Lessons in PR from Dear Evan Hansen
While Dear Evan Hansen has been wildly popular since it made its debut in 2016 (and won the Tony for Best Musical in 2017), I finally had an opportunity to see the show this past weekend. Going into it, I already loved the music – but was truly blown away by the way it meaningfully focused on the themes of relationships, loneliness, love and loss. Dear Evan Hansen is also the first mainstream Broadway show that has brought the power of social media and technology to the forefront of center stage, so I wanted to share a few lessons that PR, social media and marketing professionals can take away from Evan’s errors.
Honesty is the Best Policy:
The storyline of Dear Evan Hansen is based around a letter that Evan wrote to himself as a homework assignment from his therapist. While printing the letter at the school library, his classmate, Connor Murphy picked up the printer from the feeder. After dying by suicide, the letter is found in his jacket pocket, leading his family to believe that it was his suicide note – and brings about questions about the close friendship between Evan and Connor that nobody knew about.
In the beginning, Evan can’t bring himself to tell the truth about the letter. What started as a white lie becomes a complicated story about how they were best friends, that includes everything from made up stories, bogus backdated emails and more in order to “help the Murphy’s” with the loss of their son. Eventually, Evan realizes that he can’t keep up with his lies and tells the truth.
In PR, its crucial that we create the most interesting backstory we possibly can in order to generate more media and consumer attention for our clients. While it may be tempting to inflate the truth – don’t do it! Any good and ethical reporter will do thorough research to ensure they have all of the facts they need to tell a complete story. If there are any holes in what you’re communicating, not only will the reporter not want to work with you again – but can hinder your client’s reputation, too! Like we were taught as children, honesty is the best policy – and is actually one of our 5 core values here at this public relations agency!
Anything Can Go Viral:
In today’s world, with everyone connected at every moment of the day – anything that is posted has the possibility of going viral in the blink of an eye. A video you post on YouTube could spread like wildfire, a blog post could get circulated by a publication with a massive reach or you could provide information “off the record” that gets published, etc.
As Evan’s classmate Alana begins to doubt his friendship with Connor, he learns this important lesson the hard way. As a ploy to “prove” their friendship was legitimate, Evan gives her a copy of Connor’s “suicide note” – that Alana immediately posts on the internet – without the permission of Evan OR Connor’s family.
As this public relations firm, we know that anything we say or write could easily be copy-pasted and shared with the public. As such, it’s our job to ensure our clients are aware of this too. Whether they are doing a phone interview, TV interview, giving a talk, etc. we must prepare them to be certain they do not share information about themselves or their business that they’re not comfortable with the whole world knowing.
When Evan’s letter was found with Connor, he started getting the attention from his classmates and peers that he’d wanted for so long. However, since he wasn’t able to provide a suitable response in the moment, notions were made about his friendship with Connor. At the end of the day, it is this initial lack of reply that is the groundwork for the web of elaborate lies to follow.
In PR, we know very well that crisis situations happen – sometimes more often than we’d like! Whenever this happens, there must be a quick response time. After getting all of the details, you must identify your crisis communications team, identify/train any spokespeople and notify stakeholders. Next, being armed with a statement is key – should media reach out. A lot of the time, a statement will suffice! The key here is responding as quickly and efficiently as possible – and hopefully getting head of the situation!