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                          #
                             10
 The Dos &
 Don’ts of
 Surviving
 a Scandal
 (Whether You’re                                                                                 Tough head­


 Famous or Not)                                                                                    lines? Not
                                                                                                a problem for
                                                                                                       Heller.




   Want to clean up
  a less-than-stellar
         reputation?
   Call Risa Heller.
       This PR whiz
           can fix any
      problem—but
         she’d prefer
      to tell you how
  to avoid a mess in
                                                                                                                  STYLIST: MOLLIE MAGUIRE; HAIR AND MAKEUP: BRYAN LYNDE




      the first place.                       Risa Heller isn’t cowed by much of anything. At age 25 she landed
   By Irin Carmon                            her first big gig, as the communications director for Charles
                                      Schumer, the senior United States senator from New York. A few years
                                      later, she was brought in by New York Governor David Paterson to help
                                      his administration recover from the sex scandal incurred by his predeces-
                                      sor, Eliot Spitzer—only to end up cleaning up Paterson’s mess when he
                                      admitted cheating on his wife and doing cocaine. And after that she was
                                      hired—nine months pregnant with an overdue baby—by then Congress-
                                      man Anthony Weiner, who’d gotten into hot water sending inappropri-
                                      ate pictures to women on Twitter and Facebook. These days 33-year-old
                                      Heller is her own boss, with a formidable client Continued on next page


 54 G L AM O U R .CO M APR I L 2013                                           Photograph by Nathaniel Welch
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 base that ranges from the New York City Opera to her scandal
 du jour, Kevin Clash, the actor who used to play Elmo on Sesame
 Street until a storm of sex allegations forced him to resign. Get-
 ting the message? This is a woman with nerves of steel and a
 knack for ending a crisis; she can make the bad look good and
 the good look even better. Who doesn’t need that? Here, her Dos
 & Don’ts of Coming Out on Top—no matter what you’ve done.

 DO remember that everyone is a                                              Washington’s
 public figure now. Yes, even you.                                           Olivia Pope is
 “The world is a much less private place than it used to be,”                obviously up
                                                                             to something.
 warns Heller. Fact is, we all have reputations—at work, in our

                                                                          Meet the TV Fixer!
 private lives—and we all have the ability to control them, she
 says. Some ways of dealing with that are obvious, like not post-
 ing embarrassing images of yourself online. But Heller goes              If Risa Heller’s job sounds familiar, perhaps you’re a fan
 a step further: “Don’t put up things that you wouldn’t want              (we are too!) of Olivia Pope, the powerful and wily
 your parents to know about,” she says. “Or your family. Or your          political fixer played by Kerry Washington on Scandal.
 boss.” The lesson: Assume anything you do could go public.               Asked how close to reality the show is, Heller says:
                                                                          “I wish I had Olivia’s fabulous hair every day. But I can’t get
 DO use swagger to your advantage.                                        someone a new identity. If I could do that, there would
 Heller acknowledges that working with Senator Schumer at                 be a lot of people with fake identities!”
 such a young age was a little intimidating. “I was scared that I
 was going to fail, probably every day,” she recalls. “But I was not
 scared of telling him what I thought. It doesn’t matter if you’re      DON’T try to hide your mistakes.
 28 and the person who had the job before you was 43. A job’s a         “It’s always better to cop to the truth when you screw up,”
 job. You have to be tough, you have to know what you’re doing,         Heller counsels. “The saying ‘The cover-up is worse than
 and you have to have confidence.”                                      the crime’ is true.” When Heller joined New York Governor
                                                                        David Paterson’s staff, the situation was volatile—his boss,
 DON’T lie—ever.                                                        Eliot Spitzer, had been caught using high-end prostitutes and
 In a world where image is everything, being known for your             forced to resign. The new administration was supposed to be a
 honesty is job one—if people don’t believe you, you can’t be           fresh start—but it turned out Paterson had some dirty laundry




                                                                                                                                            TOP: RON TOM/ABC. NEWSPAPERS, FROM LEFT: NY DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE VIA GETTY IMAGES. NY POST/SPLASH NEWS (2)
 effective. That’s true in PR and for civilians. “The last thing you    of his own, including an extramarital affair and past cocaine
 ever want to do is lie,” says Heller. “It’s the number-one rule in     use. “We’d just had Spitzer with a prostitute, and now the new
 my business. All you’ve got is your credibility. In my work, there     guy’s saying he’s got an open marriage,” Heller recalls. “It was
 are times when stories come up about my clients that are not           a complete circus!” But Paterson divulged everything almost
 true. And if they’re not true, you try to get them killed. But a       immediately after being sworn in, and the public shrugged
 reporter’s never going to kill the story on your word if you’ve lied   off the shocking revelations. “By admitting his infidelity, it
 to her before. She has to trust you. If you’re known as a straight     ended up being a positive for him—he seemed honest,” says
 shooter, you’ll have people to call on when you really need it.”       Heller. “It’s always better to be proactive than reactive and to
 Sometimes a lie can seem quicker and easier; it’s not.                 deliver the bad news yourself.”        Continued on next page



                             If She Can Fix This, She Can Fix Anything
                                              Heller’s clients tend to bounce back fast.
                                David                                      Anthony                                    Kevin
                                Paterson                                   Weiner                                     Clash
                                Once in hot                                The disgraced                              Following his
                                water, the former                          onetime U.S.                               resignation,
                                governor is now                            Rep has been                               he’s been out
                                on the board                               absent from                                of the head­
                                of the Metropoli­                          the public eye                             lines—but
                                tan Transpor­                              but is rumored                             several law­
                                tation Authority                           to be consider­                            suits are still
                                and a leading                              ing a run for                              pending. Will
                                spokesperson                               mayor of New                               Heller work
                                for the blind.                             York City.                                 her magic?

                                                                                                  The voice of Elmo
                                                                                                    was accused
                                                                                                   of inappropriate
 56 G L AM O U R .CO M APR I L 2013                                                                 relationships.
                                                                       �
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                                                                           Your Worst Scandals,
                                                                           Totally Solved
    Contrast Paterson’s move with that of another Heller client,
 former Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.). When he was
 caught sending racy photos of himself to women he’d met on                Risa Heller runs damage control.
 Twitter, he first denied it, claiming he’d been hacked. “Anthony
 went through this period of not telling the truth, but ignoring
 it does not make it go away,” says Heller. “It only made the glare
 on him worse.” The civilian version: If you screw up at work,
 suck it up, go to your boss, and admit it—and bring a plan to fix
 the problem.

 DO focus on results.
 When assessing a crisis, Heller makes her clients answer
 “threshold questions” to identify the best possible outcome.
 “It’s things like, What am I trying to do here?” she says. “Am
 I trying to stay elected, or am I trying to save my marriage, or
                                                                                                                   Don’t yell at
 am I trying to make sure that in 10 years my child or children                                                 your coworker,
 will respect me? What is the threshold for success? Because                                                        even if she
                                                                                                                  copies your
 it’s always different.” After a disastrous event these questions                                                      haircut.
 can help you get to the best next step quickly.
                                                                           “I accidently sent an email about my
 DON’T let naysayers get you down.                                         job search to my boss.”
 While Heller was working for Governor Paterson, the New
                                                                           “Leverage the situation,” says Heller. “Walk
 York Sun ran a story about her $175,000-a-year salary, point-
                                                                           into your boss’s office, apologize for the
 ing out that it was more than what New York State Chief
                                                                           email, then tell her you love your job but want
 Judge Judith Kaye made and implying Heller’s paycheck was
                                                                           more responsibility, whatever it is. How she
 out of line. “It was completely ridiculous,” she says. “My job
                                                                           reacts depends on your preexisting relation­
 was an incredibly hard, high-stakes gig. Believe me, I should
 have made twice that much!” But she didn’t stew or get defen-
                                                                           ship with her; either she thinks you’re valuable
 sive; instead, she called the reporter and reminded him of the            and wants to keep you, or this is the reason
 facts: “My salary was set by the government. I had nothing to             she’s been looking for to get you fired.”
 do with the fact that the state legislature wouldn’t raise judi-
 cial pay,” she told him. If you’ve got a beef with a coworker,            “A disagreement with a coworker
 follow Heller’s lead and confront her directly. Do it without             turned into a screaming match that the
 drama; just address the issue and then get back to work. And              whole office heard. Now what?”
 don’t get obsessed with your personal “bad press” or worry too            “Where I come from, that’s just called having
 much about what people think of you, adds Heller. “It’s impor-            a lively discussion,” Heller says, laughing. “But
 tant to keep things in perspective.”                                      if you sense this was off­key for your work­
                                                                           place, cool off for a few minutes, then email
 DO remember: No crisis is forever.                                        your colleagues, apologizing for the disrup­
 People come back from all kinds of scandals. Bill Clinton                 tion. Couch it as, ‘I feel passionately about this
 survived an affair with an intern and an impeachment trial.               topic and got carried away.’ Then let it go.”
 Eliot Spitzer is now a valued political commentator. What-
 ever you think about their ethics, Heller suggests you learn
                                                                           “I lied on my résumé. It says that I
 their drive: “These guys do not get to where they are with-
 out being very smart, very talented, and
                                                                           graduated college, but I was actually
 incredibly ambitious. They won’t just go
                                                                           one credit shy. So far, no one’s caught
                                                    Tablet
 away when things get tough,” she says.          Exclusive!                it, but I’m terrified someone will. Help!”
 Hopefully, you’ll keep your nose clean in                                 “First, change your résumé to make sure
 the first place, says Heller. “But if you do                              it’s no longer a lie,” says Heller. “Say that you
 screw up, you can step back and maybe        Read all about the           ‘attended’ your school, and take out the
                                              10 biggest, juiciest         graduation date. If the issue comes up at work,
                                                                                                                                   MARK LEIBOWITZ




 change your image. Life is long, and one      sex scandals in
 mistake is not going to sink you.” n         history. Download            tell the truth. Employers value honesty. And
                                                  Glamour’s digital        finish your degree at the closest university. You
                                                   edition at your
 Irin Carmon is a staff writer at Salon.         device’s app store.       don’t want one class to hold you back forever!”


 60 G L AM O U R .CO M APR I L 2013

								
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