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Celebrity PR experts weigh in on Jada Pinkett Smith's strategic decision to wait 7 years before revealing her and Will Smith's separation

Olivia Singh   

Celebrity PR experts weigh in on Jada Pinkett Smith's strategic decision to wait 7 years before revealing her and Will Smith's separation
  • Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith have been separated since 2016 but didn't publicly reveal it until now.
  • The news comes ahead of the release of Pinkett Smith's memoir, which discusses their relationship.

Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith's relationship has fascinated the public for years, and somehow, they continue to keep everyone on their toes.

On Wednesday, Pinkett Smith revealed via a preview clip of her NBC News prime-time special that she and Smith, who wed in 1997, have been separated since 2016.

Though the two actors have repeatedly said that they don't use the term "married" to describe their dynamic, the news of their separation still came as somewhat of a surprise. This is a couple who, after all, has developed a reputation for oversharing and airing too much of their dirty laundry.

The decision to come clean about their relationship status seven years later, in Pinkett Smith's forthcoming memoir "Worthy" and her sit-down interview with Hoda Kotb, has certainly raised eyebrows. Insider spoke to two celebrity PR experts to learn more about Pinkett Smith's strategy for revealing this information now, and how it affects the public's perception of the couple.

PR experts say that the timing of this bombshell news amps up the interest in Pinkett Smith's memoir

"Worthy," releasing on Tuesday, promises to give fans a detailed, unflinchingly raw account of Pinkett Smith's life, from her tough Baltimore roots to her A-list status as one half of a Hollywood power couple. To promote the book, NBC aired "Jada's Story – An NBC News Special" on Friday and Pinkett Smith will embark on a tour, beginning on Monday.

"When celebrities want to roll out bad news, they tend to do it in a very orchestrated manner," Molly McPherson, a crisis communication strategist, told Insider. "And Jada Pinkett Smith is no doubt rolling out a very calculated strategy around this announcement about her and her husband Will Smith."

"It's the most shrewd and strategic move," Liza Anderson, the founder and president of Anderson Group Public Relations, said. "I was like, is she a genius or what?"

If the intention was to hype up the book, Anderson thinks Pinkett Smith was successful.

"It is an absolute, absolute genius move and it made headlines," she said. "It just sounded alarms across the world and it rang bells across."

McPherson said that she's surprised by Pinkett Smith's tactic, in light of the messiness of Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner's split, where the Jonas Brothers member was "essentially being called out for manipulating that divorce."

"You would think that Pinkett Smith would use a different PR playbook to follow for this rollout," McPherson said.

Using a lie to promote her book is a risky move that may affect the public's trust

"There certainly is a lot at stake," McPherson said. "She has a book coming out, but also she's essentially coming out on a book tour to say that she lied, and that is a very difficult message for the public to digest."

In the seven years that they've quietly been separated, Pinkett Smith and Smith have kept up appearances, supporting each other at premieres, award shows, and other key events.

Pinkett Smith put herself in the hot seat on her show, "Red Table Talk," for a frank conversation with Smith after the musician August Alsina said that he had a relationship with her. Their "entanglement," as it came to be known, happened around 2016, in what the Smiths referred to as "a difficult time" and a temporary breakup in their marriage.

Smith infamously slapped Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars over a joke the comedian made about Pinkett Smith's alopecia, even though, unbeknownst to fans, they were already broken up and hadn't called each other "husband" and "wife" for years.

"What I found curious about her choice of this narrative for a book tour is she's releasing a narrative at a time when the discrepancy between public and private personas is at its height," McPherson said.

"As far as scrutiny is concerned, I cannot think of a more heightened time in our culture where the public has been far more scrutinizing and questioning the motivations of celebrities," she said, "because when there's a discrepancy between public and private personas, it raises ethical concerns and it is can be viewed as deceptive and manipulative."

Only time will tell if fans will move past the withholding of this information or if this will hurt the Smiths' credibility

In light of the Smiths' separation, fans have been resurfacing and dissecting older interview clips. Comments from Pinkett Smith about her marriage on "Red Table Talk" — a show touted for its raw and real discussions — suddenly hit differently knowing that she and Smith were already broken up.

"Andy Cohen asked her directly on 'Watch What Happens Live,' 'How you keep your relationship hot?' and she struggled with that answer because she was covering a lie," McPherson said. "And it doesn't matter if you're a celebrity or not, people do not like to be lied to."

Pinkett Smith's followers and "Red Table Talk" fans may forgive her for perpetuating a false narrative about her marriage, but the average person may be wary of her.

"Jada Pinkett Smith fans will likely still be Jada Pinkett Smith fans," McPherson said. "However, there are a lot of people who are merely casual fans or just aware of both of them I believe will question the choice of withholding that information, particularly in light of her estranged husband Will using the value system of family and protecting his wife when he hauled off and hit Chris Rock."

"That is an ethical misalignment that is going to deepen the scrutiny and question the trust of both of them," she added.

Anderson for her part, believes that Pinkett Smith and Smith may come out of this news cycle largely unscathed.

"Hollywood can be very forgiving and I think it depends on why they lied," she said. "I think it's going to propel people to read the book, to find out why."

Even if fans can't forgive the lie, it's only a matter of time before the Smiths bury it under another wild revelation about their dynamic.

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