A PR Lesson Courtesy of Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie

Yesterday, I shared an example of a bad public relations practice. Today, we’ll examine a technique that worked very successfully – Angelina Jolie’s New York Times op-ed about her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy because her doctors estimated she had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer.

Why do I consider Jolie’s announcement a successful use of public relations? For starters, she used an op-ed as the vehicle to convey her message. Op-ed articles are one of the rare public relations tools that allow individuals and organizations to choose their own wording and phrasing when they communicate with the public. With it comes to press releases, press conferences, speeches, interviews and other public relations tools, the journalists who report those stories select the parts (if any) of those materials that make it into their news accounts.

An op-ed article also gives the author the opportunity to avoid answering questions from the press. Had Jolie made her announcement at a press conference, she would have been peppered with questions from the media – and those questions might have moved the story in a different direction than what she intended.

Her announcement also was an op-ed published in The New York Times, the largest seven-day newspaper in the United States. The Times’ print edition has about a million daily readers, and its website attracts 30 million unique visitors a month. So Jolie’s message is reaching a very large audience.

Getting an op-ed published in The New York Times is no easy task, even for public figures like Jolie. The newspaper receives about 1,200 op-ed submissions each week and has room to run just one or two each day. Her op-ed made the cut because it contained an important and powerful message, and it offered a glimpse into the personal life of a celebrity and her family. As The Guardian reported: “It was an extraordinarily public declaration of an incredibly private experience.”

Need more proof that Jolie’s announcement was a success from a PR standpoint? Then take a look at these headlines and stories:

Jolie has done something extraordinary

Jolie’s Disclosure of Preventive Mastectomy Highlights Dilemma

Angelina Jolie’s mastectomy news shocks, enlightens

Angelina Jolie’s brave message

Brad Pitt Calls Angelina Jolie’s Decision ‘Heroic’

Angelina Jolie’s mastectomy account raises awareness of gene testing

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