15 April 2024
will smith chris rock crisis communications

Will Smith v Chris Rock at the Oscars- celebrity Crisis Communications needed

On March 27th at the Oscars Will Smith took insult from a joke that awards presenter Chris Rock made at the expense of Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, and a celebrity crisis communications situation arose.

The Backstory

Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith have consistently had negative media write ups about their marriage over the years. Jada also suffers from alopecia that is rumoured to have been brought on by stress. Chris Rock, the presenter of the Oscars that night, made a joke about her short hair and Will Smith took offence.

In full view of the camera’s he strode up to Rock and open-slapped him to the face. The audience initially thought it was part of a pre-arranged situation but the volley of sweary abuse from Smith to Rock confirmed that it wasn’t pre-planned. Later in the night, Will Smith went on to win an Oscar for his portrayal of Richard Williams in the film King Richard and used the win as a vehicle to apologise for his earlier actions.

The global, largely negative, media coverage of the story was not surprising, nor was the split in sentiment across the press and wider social media. Some did praise Smith for defending his wife, but the majority claimed it was a step too far.

At the time of writing, Rock had not pressed charges and no further police action has been taken.

The Will Smith Crisis Communications Plan

Will Smith kicked off his own Crisis Communications plan in style at the event itself by taking the best route possible and apologising for his actions very publicly. It is interesting to note that Smith was immediately seen to be having dialogue and receiving advice from his publicist, Meredith O. Sullivan during the commercial break that took place directly after the slap.

The bartering situation is one used by many celebrities over the years to try and draw attention away from one situation by highlighting another. In Political Crisis Communications terms this is also known as a Dead Cat Strategy and has been deployed most famously by Boris Johnson in the UK and Donald Trump in the USA.

Whilst I fully expect Will Smith to survive this media storm, as let’s face it, many in Hollywood have done worse yet made a comeback, the brand with the most to lose is The Oscars. The awards themselves went down the Crisis Comms 101 route of announcing an investigation the day after it happened and we shall await the findings of that investigation.

Within one day of the event taking place Will Smith posted a public apology on his Instagram account which is, again, a good indicator that he is receiving top notch comms advice.

For wider reading, I was approached by the UK newspaper, The Sun for my thoughts on the earning impact (none) of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock and the impact of the crisis communications plan that is currently being deployed by the A-list actor (it’s going well). You can read my thoughts in The Sun, here.

UPDATE: Around one week after the incident, the Oscars Academy announced that it was going to be investigating the actions of Will Smith. Will Smith then announced that we was resigning his position in The Academy.

Crisis Communications Threat Score: 5/10

*Header image picture credit: The BBC

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