Crisis Manager of the Year Molly Levinson Deftly Battled Fake News

2017 PR People Awards — Crisis Manager of the Year

Winner: Molly Levinson, President, The Levinson Group

Molly Levinson is a known problem-solver and in 2017, the problem she tackled was fake news.

Levinson led the crisis management and communications efforts for the matter widely known as "Pizzagate"—months of sustained online attacks and perpetuation of conspiracy theories aimed primarily toward a Washington, D.C. restaurant, Comet Ping Pong—which spread virally online.

That proliferation of fake news online led to a real-life attack when a gunman entered the crowded family restaurant and fired his automatic rifle in an attempt to confront the rumors he had read online.

The resulting crisis communications campaign led by Levinson on behalf of Comet Ping Pong was waged on multiple fronts—the effort simultaneously addressed significant public safety concerns created by widespread online attacks, combatted numerous false conspiracy theories, aimed to educate social media users around the effects of fake news, stemmed the reputational damage to businesses and individuals inflicted by the attacks, and effectively implemented a coordinated legal and communications strategy aimed at preventing future fake news attacks.

Working with the legal team at Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, Levinson identified key lessons learned and developed a Continuing Legal Education course curriculum focused on helping attorneys develop integrated strategies for fighting “fake news” attacks. Levinson also created a toolkit for media engagement to be used in the event that companies and leaders confront new communications challenges related to “fake news.”

In addition to her work on “Pizzagate,” Levinson has led a number of other recent initiatives. This included serving as the national spokesperson and lead strategic communications advisor for the U.S. Women’s National Team in its global campaign for pay equity, including its negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer.

Honorable Mention:

  • John Guilfoil, Principal, John Guilfoil Public Relations—John Guilfoil founded a PR agency with the simple idea that police and fire chiefs deserve a press secretary, even in a small town of 3,000 to 5,000 people. After just three years in business, John Guilfoil Public Relations, LLC performs communications, media relations, crisis management and general public relations services for more than 200 clients, including over 100 police departments in six states. The company has worked on multiple cases of officer-involved shootings, fatal fires and plane crashes, in addition to its celebratory work of publicizing retirements, promotions, awards and community service.