Episode Transcript – How to Respond to a Reputational Crisis

Stories and Strategies Podcast

Episode 59

Guest, Alee Opuiyo, Dynamic Public Relations

Published April 3, 2022

Listen to this episode

Chris Rock (00:01):

He can’t win. He is praying that Will Smith wins. It’s like, please, Lord Jada, I love you. GI Jane two. Can’t wait to see it. All right. It’s jealous. That was a nice one. Okay, I’m out here. Oh, Richard <laugh>. Oh wow. Wow. Will Smith smack the [inaudible] outta me? Mike’s

Will Smith (00:41):

Name [inaudible] mouth.

Chris Rock (00:45):

Wow. Dude. Yes, it was a G I changer.

Will Smith (00:49):

Keep my wife’s name [inaudible] Mouth.

Chris Rock (00:53):

I’m going to. Okay. I can. Oh, okay. That was a greatest night in the history of television. Okay. Okay.

Doug Downs (01:21):

My name is Doug Downs. My guest this week is Alee Opuiyo joining us from Washington DC Hi Alee.

Alee Opuiyo (01:28):

Hi. How are you?

Doug Downs (01:29):

Good. Good. Alee, I know much of your background has involved media relations, have your own firm dynamic public relations, and you’ve worked with NFL players, high level CEOs, heart surgeons, folks with a lot of stuff on the line all the time. Reputations are important. You have a BA in broadcast journalism from Howard University in DC and an associate’s degree in Communication and Media Arts. Okay. Alee, as you and I speak, this incident is still, this crisis is still pretty fresh. It happened really just a couple of days ago from here at the Oscars. For a lot of listeners, this will have been a week ago, maybe a couple of weeks ago, and for some the listener, this incident might be months old by now, but the issue is still the same. So I wanna approach this from the Will Smith side of things. Really, not a lot of people arguing that he didn’t do something wrong. Some are saying, Chris Rock, maybe that was an offensive joke. I’m not here to argue that at all, but I wanna pretend that you and I are the PR firm working for Will Smith. Okay. An act of violence possibly extremely damaging to his reputation. What now?

Alee Opuiyo (02:45):

Well, here’s the thing. People definitely would not look at him the same. And it, it’s, it’s disheartening because he’s such a talented actor, but damage control is needed to be done immediately. It should have been done yesterday, so to speak. So he definitely has some work to do to repair his image.

Doug Downs (03:05):

And as you and I speak he’s given, of course, he spoke moments after winning the Oscar for best actor, which was maybe a blessing and a curse. He has access to a worldwide audience to make his first comments. It may have come too soon. He has now given a formal apology specifically to Chris Rock, where does he need to go from here? The formal apology is, we kind of expect it. Right?

Alee Opuiyo (03:34):

Well, here’s the thing. What I have a problem with is the sequence in which he apologized when he gave his speech. That would’ve been the ideal time before he addressed anything to apologize to Chris Rock. In his speech, he failed to acknowledge and apologized to Chris Rock. He then launched, posted an apology to Chris Roth is social media. That’s very impersonal.


And to me, that’s just completely unacceptable. And if I was his publicist, I would have whispered in his ear that night that when you accept your award, he would be a great idea to get ahead of the narrative, right. For you to apologize to Chris Rock and accept responsibility for what you did. And I don’t know if his publicist did that. People always have to understand that our clients are adults and they’re going to do what they’re going to do. So no matter how you advise them, ultimately the decision to take action is theirs. So I’m not saying she didn’t say that. She could have very well told him to do that, but he took it upon himself to not listen to the council of his publicist and say what he wanted to say and do what he wanted to do. So that, that’s where public relations and having PR teams, it’s kind of a catch 22 because if something goes wrong by default, we’re blamed for it. And so I don’t think that’s fair. So again, we don’t know how his publicist advised him, but if he was my client I would’ve asked him was he okay? And then I’m gone to attack mode damage control mode, if you will,

Doug Downs (05:25):

To try to capture at least some of the narrative here.

Alee Opuiyo (05:28):


Doug Downs (05:28):

So this brings up a good question. You’ve worked with N F L players. I share your experience. And then I’ve worked with very high level executives. And at that point we’re dealing with powerful individuals who got there in part because they are powerful personalities. Yes. It’s not a question of should the PR person take them aside and have that come to Salvation Talk? I know they should. The question is how do you do it? And it’s going to be different, I suppose, for every client. It’s personality dependent.

Alee Opuiyo (06:01):

Definitely there, there’s no cookie cutter way to approach PR as you’re dealing with clients. Every client is different, every client’s needs are different. Your approach with every client, you’re going to tailor it accordingly. The N F L player that you mentioned, he came to me, his lawyer actually came to me and said, Hey, I have a client who is facing an indictment and he would like his narrative shared. And he hadn’t gotten a chance to do that. So I went in crisis PR mode and I got him several interviews that showed his side of the story, which he had was never able to disseminate. And after I got him about three or four interviews right after he was convicted, and those interviews really helped the public’s opinion of him and his ordeal. I also brought on the social media team that I partner with and they created content for his social media platforms, again, to create, help shape that narrative of that client and present them in a different light that had not been seen before.

Doug Downs (07:14):

And it’s so important because people left of their own devices will start speculating all kinds of things. Exactly. Things I’ve read about Will Smith now, people speculating that he must be violent at home, right? Comedians saying, Hey, this could trigger people at shows thinking it’s okay to go up on stage and slap the comedian. There was one take comedian Tiffany Haddish, she’s a family friend of the Smiths. I know she’s worked with Jada Pinkett Smith on a show previously. This is her quote, when I saw a black man stand up for his wife, that meant so much to me. Did she potentially damage her own reputation there or can we see that she’s trying to speak from a good place?

Alee Opuiyo (07:55):

Well, well, quite frankly, Tiffany Haddish, her comments, they’re disheartening to me. Okay. I don’t care what your race is, what Will Smith did is deplorable and should not be excused as chivalry. Okay. But to answer your question, it’s incredibly important because the time that the incident occurred, the clock started ticking, and every minute that that incident was not addressed makes it look worse and could lead to possible long-term effects, a damaged reputation.

Doug Downs (08:30):

Let’s talk about the tools. Will Smith has used social media. Okay. What are some of the other tools to start influencing the narrative out there? What else should he have done?

Alee Opuiyo (08:42):

Well, here’s the thing. I’ve been a publicist since 2007. So I’m a little old school in the sense of utilizing press and media contacts to create opportunities for my clients to redeem themselves. I feel social media is an amateur way to do so, although it’s fast, in my opinion, it’s amateur. So what I would have recommended if I was his publicist, would be to have an open dialogue with him, Jada, and see if Chris’s team would be willing or intro interested for the three of them to have an open dialogue. And that dialogue wouldn’t consist of You did this, you did that. No, it would be the highlight of that dialogue would be communication or their lack of between men, whether you be black, white, whatever your race is. This is for me, I wanna get away from, I want this conversation to really get away from the narrative of it being a black or white thing. What Will Smith did was wrong, whether he would’ve been white or whatever, it doesn’t matter. And that for me, I would create that as a nucleus of conversation.

Doug Downs (09:55):

I like that idea of getting together with Rock’s team. I mean, Rock chose not to press charges that I don’t wanna read too much into that, but

Alee Opuiyo (10:03):

That’s commendable.

Doug Downs (10:04):

Yeah, maybe commendable maybe tells me something right. <laugh>, like you really wanna stay away from the racial undertones to this incident. But I can’t get away from this is an African American man striking another African American man. And as a white man it really pisses me off, to tell you the truth.

Alee Opuiyo (10:26):

I think in terms of the Black Lives Matter movement, I think we’ve forgotten or <laugh>, I think we have veered away from the fact that Black Lives Matter should matter to us within the black community as well. So we can’t expect, I’m just being very transparent. We can’t expect others to value our lives, our wellbeing, if we’re demonstrating in cases like this that we don’t even care about ourselves, and I may get some slack for this, but I have to keep it 100, I have to keep it 100. Because our Caucasian, Asian, et cetera counterparts who are looking at this, I’m sure they feel this as uncomfortable as you do. So there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.

Doug Downs (11:20):

What does Smith do now within the Hollywood community? Because that really is a type of fraternity slash sorority that <laugh> either in the crowd and boy, he was at least in the crowd. And I suspect,

Alee Opuiyo (11:36):

Yes, he definitely, yes,

Doug Downs (11:37):

He kind of still might be. But what does he do now in Hollywood circles? Does he go have coffees? Does he chat with people? How does he build this back up?

Alee Opuiyo (11:47):

Well, here’s the thing. I think Will Smith should just, lay low just really keep out of the media if he can and just really lay low and just begin to rebuild his reputation. Because I think now, even from a professional standpoint, I think people may be scared or apprehensive, if you will, to work with him because they don’t know what’s going to trigger his behavior. Will Smith is six three over 200 pounds. I mean, he’s a tall guy and he has an big deal, intimidating big deal. He has an intimidating presence. And so I don’t care what your race of your nationality is, if you oppose a threat to people in a work environment, people are going to question whether it’s worth working with you again. And I think people are having those conversations right now because of that incident. So to answer your question, I think he should just lay low right now, lay low and be receptive to positive and negative feedback that he’s going to receive. He has to expect that what he did in a sense, traumatized a lot of people, traumatized a lot of people because people have never seen Will Smith as a violent entity. So to do something as shocking as to slap someone on stage, it’ll be ingrained in people’s minds forever. So he shouldn’t do much of anything right now, just Lilo.

Doug Downs (13:13):

And so I’ll just sort of say how I feel point blank, will Smith has been my favorite actor until Oscar night, right? There’s no one I’d rather see in a movie, just top drawer. He can do comedy, he can do drama, he can do sad. So to see that fall from grace, I mean Superman met their kryptonite that night just for me personally. And a lot of people are going to have different feelings going down, different realms. So I like that idea of laying low because maybe it gives people, the populace, a chance to begin to appreciate on their own over time.

Alee Opuiyo (13:59):


Doug Downs (14:00):

That maybe there are some personal, even mental health issues because we all have, well then

Alee Opuiyo (14:08):

He has to address.

Doug Downs (14:10):

And I know it’s sad that I know a bit of his history of his marriage with Jada Pinkett Smith. I’ve never met Will Smith. He doesn’t know anything about my marriage, but because he’s a celebrity, I somehow know, right? That’s not fair. But they have been through a lot publicly in their marriage and maybe something kind of snaps. So maybe that passage of time gives me a chance to build a little bit of empathy without totally forgiving. But time does tend to heal a lot of wounds.

Alee Opuiyo (14:40):

Yeah, I think that’s an accurate assessment of what Will Smith needs to do, how he’s perceived publicly. I think that it is, it’s just one of those things where it’s really going to be hard for, people may be able to forgive him, but to forget that visual of him walking up to the stage and smacking Chris Rock. I mean, that’s just, it’s jarring and he needs to lay low. I think less is more, but I think it definitely needs to be addressed one time. I think the red table, the red table would be appropriate and a conversation needs to be had. I think he owes, if anything, he owes Chris Rock that he owes Chris Rock, that dialogue. Oh yeah. Okay. And as far as his personal life and things that we know, it’s his family, they’ve chosen to allow us to know, they have been very public.


And when you disclose personal information publicly, you leave yourself vulnerable to being the butt of the joke indefinitely. I mean, people are still referring to the new vocabulary word, entanglement when you hear Will and Jada, Entanglement is the third word that comes along. So it is just, just unfortunate that he and his family were being vulnerable and it’s coming back to bite them in the butt now. And so for him, he’s human. It probably just came to a head. I don’t know. I think everyone’s trying to rationalize what he did and why he did it.

Doug Downs (16:22):

And let’s not forget that there are other Hollywood celebrities that have fallen from Grace. Mel Gibson. I still won’t really see a Mel Gibson movie, if I can help it. Liam Neeson is another one that really set me off. But then there are celebs, like Tom Cruise is an example of a celebrity who has had some crazy moments and yet seems to be able to make a comeback. And we, as human beings, man, we love a comeback. I hate to use this cuz it’s so tried and true, but yes, there is opportunity in every crisis. Oh, definitely. When roughly my opportunity might be the right time for Will Smith do. When do you think that is?

Alee Opuiyo (17:07):

It’s just a matter of time. I think the better question to ask is what strategies will his team possibly use to, I hate to say it, capitalize on this very unfortunate incident. I know that for Chris Rock, he’s currently on tour with Kevin Hart and ticket sales have gone through the roof and have increased in value within the last 72 hours because of this. So I think it would be very tacky, but he may use us as an opportunity to capitalize on it. I hope not. But this is America. We tend to capitalize on tragedy our tragedy or someone else’s tragedy. So I think there’s no length for me, I can’t predict the length of time it will take. I just think he has to let it run its course and understand that what he did traumatized a lot of people and he just has to take it one day at a time.

Doug Downs (18:07):

And just going back to that immediate after the immediate effects question about controlling the narrative and getting out there and social media, I agree with you. Social media is probably a tacky way to issue an apology. It is a powerful tool. Yes. Especially in crisis. So ugly question, given how important the narrative is to influencing how people respond, we do not are semi controlled by the narrative that we sense around us, we’re influenced by other people. Are there agents who take to Twitter in particular to quickly try to control or distract the narrative for clients or the political parties who are hiring them?

Alee Opuiyo (18:52):

Oh, definitely. I mean, you have entities who have whole social media teams and strategies in place in order to control the narrative. Because before it spins out of control again, I think it just disappoints me that public relations has gotten to that point to where social media is utilized in that way. It disappoints me. I’m, again, I’m old school, so I’m all about reaching out to my contacts, sitting down with my media contacts to explain my client’s side of the story and then have them interview them and engage them in conversation slash an interview from that school of thought, that school of pr. But again, with social media, it’s pretty much diminished that aspect of public relations. And that’s unfortunate.

Doug Downs (19:54):

It’s like cheapened the conversation kind of

Alee Opuiyo (19:56):


Doug Downs (19:58):

Last question. Tell me a little bit about Dynamic Public relations and what you do and where you provide the services out of. Is it all out of DC?

Alee Opuiyo (20:06):

Yeah. Well, here’s the thing. I’m based in the Washington Washington DC metropolitan area, but we provide services for people nationwide. Pretty much people hire us to help them highlight their profiles, whether it be public relation services to promote their events, crisis PR services, to clean up a client’s image, social media management, strategic interviews, community partnership opportunities, branding, marketing, logistics coordinator. I mean, I can go on and on. Press release and immediate advisory composition. We wear many hats and we feel we wear them very well.

Doug Downs (20:45):

Perfect. Thank you for your time today, Alee.

Alee Opuiyo (20:48):

Thank you for having me.

Doug Downs (20:50):

If you’d like to send a message to my guest, Alee Opuiyo, you can reach her through her website and that is in the show notes for this episode. Stories and Strategies is a co-production of J G R Communications and podcasts that pop. We’re hoping you might leave a rating for this podcast on either Apple or Spotify. And please take the time to leave a review that really influences the algorithm. You can connect with us on Twitter. It’s at coms underscore podcast. We’re also on Instagram and you don’t more than anything else. If you like this episode, would you do us a favor? Tell just one friend. Thanks for listening.