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Tribute to a Titan: Remembering Richard Levick, Visionary in Crisis Communications

By Bruce Hennes, Hennes Communications

In 1989, I opened Hennes Communications, not realizing the profound impact a select few would have on my life and career. Among these guiding stars was Richard Levick – not just as mentor and friend, but a visionary in crisis communications.

Richard was a force of nature in our field, brimming with an intensity and drive that was both inspiring and daunting. He was a friend, a competitor and an unparalleled source of wisdom. From him, I learned the art of engaging audiences, leading me to spend countless hours on the road, speaking at law firms, bar associations and other industry events. Richard’s influence was pivotal in shaping my focus on building a specialized firm dedicated to crisis communications.

Our conversations over the years always had a core of mutual admiration and gentle rivalry. Richard often expressed envy for my contentment in managing a smaller-scale operation, while I playfully challenged his relentless pursuit of growth. He believed growth could bring wealth and influence, but I saw the burdens it could carry – a perspective that only deepened our discussions.

When cancer struck Richard, our conversations took a more reflective turn. In one of our final chats, reminiscent of a poignant movie scene, Richard called me to say goodbye.

Richard Levick was a pioneer, a man of bold opinions and actions, not without controversy but always larger than life. His passing, a mere two weeks after our last conversation, left a void in the world of crisis communications and in the hearts of those who knew him.

Richard’s legacy lives on in the lessons he imparted and the lives he touched. Rest in peace, dear friend. Your memory and your impact will forever be a part of me.

For 17 years, Larry Smith worked for Richard.  The obituary he wrote for one of our industry publications, O’Dwyer’s, very much captures Richard Levick’s idealism, drive and humanity.  Larry’s piece also offers lessons about entrepreneurship and the specialization of crisis communications.  It’s very much worth a read, even for those of you who didn’t know Richard.

Richard Levick: Reflections on a Life Force

By Larry Smith, writing for O’Dwyer’s

I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to have worked in some big towns and to have met some big people. No question, though, I never met a bigger one than Richard S. Levick, Esq., who died this spring at the age of 65. It’s appropriate, perhaps, that his death occurred in the season of rebirth, for Richard was all about rebirth in his personal life as well as in his work. He was ever zealous for the next frontier, ever remaking himself and the communications firm he founded in the late 1990s.

We first knew each other as a journalist (me) and a PR guy (him). In late 1999, he asked me what I was doing for the rest of my life. At that early time in its history, the LEVICK firm—then Levick Strategic Communications—did mainly one thing, which was promoting lawyers and their thought leadership in the media. As you can imagine, that market matured to senescence in predictably short order.

We were hustling for law firm work when the call came in from a client who wanted to know if we did crisis. His client, a beleaguered order of the Catholic Church, needed help. Oh brother, did they! That was our breakout moment. We followed our best instincts, immersed ourselves in the client’s strangely secretive culture and achieved tangible lasting results. Voila, “the father of modern crisis communications,” as he’s often depicted, suddenly emerged on the scene.

Richard quickly recognized that crisis work was both profitable and invigorating, much more so than counting media placements for law firms. As Richard’s reputation grew, our work quickly moved beyond crisis management and morphed into long-term institutional client relationships that wouldn’t simply end when the crisis did.

It was a period of immense excitement, of endless possibility—reputation management and public affairs and litigation communications merging together. Richard’s eye for these disciplines amazed me. I hardly knew what litigation communications meant until we found ourselves helping Rosie O’Donnell prevail against her former publisher. We were in court every day; a lot of law firms can’t make that claim.

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