your team of gladiators.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to handle your brand during a social media crisis, read our Social@Ogilvy Playbook for Digital Crisis Management 3.0.