Sunday, January 20, 2013

Judy Smith, Crisis Manager, Gives Her Advice on Scandals of Manti T'eo and Lance Armstrong, Grades Lance a C or D

On Friday, January 18, Judy Smith talked to CNN about two media crises troubling the lives of two very different sports celebrities: Lance Armstrong's doping scandal and Manti Te'o's bizarre case of the fantasy girlfriend.

As I've written before, Smith is the real-life crisis manager on whom Shonda Rhimes based ABC's hit show Scandal, which stars Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope (the character based on Smith).

The best advice she has for most people in the midst of scandal is "Tell the truth." It's the same advice I was taught to give clients in my public relations coursework.

The entire text below comes from CNN.com's transcript of Smith's appearance.
BOLDUAN: Judy Smith was the person, was the inspiration for that very show, a very popular show, at that. She's CEO and president of Smith & Company, a crisis communications firm.

BLITZER: Judy, thanks very much for coming in. Here's the question...

JUDY SMITH, CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS EXPERT: Yes.

BLITZER: ... if Lance Armstrong were your client, how would you grade the interview with Oprah?

SMITH: That's a tough one, Wolf. I think I would probably give him a "C" or a "D."

And the reason why I say that, Wolf, is admitting that he doped is a good first step. The issue is that the interview, quite frankly, it you know, generated more skepticism than sympathy.

I think if he was looking to reconstruct his image based on the interview, I think he clearly failed. I think redemption, though, is another story. I think the public will start to turn their attention to not what he says but what he does moving forward. And I think that's going to be critical.

BLITZER: I want to remind our viewers, Judy, how brutal he was in lying over the years. I'm going to play a little clip where he went after his critics.

SMITH: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LANCE ARMSTRONG, DISGRACED CYCLIST: To the skeptics, I'm sorry for you. I'm sorry you can't dream big, and I'm sorry you don't believe in miracles.

That's longer than seven years. I have never doped.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not just simply you don't recall?

ARMSTRONG: How many times do I have to say it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just trying to make sure your testimony is clear.

ARMSTRONG: It can't be any clearer than I've never taken drugs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So what did he do -- if he were your client, what did he need to do last night that he didn't do? What would you have advised him?

SMITH: I think what he didn't do was really show a level of remorse. You know, most people that saw the interview didn't feel that the apology was authentic. They didn't feel like he meant the apology. And so that's caused a lot of concern.

And also, too, I think the fact that he was so, as you said, just adamant about, "No, I didn't do it, I didn't do it," and so aggressive and persistent about that issue for so long, that you cannot erase that 12 years of lying in one interview. That's not possible. It's not going to happen.

BOLDUAN: Judy, I want to ask you about another sports controversy, Manti Te'o. He's clearly not facing anywhere near the kind of allegations or even the trouble that Lance Armstrong is facing. But still he is embroiled in the middle of a very wild story and wild controversy.

What should he do at this point? We haven't really heard from him yet. Should he come out and do one big interview? What would your best advice be in this situation?

SMITH: Yes, I think the best advice, without knowing all the facts, because all of those issues are still unfolding, I would start with telling the truth, because information that's coming out now clearly indicates that all that's been said has not been factually accurate. So, yes, I mean, starting with telling the truth and certainly doing it once, answering all the questions completely would be a good place to start.

BLITZER: And you've always suggested -- and I think other crisis managers have always suggested you get out in front of the story. Don't wait for others to break the bad news. You break the bad news on your terms. Obviously, Lance Armstrong should have done that a long time ago. That's a basic bottom -- bottom-line rule, isn't it?

SMITH: It is. It absolutely is, Wolf. I mean, now both of the athletes that are involved in these scandals have to beat back stories and facts and allegations and all of those that have been framed by other people.

The reason why we suggest getting out in front, quite frankly, is that you don't want to let other people frame the narrative for you. You want to be in charge of that yourself and frame that, based on your own messages and on the facts that you know to be true.

So neither one of those have been successful. Neither one of those athletes have been successful at doing that. That's all.

BOLDUAN: Back to Lance Armstrong for just one moment, Judy. Do you think he can rehab his reputation? That is a very big question. Clearly, no matter what other intentions he has in doing this interview, that seems to be one of the things he's trying to do, get back on the right side, in people's good graces. Do you think it's possible?

SMITH: I do. I just think it's going to take time. And it depends on what he wants to do. You know, there's been some conversation out there that he wants to get back into sports. I see that as a very long shot.

I think that what he needs to focus on is himself and really start to focus on perhaps what he can do for the sport and how he can help clean up the sport. And what value he can add to, quite frankly, all of the kids and millions of people that have looked up to him over the years. So it's going to take time. It's not an overnight fix, not at all.

BLITZER: Judy Smith, as usual, thanks very much for coming in. Always has such good advice.

BOLDUAN: Very good advice. People should listen to her.

BLITZER: I hope your clients listen to you, Judy.

SMITH: Thank you so much for having me. Appreciate it.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Judy.

BLITZER: Thank you.

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