The story of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie is one of a carefully constructed image. Since day dot, their public relations machine has been churning out stories to present a snapshot of their performances and their personal lives with the widest public appeal.
This is the same for every celebrity. Charlie Sheen is a Hollywood bad boy; Beyonce is “Queen Bee”; Jennifer Lawrence is the dorky girl next door, and Kim Kardashian (no matter what you think of her) is America’s sex tape celebrity-turned marketing genius.
However, when Brad and Angelina first ‘came out’ to the world, their respective images went from Hollywood’s leading man and woman to homewrecker, cheats and liars. You know the story – Brad was married to Jennifer Aniston, and met Jolie while filming Mr and Mrs Smith. Both denied any romance between them, yet it was a matter of days between Brad and Jen announcing their divorce and Brangelina being snapped on the beach together. Our favourite Friend was painted as the sweet, innocent victim while Angelina was the sexy-but-evil ‘other woman’.
(Brad, as the man in this equation, mostly got off scot-free while the media pitted (lol) #TeamAng and #TeamJen against each other. But that gender narrative is a whole other blog.)
The point is, there is so much that can be learned about creating, managing and framing your public presence from celebrities – especially now that Brangelina is no more. Yep, Angelina filed for divorce on September 15, citing “irreconcilable differences”.
So let’s take a stroll through the history of their relationship, and follow the PR powerhouse of Brangelina for a few insights into taking control of your own story.
Control your narrative
As celebrities, people are always going to talk about you. In fact, that’s the point (and the job description.) The only problem is that it can be difficult to manage your own story when everyone is in on it – but it’s a great lesson to the rest of us about front-footing any news where and when you can.
As soon as Brad and Ang were photographed together for the first time, their PR machine was quick to turn things around. It didn’t take long for the stories to change from “Homewrecker Angelina!” to “Angelina Jolie – The New Mother Theresa”. A global humanitarian outreach strategy was the perfect antidote to the backlash the Tomb Raider star was facing, placing both her and Brad in strong positions as they helped with relief efforts and won humanitarian awards.
The photo that started it all (Credit: US Weekly)
Beyond this, they were experts at linking their growing, global family to the ‘do-good’ narrative they had going. They were healers, humanitarians, adoptive parents of children from third world countries, and were using their power to heal the world. Even Brad’s image benefitted from the strength of the Jolie narrative. He went from being Jolie’s ‘victim’ (or the main villain, depending on which way it was spun) to a “great dad” and humble sidekick to her global humanitarian efforts.
Their story flipped from sex and scandal to one of family and fundraising. Talk about a 180-degree campaign.
Stronger together: A PR portmanteau
It probably took less than a year for Ang and Brad to shed the negativity and become a brand united. They weren’t individual celebrities anymore – they were Brangelina.
The United States of Brangelina (Source: gesichtermix)
Many other celebrities have tried to ride the same mashed-up name train, and failed. It wasn’t that Brangelina had a better ring to it than Bennifer or TomKat – it was that their joint story was stronger, more believable, and unique. Apart, they probably would have done alright for themselves (okay, who are we kidding, they’re millionaires and on-screen royalty – they would have been fine) but together…. they became unstoppable.
Indeed, any story about Ang also became about Brad, and vice versa. When Angelina announced her double mastectomy via an op-ed in the New York Times, Brad also released a statement to say how “heroic” his wife was, cementing their partnership and joint brand. See? Alone? Okay. Together? Better.
From a PR perspective, two is so often better than one: An entrepreneur who launches a successful business is a great story, but a ‘philanthropreneur’ who also gives millions to solve the world’s problems is an even better one. If your business has a founder with an interesting story, that’s great, but two founders with incredible backstories is front page material.
Staying on-brand, for better or for worse
Even when things go south, it’s important that a brand’s messaging stays on track and all parties involved aren’t thrown to the wolves. Even though Ang and Brad have split up, the news and announcement of their divorce would have likely been no accident. Just because the main players have split doesn’t mean the game stops being played.
It would have been a calculated decision to ‘leak’ the divorce papers at the same time his new film trailer for Allied dropped. In fact, it works in Angelina’s favour, too, as their joint production company, Plan B, depends on the film doing well. At the same time, she gets to be the public front-footer of the divorce news, as the one who filed the papers in the first place.
Plus, Angelina has her lawyer in her corner being on brand by saying that she filed for divorce “for the health of the family”.
Perfect messaging from a well-oiled PR machine – something everyone can learn from.
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