PR experts on breakup news

Jada Pinkett Smith recently revealed that she and Will Smith split in 2016.
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

  • Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith have been separated since 2016, but have not yet publicly announced it.
  • The news comes ahead of the release of Pinkett Smith’s memoir, which discusses their relationship.
  • Public relations experts explained to Insider why the timing of this revelation is strategic and calculated.

Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith’s relationship has been captivating audiences for years now, and somehow it continues to keep everyone on their toes.

On Wednesday, Pinkett Smith revealed in a preview of her NBC News primetime special that she and Smith, who married in 1997, have been separated since 2016.

Although both actors have repeatedly stated that they do not use the term “married” to describe their relationship, the news of their separation still came as something of a surprise. After all, this is a couple who have earned a reputation for sharing too much and airing their dirty laundry.

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

Public relations experts say the timing of the bombshell news is heightening interest in Pinkett Smith’s memoir.

Jada Pinkett Smith in her interview with Hoda Kotb in October 2023.
Nathan Congleton/NBC via Getty Images

“Worthy,” released Tuesday, promises to give fans a detailed, unflinchingly candid account of Pinkett Smith’s life, from her rugged Baltimore roots to her status as one half of a Hollywood power couple. To promote the book, NBC aired “The Jada Story – An NBC News Special” on Friday, and Pinkett Smith will go on tour starting Monday.

“When celebrities want to deliver bad news, they tend to do it in a very organized way,” Molly McPherson, a crisis communications specialist, told Insider. “And Jada Pinkett Smith is no doubt implementing a very deliberate strategy around this announcement about her and her husband Will Smith.”

“This is the most insightful and strategic move yet,” said Lisa Anderson, founder and president of Anderson Group Public Relations. “I thought: Is she a genius or what?”

If the goal was to promote the book, Anderson believes Pinkett Smith succeeded.

“It’s an absolute, absolute stroke of genius and it’s making headlines,” she said. “It just sounded alarm bells around the world and rang bells.”

MacPherson said she was surprised by Pinkett Smith’s tactics in light of the turmoil of Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner’s split, which saw the Jonas Brothers member “essentially accused of manipulating this divorce.”

“You’d think Pinkett Smith would use a different PR scheme for this rollout,” McPherson said.

Using lies to promote your book is a risky move that can undermine public trust.

Jada Pinkett Smith has used her talk show Red Table Talk as a platform for honest and open conversations.
Rich Furey/VF22/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

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

In the seven years they were quietly separated, Pinkett Smith and Smith continued to make appearances, supporting each other at premieres, award ceremonies and other key events.

Pinkett Smith took center stage on her show “Red Table Talk” for a candid conversation with Smith after musician August Alsina claimed he was in a relationship with her. Their “entanglement,” as it came to be called, occurred around 2016, during what the Smiths described as a “difficult time” and a temporary breakup in their marriage.

Smith infamously slapped Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars over the comedian’s joke about Pinkett Smith’s alopecia, although fans didn’t know they had already separated and hadn’t called each other “husband” and “wife” in years.

“What I found interesting about her choice of this narrative for the book tour is that she is releasing the narrative at a time when the disparity between public and private personalities is at its height,” McPherson said.

“In terms of scrutiny, I can’t imagine a more intense time in our culture when the public has been much more scrutinizing and questioning the motives of celebrities,” she said, “because when there is a discrepancy between public and private personalities, it raises ethical concerns and may be seen as deceptive and manipulative.”

Only time will tell if fans will stop hiding this information or if it will damage the Smiths’ credibility.

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith got married in 1997.
Jae S. Hong/AP Images

In light of the Smiths’ split, fans have resurfaced and dissected old interview clips. Pinkett Smith’s comments about her marriage on “Red Table Talk” – a show touted for its raw and real discussions – suddenly sounded different when she realized she and Smith had already split.

“Andy Cohen asked her directly on Watch What Happens Live, ‘How do you keep a relationship going in a tense relationship?’ and she had a hard time finding that answer because she was hiding lies,” McPherson said. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a celebrity or not, people don’t like to be lied to.”

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

“Jada Pinkett Smith fans will likely remain Jada Pinkett Smith fans,” McPherson said. “However, there are many people who are just casual fans or just know about both of them, I believe they will question the decision to hide this information, especially in light of her estranged husband Will exploiting the family’s value system and protecting his wife. when he pulled away and hit Chris Rock.”

“This is an ethical discrepancy that will exacerbate the investigation and call into question the trust of both of them,” she added.

Anderson, for his part, believes Pinkett and Smith could emerge from this news cycle largely unscathed.

“Hollywood can be very lenient, and I think it depends on why they lied,” she said. “I think it will encourage people to read the book and 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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