By Heather Pluard

When she’s not putting out fires, Natalie Ghidotti is trying to light them – figuratively speaking, of course! As the President and CEO of Ghidotti Communications, Natalie’s life’s work is protecting and promoting the reputation of her clients. It’s a job she and her team do exceptionally well. Launched in 2007, Ghidotti Communications now serves some of the best-known brands in the Arkansas region and, with McDonald’s as a client, the whole world.

“As crisis communicators, we never know what we’re going to deal with every day, and I love it,” Natalie smiles. “But we are also strong strategists. We look at situations with a broad vision and bring clients new, fresh ideas to accomplish their goals and proactively share their stories.”

It’s a two-fold position. One day, Natalie and her team may be promoting McDonald’s Archways for Opportunities, a life-changing program the company offers that can help employees do things like earn college tuition or learn English as a second language. The next day, she might be dealing with a situation where someone was shot in a McDonald’s parking lot. Always on call for her clients, Natalie has sage advice for anyone who finds themself in the hot seat.

“Sit down and give yourself a moment to breathe and think about what is about to be said or done,” she says. “Flying by the seat of your pants or immediately reacting is not a good idea. When dealing with the public, have just one spokesperson. When you have numerous people speaking for you or your company, it can get very confusing. Ideally, before a crisis ever hits, you’ll have predicted some scenarios and formulated a response plan ahead of time. So whether it’s a natural disaster or an embezzlement scandal, you and your team have a location and a plan to regroup.”

A crisis can strike online, as well, especially in today’s world of social media. The number one question Natalie gets is, ‘Should I delete a post from someone who is upset or writes something bad on my business’s page?’ The answer? No. “Unless someone is using inflammatory language, the worst thing you can do is delete their comment,” Natalie says. “Doing so shows you don’t care, and it gives people way more fodder to keep posting negatively about you or your company. The best way to handle it is to take the conversation offline. Thank them for their feedback, and let them know you’ll be sending a DM to discuss it further. Or give them your number to call and talk one-on-one. Once you’re in that space, you can start to do what you would normally do in the real world to deal with an unhappy customer.”

On the flip side, if you are using social media to boost your brand, the number one rule is to be authentic. “Whoever you are on Facebook or Instagram should be the same person you are when speaking in person,” Natalie says. “The content can be slightly different because platforms are used in different ways, but you should be your own person wherever you are in the world.”

Growing up in Arkansas as the oldest of five siblings, Natalie is a natural leader who exudes confidence. After earning a degree in advertising and public relations from Texas Christian University, she returned to Little Rock, Arkansas, to begin her career. She served as the special publications editor-in-chief at Arkansas Business Publishing Group, where she was editor of Little Rock Family, Arkansas Bride, Little Rock Guest Guide, and other magazines for five years. Before opening her own firm in 2007, Natalie was a senior public relations account executive with another marketing/PR firm in the area.

“When I went on my own, I had to learn how to run a business, look at a PNL, and set a budget,” Natalie says. “I’m really good with words, not math! But you have to lean into your weakness, figure it out, and get help when you need it. I firmly believe if you’re a strong leader and a strong woman with a great vision for a company and you put your heart and soul into it, you will succeed.”

A goal-setter her whole life, Natalie recommends creating a road map for whatever you want to accomplish personally or professionally and then attacking your goals with a vengeance. “Right before COVID hit, my team and I read Gino Wickman’s book Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business,” she says. “It describes an entrepreneurial operating system to drive growth where everyone is working towards the same goals and objectives, breaking them down into quarterly pieces and holding each other accountable. The book taught us so much. But what I’ve learned the most over the years is the importance of having quality people on your team. I can’t say enough good things about the people I work with!’

Natalie also can’t say enough about networking. “It can be a businesswoman’s superpower,” she says. “I do a ton of speaking engagements and volunteer work to help the community, and those are also great ways to connect. You never know who might be in a position to help you one day. McDonald’s first called us seven years ago because a friend of a friend recommended me to them. It’s an honor to work with a beloved, worldwide brand, but it’s even better knowing our reputation proceeds us.”

After a long day of putting out fires and igniting them, Natalie loves going home and spending time with her family. She and her husband, Jason, have been married 19 years and have two children, Nathan (16) and Corinne (13). Their Golden Doodle, Marshall, is an integral part of the family. “We love to be outdoors together, camping, riding bikes, or having adventures,” Natalie says. “Last summer, we rented an RV for the first time and took the All-American road trip to Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, and the Grand Tetons. I highly recommend it!”

Other activities Natalie enjoys are reading, spending time with friends, and twirling a baton. Which, you might not be surprised to learn, she can twirl on fire.

Heather Pluard is a contributing writer for Smart Women Smart Money Magazine. For questions or comments email [email protected].