‘Scandal’ inspiration Judy Smith speaks on personal branding during MTSU visit


Judy Smith MTSU
Crisis manager Judy Smith speaks at MTSU's James Union Building in Murfreesboro, Tenn. on Monday, March 28, 2016. Smith's career serves as the inspiration for the ABC series 'Scandal.' (MTSU Sidelines / John Connor Coulston)

By Evan Dunne // Contributing Writer | Photo by John Connor Coulson // Managing Editor

Middle Tennessee State University students, faculty and friends gathered at the James Union Building Monday evening during a keynote-style presentation from crisis expert Judy Smith.

Smith, 57, is a former press aide for the George H.W. Bush administration, owner of a crisis management firm and the living inspiration for the character of Olivia Pope on ABC’s popular television series Scandal. Much like the fictional Olivia Pope, Smith’s career has involved public image maintenance for famous and influential people. Smith’s presentation was one of many events MTSU hosted to recognize and display appreciation for National Women’s History Month.

Smith, who bills herself as “The Fixer,” began with a general speech before moving on to questions from the audience. In her speech, Smith informed the crowd of her background and how she came to acquire certain jobs throughout her well-tenured career. She told the crowd about when she was contacted personally by White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater, following a job she took in Washington D.C. in the mid-1980s pertaining directly to the Iran-Contra affair. She reminisced about how Fitzwater had to call her back three times in order to convince her that she was actually receiving a telephone call from the Oval Office. Furthermore, she described the day when she first met the 41st President of the United States George H.W. Bush, how they spent it flying to various cities in Air Force One and the moment when she heard the President tell Fitzwater he wanted to hire her.

Smith was also certain to touch on Scandal. Despite serving as the inspiration for the show’s main character, Smith made it clear that unlike Olivia Pope, she and the President never engaged in any sort of romantic rendezvous. The audience laughed as Smith recounted how President Bush Sr. jokingly told her over the phone that he would confirm the affair after viewing the show for the first time.

Smith offered what she considers one of her most important bits of professional advice to the crowd as well.

“I want you to think about what your personal brand is,” Smith said, urging the students in the audience to create a brand that truly represents who they are, what they want to do and why they love doing it. 

Finally, Smith answered questions from members of the audience. One student asked Smith what personal traits she wanted displayed through the character of Olivia Pope to serve as a female role model. Smith highlighted strength, aptitude, passion for one’s work, compassion and knowledge of one’s aptitude.

“You have to know your value,” Smith said. “You should not devalue yourself.”

“I think that having someone like Judy Smith come and speak at MTSU during National Women’s History Month is perfect,” said Mary Hoffschwelle, a professor of Tennessee History and U.S. and Southern Women’s History at MTSU. “It shows us how women have been able to move forward and really claim positions of power for themselves. To do so by virtue of their intelligence, their hard work, their ambition and their ethics – those are all of the things that really matter and come out during National Women’s History Month.”

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To contact News Editor Amanda Freuler, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com

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