Marijane Funess September 20, 2016 | 06:28:17

When PR Jumps On Breaking News (Brangelina Divorce Edition)

In the public relations industry, keeping up with the news is a must. This means hyper-vigilance to alerts about matters from the ultra-serious (terror arrests) to the news that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are divorcing. Obviously, any divorce is sad for the family, and this one is compounded by an avalanche of media coverage. Not since Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s “conscious uncoupling” has a marriage’s end been so magnified and dissected by media eager to cover it from every conceivable angle.

This is also where PR often comes in. Here, we’re referring to PR for products and services that are represented by subject-matter experts. No sooner had the news broken on pagesix of the New York Post, than reporter queries began hitting our inboxes. Clearly, journalists can gain by covering the story from every angle possible — it’s hot news. But what about legitimate experts? Do they have anything to gain by weighing in?

We took the subject up with some PR professionals and heard a variety of opinions from the representative for a divorce attorney (“the opportunity we’ve been waiting for”) to a family therapist (“too tawdry, too opportunistic and I hate ‘armchair’ prescribing”.) The bottom line is that subject-matter experts must decide for themselves if they want to join the chorus, and they should examine their motivations for doing so.

There are examples of previously unknown experts vaulted to stardom by being linked with a high-profile situation. Remember when Oprah Winfrey was sued by a group of Texas cattle producers? In the high-profile suit, Winfrey was accused of creating a “lynch mob mentality” among her audience with a show about the safety of beef. A local psychologist and jury consultant captured press interest with his opinions about the case, and years later that same guy commands a media empire of his own. He’s Dr. Phil, of course.

So while you contemplate the PR value of linking an expert to the demise of “Brangelina,” conventional PR wisdom asks that you pose the same questions you would while grappling with any potential story angle. Look to answer the following questions in the affirmative.

Will the story portray me (my company) in a positive light?
You don’t want to be seen as gloating over misfortune or to be taking sides. Any advice should be constructive and compassionate, or, at the very least, neutral.

Will the story appeal to/influence my target audience?
Sometimes it’s tempting to say yes to an interview in order to see your name come up in searches, but it’s best to consider your core customers and potential ones before you agree to invest the time in a media interview. The internet, after all, is forever.

Will the story enhance my reputation as an expert?
Who else is being interviewed for the story? Make sure you’re in good company, and don’t be pushed into saying anything you’re uncomfortable with or that constitutes an oversimplification of the situation.

Will the story bring new users to my product/service?
The answer may be no, which doesn’t necessarily mean you should turn down the interview. But weigh the likely positive outcome against the time and preparation needed to offer an articulate and well-differentiated appearance or commentary.
If the subject matter expert you represent (or happen to be) is truly well served by jumping on the Jolie-Pitt divorce story, there are plenty of angles to consider. Here’s a sampling of some story ideas different media are exploring.

Men’s Journal: “Dating Advice for Brad Pitt”

SheKnows:  “The Healthiest Way to Divorce Someone You Once Loved.” “How Will Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt Split Their Real Estate? “

EOnline: “Navigating the Public Divorce”

Yahoo News: “Effects of Divorce on Celebrity Children” 

And one of our favorites,, is penning a piece on the phenomenon of the “portmanteau,” a word formed from the blending of two words or names. You didn’t think of that, did you?

Farewell, Brangelina! We’ll miss it, but even in leaving it seems there’s no shortage of angles to explore, which, at the end of the day, is what all public relations people want.

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