Public Relations Nation occasionally posts a guest blog. Raffaella Tonani is a journalism major and a Hofstra Honors College student enrolled in my Fundamentals of Public Relations course. The blog exceeds my word limit because Raffaella has many excellent and important suggestions! –JM
The Netflix show 13 Reasons Why was controversial. This is how Netflix approached the release of the show and this is a proposal of what I would have done before, during and after the release of the show.
Netflix positioned the show on social media platforms. On Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter, they posted images and quotes from the show. On Instagram some of the pictures were screenshots of the characters’ Instagram accounts, as if they would have posted the content. The show’s website linked users to crisis hotlines information and campaigns like #BeThe1to. Producers, two actors and Jay Asher (author of the book on which the show was based) hosted a panel a month before the release of the show explaining the focus of the show and its importance. The actors gave interviews explaining why they decided to be on the show. On three episodes, they had trigger warnings noting strong, graphic content. After the last episode, Netflix directed viewers to a short documentary “13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons” involving the actors/actresses, writers, experts and producers in the show.
Producers wanted to educate its public on bullying, rape and suicide. Even though they wanted the series to be crude and show the ugliness of suicide, they could have done so parallel to leading and taking control of the conversations. Experts argue content was too strong to watch alone. I would have posted a disclosure of strong content at the beginning of every episode along with a recommendation of seeing it with somebody else, preferably an adult. Netflix could have analyzed shows with similar targeted audience and launched surveys to these audiences to see how many people started watching a show because people close to them were watching it, how many of them watched them with someone else, and a list of how far would they go to watch it–for example, paying more.
The series became trendy. Netflix could have engaged with audiences, while making sure younger viewers were not alone, by having viewers send a picture to Netflix in exchange for a code to start viewing the show. To make it interactive, I would have offered group chats on Facebook with a psychologist, where users could have either used their name or be anonymous so viewers feeling overwhelmed could connect with other people feeling the same way.
Netflix reached out to schools to see how the teenagers were reacting to the show. I would have done this before the premier. I would have organized focus groups with teachers, psychologists and psychiatrists and other groups with parents and their children. Both groups could have shown the possible reactions to be prepared for, and try to minimize it with external factors like social media and promotion of dialogue. I would have hosted a conference with educators to screen the show and prepare them for the multiple approaches on topics in the show. I might have suggested screening one episode every day for school.
I would have also suggested a 13 Reasons Why campaign for 13 days on social media, and maybe fund one for 13 schools (the ones with higher bullying rates in the nation), but be transparent about the campaign so other schools can apply it. I would have empowered the campaign #13ReasonsWhyYOUMatter with actors/actresses, producers and Asher, telling the public 13 reasons why they did the show. Some of these reasons would be statistics about rape, bullying and suicide so the public knows why the show is necessary and why they are consistent with their message of explicit content. They might have reached out to ATTN Videos so each character of the show could spread awareness with these statistics like Brandon Flynn (Justin) did. I would emphasize their message of raising awareness through the crude portrayal of the suicide.
To continue with the author’s and the show’s message about never knowing what someone else is going through, or the effect some “jokes” have on people, I would add Clay Jensen’s (main character) line at the end of the show, “We have to be kinder to each other” to build a bullying, rape and suicide awareness campaign. And I would have the character the episode is about available after every episode to say why he/she thought the show was important, and have them answer questions so the content could be posted on social media. In every profile or cover picture on social media, I would have contact information of crisis hotlines–not a link to the website, but the numbers available. I would work to build an alliance with organizations like The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Association of School Psychologists and would have funded at least for the first month a constant 24/7 team available for callers. I would have contact info streaming at the bottom of the screen during every episode.
The show is sensitive. Given the variety of reactions (feedback they must consider for season 2), I would not release the whole season together. I would space out the episodes throughout 13 days to contain the public from feeling overwhelmed. Let schools, parents and kids talk about it, and host focus groups (random sampling) of parents and kids, separate and together. After the release, I would spread positive initiatives like high school student Morgan Abbott’s 13 Reasons Why Not and work with her to recreate it in other high schools.
I am not in favor or against the show. I recognize 13 Reasons Why has positive and negative consequences, and that the show could achieve its goal of raising awareness by controlling external variables better. If you need help PLEASE call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 En Español: 1-888-628-9454 Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889.