Judy Smith Talks Crisis & ‘Scandal’

Judy Smith spoke at Spelman College on September 26 as part of a Hot Topics Speakers Series. (Ben Kornegay, Progressive Images/Spelman College)

 

by Christopher A. Daniel

Judy Smith has great stage presence. She’s always anticipating the next chapter of her life.

The inspiration and co-executive producer for the Shonda Rhimes-produced ABC series, ‘Scandal,’ curated a Hot Topics Speaker Series at Spelman College on Sept. 26, 2012. Smith discussed how she was able to turn her 25-year career as a high profile crisis communications expert into her latest book, Good Self Bad Self: Transforming Your Worst Qualities Into Your Biggest Assets. She says the book, which took 10 years to complete, is full of advice given to past clients. She goes on to say that denial, fear and ambition keep people from addressing their real issues. “The book looks at portraits and issues that get us into trouble,” Smith says. “The coverup is far worse than the crime. Whatever the problem or mistake, own it. Tell the truth about whatever the situation is.”

Smith is synonymous with providing strategies and solutions for the Iran-Contra affair, former D.C. Mayor Marion Berry, Monica Lewinsky and Michael Vick. Her company, Smith & Company, is a boutique agency that at one point operated solely from referrals. She had neither a business card nor a company website. Smith is not ashamed to admit that her personality is a combination of being aggressive, pushy, annoying, direct and nice. Sitting in a plush chair center stage with a navy blue business pants suit on with her legs crossed, she attributes her success to preparation, seizing opportunities, education and maintaining solid relationships. “You work hard, it will speak for itself,” says Smith. “If you’re confident and know what you’re doing, own that space. Be committed to it. If it’s something you really want, be passionate about it. Work hard because it’s very competitive.”

Smith & Company is small and family-oriented. She does this intentionally. “You want good people that have different perspectives to look at all angles. We play to win,” Smith adds. “You have to draw boundaries and decide what’s important to you in life. To this day, I’ve never missed a parent/teacher conference.” Smith’s “hands-on” approach to her personal life and business is reflected in her work with the television series “Scandal.”

She’s on the set, reading scripts, submitting notes, talking with the cast and pairing the actors with real government agents. She calls Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, “amazing” and says Kerry Washington, who stars as leading dynamic character, Olivia Pope, is “phenomenal.” “The way [Shonda] writes and creates the shows reflect the world we live in,” says Smith. “’Scandal’ looks like the world.” Smith also clears the air about an affair with the President. “No, I did not kiss the President,” she adds. “Television has to be entertaining.”

Smith’s groundbreaking television drama is a venture she never thought would happen. The seven episode, first season proved to be a gripping hit with viewers. The season finale was watched by eight million viewers: two million of them African American. It would be the first time in television history that ABC wins that time slot with the black demographic. “Doing the show was totally out of my comfort zone,” Smith says. “Things happen in the most unexpected places. You [the audience] showed up in my life in ways I couldn’t imagine. If you had to follow me around, you would be bored to tears.”

Christopher A. Daniel is a pop cultural critic and contributor to The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.

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