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Meet Judy Smith: The Real Olivia Pope

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“You are all gladiators in your own right,” crisis management advisor Judy Smith said. “You are your own gladiators.”

On Monday night Judy Smith, founder and President of leading strategic crisis communications firm Smith & Co., and real life inspiration behind hit TV show ‘Scandal’, spoke to students in the Ohio Union.
Judy Smith, Judy Smith ManagementHer part in crucial court cases involving famous figures such as NFL quarterback Michael Vick and President Clinton/Monica Lewinski scandal among many others has led to her prominence as a crisis management advisor. Though Smith has a list of achievements unrivaled by most she was quick to remove herself from any sort of position of superiority over her fellow audience members and fans. While another OUAB member read through her various successes she suddenly burst onto the stage in a way that was both pleasantly surprising and refreshing.

“Are you guys falling asleep yet?” she asked. From that instant, Smith seemed to charm all those in attendance. From the applause and snaps that followed most everything she said to an encounter with an emotional audience member barely able to ask Smith a question amidst her tears, students seemed to induct Smith to honorary buckeye status that night.

This was for good reason because her story is nothing short of remarkable. As a child, Smith’s parents each held two jobs and instilled a strong work ethic in their daughter. The “hard-driving” quality is one Smith maintained to be one of her best to this day.

Smith further developed this skill later in life through what she dubs “the internship from hell”.  She told the audience that they could read it on her LinkedIn profile. Although Smith faced constant criticism and seeming disapproval from the judge she was acting as law clerk for she maintained that it taught her a valuable lesson.Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 11.04.12 AM

“It turned out to be the best job ever,” she said. “(He taught me that} excellence is the only (option and) there’s nothing lower than that.”

Smith’s words were exuberant and her efforts sincere. Not only did she continue answering audience questions when the event was supposed to be finished buther responses were meaningful and individualized. Rather than sit on stage and call on students to speak, as most would expect, Smith nearly jumped into the audience and proceeded to answer nearly every audience member with a question. No matter that she was late and probably had important crises to handle (following her lecture she told OUAB members she had over 20 missed messages) Smith wanted to make this event special for her fans and audience members.

As she shared her insight the room full of students seemed to hang onto every word, eating up the advice and experience and wisdom that only comes from spending over 25 years in an industry.

“You really should be fearless. It is the thing that has served me so well,” she told students. “You want to strive for excellence … It’s about excellence in what you do not what others do.”

As a person who spends time with potential criminals and people accused of murder Smith said she is not one to pass judgment on others, although she also will not accept less than the truth.

“We all screw up we just do. We all make mistakes,” she said. “Life is never black and white.”

While Smith stood as an example for students in the audience interested in a similar future, her words and life experiences were also applicable to those not anticipating the same career path. Smith spoke of the respect and moral standard she holds for herself and why she is not one to allow others to take that away from her.

“People treat you the way that you let them treat you,” she said.

By the end of the night she had become so much more than just the face behind Olivia Pope. High fives were exchanged as well as questions regarding her daily hair routine. The frankness and candor is something not always evident in OUAB lecturers but Smith’s grounded perspective and caring personality seemed to gain her the love of nearly all in attendance.

“As corny as it sounds I like helping people,” she said. Smith may have taken to the OUAB stage as a highly skilled and recognized crisis management advisor and face behind the TV screen but she left with a standing ovation and the respect of this buckeye and many others.



Written by Elizabeth Tzagournis, Journalism major, Lectures Committee


Author: OUAB

The mission of the Ohio Union Activities Board as the student programming organization at The Ohio State University is to provide diverse programs and events that are educational, entertaining, and thought provoking for the students of the Columbus campus.

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