Editor’s note: This article contains spoilers for the Broadway musical
“Dear Evan Hansen.”
Dear Evan Hansen, you could use a few PR lessons.
The Broadway musical about an anxiety-ridden high school outsider recently
swept the 2017 Tony Awards with six wins, including Best Musical. The
critically acclaimed production won over audiences with the way it
touches on themes of love, loss, loneliness and relationships.
There are plenty of life lessons you can learn from the show as the web of
lies Hansen creates inevitably begins to unravel.
It’s also the first major Broadway show that brings social media technology
to the stage, so here are a few lessons that PR pros can take away from
Evan’s on- and offline missteps:
1. Don’t create a false backstory.
“Dear Evan Hansen’s” plot revolves around a letter Hansen wrote to
himself as a therapy assignment, which ends up in the hands of classmate
Connor Murphy. The letter is found with Murphy after he commits suicide,
leading people to assume that it was his suicide note. The assumption
raises questions about the friendship between Hansen and Murphy that nobody
At first, Hansen is unable to tell the truth about the letter’s origins.
What begins as a lie of omission turns into a complicated backstory about
the alleged friendship that involves everything from fabricated anecdotes
to fake backdated email conversations between him and Murphy.
Eventually—and despite all the attention the lie has brought him—Hansen can
no longer keep up with his web of lies and the truth comes out.
As PR pros, we want to create the most interesting backstory we can in
order to gain more attention for our clients. Tempting as it might be to
inflate the truth, a good reporter will do his or her research and seek out
the facts. If there are holes in your story, they will eventually come to
light—where they can cause damage to your relationship with the journalist
and your client’s reputation.
There’s a difference between selecting an appealing angle for your tale and
manufacturing a story. Make sure yours is always rooted in the truth.
2. Anything has the potential to go viral.
In today’s constantly connected world, anything can go viral in a matter of
seconds. A blog post you write can get circulated by an outlet that reaches
millions. A sentence you utter could get picked up by a hot mic or tweeted
by someone who overheard you. A casual conversation that you assumed was
off the record could spread publicly and come back to haunt you.
Hansen learns this lesson the hard way as he tries to convince his
classmate Alana Beck of his story, as she grows increasingly skeptical of
the truth of Hansen’s alleged friendship with Murphy. In an attempt to
convince her the friendship is real, Hansen shares a copy of Murphy’s
“suicide note” (his own letter to himself), which Beck publishes on the
internet without Hansen’s permission. It promptly goes viral.
Organizations’ leaders, spokesmen, and PR pros—along with anyone with a
public presence—should always assume that anything they say or write could
easily become public fodder.
3. Always have a response prepared.
If you seek attention and eventually receive it, be prepared to respond to
whatever comes your way.
When Hansen’s letter was found beside Murphy’s body, Hansen began receiving
the attention from others he previously craved. Because Hansen cannot not
process an appropriate response at first, assumptions are made about his
relationship with Murphy. It’s Hansen’s initial lack of response that lays
the foundation for his large, intricate lie.
PR pros are often tasked with seeking attention for their clients and must
be prepared to respond when that attention finally comes.
For example, when a journalist responds to a story idea you have been
pitching, have a spokesman ready and available to speak with that reporter
on the original topic or storyline you presented.
By always having a response prepared, you ensure you don’t miss out on
valuable opportunities to bring desired attention your way.
Dee Donavanik is a vice president at
(@ScottCircle), a full service communications, conference and event management firm
based in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter: