Five public relations lessons from Scandal

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By Jayla Kearney

ABC’s award-winning TV show, Scandal, has recently returned for it’s sixth season. If you haven’t watched, Kerry Washington stars in Scandal as Olivia Pope, a crisis communications manager, and her character is based on Judy Smith (former press secretary for U.S. President George H.W. Bush). The scenes and activities are more dramatic than real-life crisis management in order to make for good TV but there are still valuable PR lessons to learn from Olivia Pope & Associates (OPA), her crisis communications firm.

Here are five public relations lessons from Scandal:

  1. Master media training

“Artie take a breath. Keep your head still, maintain eye contact. Just answer what was asked of you; if you go off on a tangent it will look unreliable. Let’s try again.”- Olivia to her client Artie.

Olivia spends a lot of time training her clients to speak to the media. She often advises them on how to respond to media questions. She has advised them to prevent saying the phrase, “no comment” when answering questions. Preventing yourself from answering a question will make it seem like you have something to hide. It’s better to answer a question positively or empathetically. Never place the blame on someone else and don’t apologize when it’s not your fault.


  1. Perception is reality and looks matter
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“In a case like this, perception is more important than evidence. The truth doesn’t matter. He looks guilty, he is guilty.”- Olivia

In the PR world, it’s all about public perception. Your client may be innocent but if they look guilty or seem guilty, then they’re guilty in public opinion.

  • Remain calm

Whenever there is a crisis, Olivia keeps her cool and remains calm. Being a crisis manager can be stressful and takes someone who knows how to remain calm in difficult situations.

  • Dress Professionally

No matter where Olivia is going, she always dresses like she’s ready for business. You never know who you may run into so always look your best. When you look good, you feel more confident and are taken more seriously.

  • Be confident

Olivia is very confident in her abilities and she makes sure her clients are confident through their media training. She also does not give up on a client or case.


  1. Value Teamwork

“ You don’t get to run, you’re a gladiator. Gladiators don’t run. They fight.”- Abby

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Olivia works with a dynamic team, which she calls “gladiators in suits.” Olivia Pope & Associates is the name of her crisis management and communications firm. Each member of her team possesses different values and skills. One of her colleagues may be great at technology and research whereas another co-worker could be more creative. In addition, Olivia and her team have great connections and have built a relationship with various media outlets and opinion leaders.





  1. Be in the Know

“I have looked at it from every angle”- Olivia

Members of Olivia Pope & Associates watch a lot of TV, always keeping up with current events. Crises can come quickly so it’s best to keep up with what’s going on. You may be able to prevent a crisis this way. Always be two steps ahead of your clients and competition. Constantly research your clients and the industry in which you practice and keep up with trends so that you’re able to capitalize on them.

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  1. Wear your white hat

“Dirty little secrets always come out.”- Olivia

This means do what is right and ethical. Olivia has performed unethically in some cases, but we can learn from her mistakes. For example, she rigged a presidential election and it haunts her throughout the series. Also, be honest because “Dirty little secrets always come out.” Public relations professionals are often misunderstood and believed to put a “spin” on situations in order to improve their client’s reputation. However, PRSA has established a code of ethics by which members should abide.

Although some of the practices from Olivia Pope & Associates may be unethical or dramatic, there is no doubt that there are several good public relations lessons to learn from Scandal. Remember to wear your white hats, do your research, collaborate, look your best and master the art of media training.


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One response to “Five public relations lessons from Scandal”

  1. Thanks for this awesome article! I’ll be using it as Secondary research for my media relations training final for my PR masters 🙂

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