The Clock is Ticking: Will Smith Needs Better PR Advice

The slap heard ‘round the world is still stinging Will Smith–Oscar winner for best actor, at least for the moment. With his team and showbiz executives trying to figure out what to do with him since his disastrous outburst at the Oscars, it’s clear Smith needs an image rehab STAT. He’s either getting great advice and not listening, or getting terrible advice and heeding it to the letter. Here’s what Smith really needs to do to fix his rapidly crumbling image. 

On Entertainment Tonight, I layout that the apology tour needs to start ASAP.

Roll Out the “Rehab” Carpet

The Will Smith rehab tour should roll out the usual Hollywood way. The two-pronged message should be Smith’s mantra: “I’m sorry, and I’m even more sorry, but now we’re moving on.” 

First, there should be some convenient and seemingly routine outings captured by the paparazzi, who of course, were somehow alerted that Will was going to be shopping at Ralph’s (where he’s probably never been) or taking the family to In-N-Out Burger (where they’ve also probably have never been). Several extended friendly photo spreads in the Daily Mail, The NY Post, and segments on TMZ, Entertainment Tonight and everywhere online helps spread the message that “See, everything is normal. We’re getting on with our lives. Aren’t we lovable?”  

Make Instagram “Picture Perfect”

Their social media accounts should reflect the same “We’re (kinda) regular folks and this too is already passed” message. Posting from church may be too much, but it should be considered. Lots of happy family photos doing fun things. Some behind-the-scenes shots from the set of a movie or the Red Table Talk set will hopefully make the public forget why they were mad at Will Smith, (with collateral damage to Jada). For tips, see Alec Baldwin’s Instagram).

Option 2: They can all go on vacation at some exotic luxury resort and make sure they look good in the “family playing on the beach” photos. Never a bad idea to let things die down a bit while you wait for the next controversy to arrive and move this out of the spotlight. (An obvious exception to the “take a vacation option” is Ted Cruz.) 

Who Should Get the “Get”?

Meantime, there’s shopping for the rehab interview. Savannah Guthrie may be too tough, Oprah won’t do an hour on it, so maybe think about heading to ABC and Michael Strahan, but Gayle King is actually the perfect interviewer. She won’t take B.S. answers and she’ll press him hard enough for some well-needed tears to flow (by Will). But she may also bless his return at the end. As Smith said in his (probably ghost-written) Instagram apology, “I’m a work in progress.” King will verify that. Unless she’s already lined up the bigger “get”: Chris Rock. By the way: Somewhere along the line. there should be an ample donation to an alopecia organization or a domestic violence group. Just news release that, and let it get some pub on its own, but don’t press it. 

Late night talk shows are for later. They call this “The Hugh Grant” but it’s not right in this situation. 

PR vs Legal – Who Wins?

In any event, it’s important he doesn’t wing this. They should be having daily intense meetings with the PR and legal team to prepare for every contingency. The bad news keeps trickling out, and they need a plan to respond to the constant incoming

And for the interview, practice practice, practice. (Don’t pull an R. Kelly with Gayle King). Every possible uncomfortable question should be rehearsed, with the responses lawyerized, PR’d and practiced. Figuring out who wins between the lawyer and the PR rep is an internal battle, but that’s another story. Usually go with the answer that Smith can fake the most sincerity with. He just won an Oscar. He can definitely cry on cue. BUT DO NOT GET ANGRY!!! NO SLAPPING!

Marc Silverstein is the founder and CEO of On The Marc Media, a Public Relations and Marketing firm located just outside Washington, D.C. Prior to launching the company in 2014, Marc spent 20 years as an Emmy Award winning TV news reporter, and then later as the host of The Best Of on Food Network and Go Ahead, Make My Dinner on Discovery.



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