In this week’s episode the mystery and intrigue continues. Who is actually the mole? Who is the spy that threatens the security of the nation? Certainly Jake is involved but it would appear he’s just one of the pieces. This is great spy stuff and a bit beyond the scope of my everyday work. More in line with what I do might be the interview with the President and the First Lady where the concern is for the image projected to the media. Still, I’m going to take the liberty of suggesting how the mole story line is a metaphor for the kind of work I am often involved with.
If we think of a mole as representing knowledge that can be damaging to the subject or origin of that information and a crisis manager as someone who deals with the damage control for that problem we can see a similarity in the processes involved within this plot and my role with high profile clients.
In my line of work image is often what is attempted to be protected or repaired. Why is that? It’s because we hold our leaders, our public figures, to a higher standard than what we expect of “regular” people. While we look to these individuals to display above normal intelligence, we also expect them to display the ability to lead, to be decisive, and/or to exhibit abilities and talents that set them apart from the pack. Rightfully or wrongly, we also expect this group of people, especially politicians to have no moral ambiguity, few weaknesses and a greater character than the most. We want to admire them and to like them. Thus, in this week’s episode, we see an interview with Fitz and Mellie that is completely staged to give the impression that they lead the lives that Americans want them to. This is the image we are led to believe that America wants and in order to stay in power, Fitz, Mellie, and Cyrus believe this is vital. To have the truth revealed, which a mole might do, is thought to be potentially damaging, much like the “secrets” a mole might reveal that could be threatening to national security. In the case of the Fitz/Mellie drama it begs the question of whether their family discord actually affects Fitz’s ability to lead. In this day and age do we believe that a divorced President is somehow less able to run the country effectively than a married president? If so why is that? I say it has more to do with the mythology of leadership that the public insists on; the image of what we want ideally.
My role often is to work with how an image is perceived. Everyone makes mistakes, can exercise poor judgment in their personal lives, or have done things they regretted. The media and our present age of information can blow-up such occurrences to huge proportions. Individually, it can be difficult for the subject of the scandal to try and deal with such a situation alone. An outside party familiar with the tone and participants of the media is necessary to strategize and present a message or messages. Short of lying or outright deception I engage in getting at the truth, placing it in context, and presenting a course of action that will be best for my client.
Judy A. Smith is the founder and President of Smith and Company, a leading strategic and crisis communications firm with offices in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles as well as a Co-Executive Producer of ABC's Scandal. You can follow her on Twitter (@JudySmith_) or "Like" her on Facebook, and you can get more information about managing personal and professional crisis situations by visiting her site, judysmith.com.