“13 Reasons Why” campaign PRoposal

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


Raffaella Tonani

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.

Your thoughts?

29 thoughts on ““13 Reasons Why” campaign PRoposal

  1. Daniella

    I watched 13 Reason Why, and I am not sure if the Netflix emphasized rape culture, suicide and bullying prevention as much as they intended to. They did show multiple graphic images and scenes concerning suicide and rape but besides that they could have delved deeper into the conversation we should be having about suicide instead. Netflix could have done more to increase awareness of suicide beyond the show as well. Yes, showing the graphic images does hit the audience harder but it also had the possible to trigger some people as well. I agree with Rafaella suggestion to have started a campaign before the series started and to be transparent about what was going to be shown in the series. Especially since the topic is so sensitive. Since Netflix, has never produced a show like this before, they probably did not know it was going to have this type of reaction. However, as PR professionals we are constantly being taught to think of any possible crises in a situation and in this case there were many issues that could have and did arise from this show. Netflix could have hosted support groups and have events outside of the show to educate people of suicide,rape and bullying prevention.

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  2. Owen Lewis

    I didn’t watch the show in its entirety, but from what I saw it seemed as though they had glamorized suicide. There was no real effort, to my knowledge, of a campaign to discuss the subject matter of the show. I would also like to assert that the show does not address slut shaming itself, but rather whether the main character was a “slut” or not. Major PR works was necessary to address the dangers of this show.

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    1. Summer

      I watched the entire 13 Reasons Why series on Netflix and I enjoyed it. Though I enjoyed the event I understand the implications and controversial elements of the show. I don’t personally battle depression or suicidal thoughts so my perspective on the show doesn’t stem from personal experience. I agree with Rafaella that the show’s producers and writers should have produced content that more aligned with realistic suicidal stories. Its surprising me to hear that youth consumed this series. Personally, this show triggered some anxiety and sadness within me so I could only imagine what impact this had with minors.

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  3. olivia abbatiello

    Personally, I did not watch 13 Reasons Why. I have a serious issue with glamorizing things like teen suicide, depression and rape. That being said, my feelings on the matter are strictly as an outsider, since I never viewed the series myself.

    While some say the show was factual and respected these issues by portraying them in ways in which considered the children and young adults who could relate to it rather than feel scrutinized for the issues they face revolving mental health and rape, I do feel there should have been a much larger effort on the producers of the series and Netflix itself to truly portray how powerful and graphic the show actually is. Again, not having viewed it I can’t speak from personal experience, but my sister who is a social worker for children with mental illnesses once told me that all of the kids whom she counsels that watched the show were very upset by it. They didn’t feel understood, they felt triggered by the content and the extent of how far it went.

    I agree with Raffaella’s suggestion and agree an overall campaign that truly focused more on the well being of those who were going to watching the show would have resulted in a more constructive and positive response for Netflix. Young children and at risk youth have no reason to watch something like this, especially if it will only make them feel more hopeless in the life situation they are dealt.

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  4. Matthew Leong

    With much of the show, it did not seem that 13 reasons Why, hit its mark to raise awareness for suicide. The story felt off in certain aspects and ended up being seen as a joke more than something that should be taken seriously. The problem was that it was marketed as a story of teenager drama taken to extremes. When something as sensitive as this is taken to the big screen, the meaning often can get lost, especially when the acting was not the greatest. The show kind of simplified a tough situation and caused it to be laughable rather than taken seriously. It needed to be more centralized on taking a better approach to make the show about actual suicide prevention and not the story of the characters.

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  5. czackarypenn

    I personally am not a fan of 13 reasons why because I feel like it sensationalizes teen suicide and in a weird way, supports it. I feel like teens may take this glamorization of suicide as a revenge plot is something they should follow and try to replicate it in a way. I discourage people from watching this show because I do not think it is a good example to teens around the world and do not think a second season should be made.

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  6. Megan Pohlman

    I agree with Rafaella’s opinion on the show 13 Reasons Why. I binge watched the show a few months ago and I am still unsure about how I felt towards it. I’m not sure if it spread awareness of suicide or not. I think it did make people more cautious of how they treat others, however. I don’t exactly remember how the season ended, but despite the cliffhanger, I would not produce another season. Though there are some positive outcomes from the show, I believe there are more negative outcomes. To prevent suicide, I think producers should refrain from making such intense shows like 13 Reasons Why.

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  7. Chris Bounds

    As you mentioned toward the end I think that Netflix could have gone a little further with increasing their effort to create awareness of suicide, bullying, and rape. I have never personally seen the 13 Reasons WHy, but I have heard friends talk about it. The general consensus from what I have been able to deduct is that people most generally like it. I think that the amount of preparation by Netflix before the show was released was taken with good criticism, but still as said before there is always more that could have been done in order to spread awareness of the issues that featured in this show.

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  8. Paula Chirinos

    I didn’t watch the first season of 13 Reason Why until the controversy behind the show spread. I understand the arguments from both side. On one side, people expressed their concerns of the show “romanticizing” the issue of suicide as a revenge plot, while the other side argued that the show handled the situation properly. I personally think the show was set to erupt controversy merely from the fact that it chose to center on the issue of suicide and did the best they could to warn people about the issue (particularly on the episode where the protagonist committed suicide). I also appreciate how the popularity of the show has brought up a major discussion on the matter of mental health and how to handle these situations in a school setting.

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  9. Justin Ayala

    I saw the series of 13 Reasons myself and I believe that did a good job in spreading awareness of suicide, bullying and prevention, especially to young demographics. However, I do agree with Rafaella that there the show has both positive and negative consequences. The positive is getting the word out there because suicide is one the leading causes of death in teens. Young people should know these things and know how to prevent it, especially if they see signs. In terms of spreading awareness, that’s a positive consequence. On the other hand, a negative consequence would have to be desensitization of the subject matter. It’s a very serious one and can be triggering for some. I do not believe their intention was to desensitize audiences but that happens naturally with any tv show.

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  10. Nichole Bingham

    I have heard of the show 13 Reasons Why but I have never seen it. I want to see the show, its just that I don’t want to have to pay for Netflix. When I first heard about the show and saw the trailer on YouTube I was very intrigued by it. It looks like a very good show that I would entertain to watch. Bullying, suicide and rape are very important topics to talk about, especially with teenagers and young adults. Before releasing any content of the show I would organize small groups of people ranging from 15-22 year olds to come and watch a clip of the show and see what they think. I would like to get their opinions about what they think of the show first before going any further because the show seems to address very touchy topics.

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  11. Matt Howard

    While Rafaella has a lot of creative ideas about how to use PR to make watching 13 Reasons Why a positive experience for viewers, I think some of the tactics could be tweaked to educate people on why most people attempt suicide in the first place. Many people who attempt suicide do so because of a long history of chronic depression, not necessarily because of a string of events that happen within a relatively short period of time. That being said, everyone has a different story and I do recognize that 13 Reasons Why is a fictional story that narrates one person’s traumatizing experiences.

    If I were doing PR for 13 Reasons Why, I would combine positive online messaging with education on the mental illness angle that the show, in my opinion, missed out on. I think the #13ReasonWhyYouMatter campaign could be effective so long as it was paired with mental illness education alongside it in some way. I think Rafaella’s idea to pair with mental health organizations is great PR. I do think some of her suggestions such as not releasing the show all at once or having younger viewers send a selfie with someone else to Netflix fall outside the realm of PR. More of her creativity could be focused on how to use the show as an opportunity for viewers to educate themselves on the complicated issue of suicide.

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  12. Shayla Sales

    I did watch the show 13 Reasons Why, and like in the article, some scenes were too graphic for some audiences, including myself at times. I believe that the shows purpose served as an engaging and insightful way to raise awareness of the issue of suicide in young people. In terms of younger audiences, I agree also that a disclosure for each episode that contained graphic content should have been posed in the beginning. However, as far as having focus groups before the season was released, I’m not sure how effective or beneficial that would have been. I say this because if the feedback they received was negative or too sensitive for some users, would that stop the production of the show? If so wouldn’t that then stop this movement of raising awareness about suicide, or the producers would have to change the content to lessen the audiences reaction, but then that takes away the effectiveness and seriousness of the issue at hand. I think that the idea of having the focus groups is brilliant to receive insight in a child the same age as the actors, but I do not believe that the feedback should determine whether a show that focuses on real issues should be aired or not.

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  13. Greg Liodice

    To be quite honest, this is the first time I’m ever hearing of this show, but an informative blog post like this one from Raffaella spread some light on the message it projects. When dealing with such a sensitive topic like mental health, people really need to think about just what they can do to help people in the most obvious way possible. Some people are not going to get the subliminal messages and metaphors. Instead, people who battle mental health issues daily will use it as even more fuel to their issues instead of cooling it down. It seems from this post that the show had good intentions, but the results did not live up to it. Should there be a second season, I would like to hope that the producers realize that maybe they need to make it a little more obvious that the show is about helping people and not adding more fuel to the fire.

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  14. Brianna Flynn

    I never got around to watching the show 13 Reasons Why, but I did hear from those who watched it that the show was indeed very triggering to anyone who has suffered from anxiety or depression. I very much agree that there should have been a warning put before every episode in order to ensure that viewers understand how sensitive the topic of the show is. I think that maybe Netflix rushed the show into mainstream media in order to raise awareness for suicide and depression to those who do not understand or know about mental illnesses. However, as a result, Netflix failed to cater to its audience who has been depressed or suicidal in ensuring that they are prepared for what they are going to see on the show

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  15. Kristina Barry

    Like Raffaella stated I was one of the people who only watched 13 Reasons Why because everyone else was. I wanted to understand and be in the conversation. While watching, I was kind of surprised that the only time they warned viewers was before the last episode and that was due to graphic images. I believe that there should have been more research done prior to releasing the show as well as warning and informing viewers. I know that the show suffered many repercussions. The principal of my brother’s high school even sent out a newsletter to warn parents of what their child may be watching. I believe that Netflix and the producer should have taken that responsibility in their own hands rather than “relying” on a second party.

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  16. Jessica Sodowich

    Mental health and suicide is unfortunately a subject that I’ve come to know more closely than I’d prefer. While I understand that the intention was not to glorify these important topics, I did not go out of my way to watch 13 Reasons Why because it became glorified through the attention it was getting. Based on what I experienced, the attention the show gathered was not the progressive, conversation-starting kind. I have no interest in ever watching the show, but I would consider giving the book a chance.

    I agree that Netflix could have approached this show a little more thoughtfully, as far as protecting people’s mental health goes, however, I believe Netflix wasn’t under enough fire for blatantly ignoring the suggestions of many psychologists and experts when asking about how to label the show or its various episodes.

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  17. Steven Freitag

    After watching 13 Reasons Why, I agree with many points made here, more campaigning should have been done before the show instead of only after its release. Some of the scenes are very graphic and can make students think similar things are okay to do because of these shows, sure they go against it and say what’s done is wrong, but they could do more. Most people will not watch the documentary after the series and it can affect them in many ways. More PR campaigning before would have been a good choice.

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  18. claudiabarnard

    This blog post was very informing. I remember watching this show and I knew that it would have positive and negative effects. But I never really thought about how the public and schools could turn this show into a “lesson”. I think watching this show at school and having guidance counselors and psychiatrists there would be very beneficial to kids who are suffering. Talking about 13 reasons and spacing out the episodes would give people time to reach out for help instead of just big watching it and moving on. This blog post is really eye opening and I do hope schools and the public in general use this show as a means to further help people suffering with suicide, rape, and depression.

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  19. Ian Budding

    With a show like this, there are a lot of different options to do something positive in the form of reaching out to those who have been affected by the subject matter of the show. With touchy subjects like rape, bullying and suicide, it seems that anything you do prior to or during the show’s release will get people talking, positively or negatively. I, for one, am neutral about the show. I have yet to watch it because of how suicide has affected my life in the past and I’m sort of waiting until I’m in the right mindset and atmosphere to watch it. But then again, it’s a form of art that the writers, actors and those associated with the show are trying to convey to anybody watching. I feel what the creators did to advertise the show, setting up the focus groups and doing panels, was a good approach to see if this show would get a strong critical reception. But I don’t think there will ever be an absolutely correct approach to marketing a show like this. As long as you structure your approach in a good manner, then it may end up working out and your show could do pretty well.

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  20. Delaney Barac

    This was a very informative blog post, I had never really thought of the ideas shared. I completely agree with Raffaella in the fact that 13 Reasons Why had many positive and negative consequences. I enjoyed the show, but I also know many people who thought the show was too graphic, or romanticized suicide. I love the idea of “#13reasonswhyYOUmatter because it could have really been a way to spread positivity to many people while also publicizing the show. I believe Netflix could have done a better job spreading positivity and suicide awareness, but all around I think the show helped many people.

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  21. Kaitlyn Cusumano

    A few months back, along with many others, I could not stop reading or hearing about 13 reasons why. I had never heard of it or read the books but it seemed to be gaining a lot of popularity so I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I had no preconceived notions of whether PR should have been involved since I had absolutely no idea of what the show was about. I do remember watching a scene and actually having my mouth drop open because I could not believe what was on my tv. Not that it was so appalling or gory but I assumed that a television show geared towards young people would have some sort of warning or message before to allow the viewers to be aware of what was to come.

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  22. Rosaria Rielly

    I personally did not watch or read the book 13 Reasons Why, but I have a lot of friends who have done both, many saying that the original book was better than the actual show, despite its popularity. I agree with Raffaella about how controversial the show was, as yes it is a great message that should be discussed to educate the public, but also that it was done in such an overly graphic way. There should have been warnings before the show was staring to make sure that people were fully aware what they were about to watch was very emotional, but I do not think that Netflix should have done as far as to make sure that people are watching it with others. The message behind this show and educating the public is a very sensitive yet important topic, and I believe that the campaign idea #13ReasonsWhyYOUMatter would have been a very smart move as it would have still generated a large public interest to the show, but would have also been able to show that these are real life issues that people are facing, and that they should not feel alone as there is a large support system at their disposal. I believe that Netflix should have done more with their marketing and campaigning to spread awareness of the emotional topics being discussed while also being weary of how sensitive it is and how the graphic images could make people feel both physically and emotionally.

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  23. Amina Antoury

    I do feel that the show needed to do MAJOR PR before and after the premiere of the show. In working at an elementary school, this show had caused major problems amongst students. Suicide had become a “cool” thing to talk about amongst students. Lots of controversy could have been avoided if PR was done prior to the premiere of the show stating why they created the show and whom they were trying to help etc.

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  24. Abby

    I strongly agree with Raffaella’s views and comments regarding the show. I agree that is was good that Netflix warned viewers that the show was serious and it was not for children. However, I feel as though they could have done more with the audiences reactions and feelings about the show since it dealt with sensitive topics such as suicide, bullying and rape. I thought that the #13ReasonsWhyYOUMatter campaign was a great idea. This would be another way for people to understand these sensitive topics and learn more about these topics in a safe environment where people would understand consequences of their actions while learning how to help other people and themselves. Therefore, if Netflix was going to release the show 13 Reasons Why, I feel as though Netflix should have done a better job with educating the public on these topics because of the way people may feel while watching this program.

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  25. Patrick Picarsic

    I’ve been living under a rock again. 13 Reasons Why? So I headed over to Wikipedia, and the YouTube to watch the trailer. Now I have to check it out. Earned media…

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  26. Jessica Gilmour

    This show may be one of the most controversial shows in the history of Netflix. It created conversation and acknowledgement of suicide awareness, but also created a fear of its content. The show wanted to draw a real picture of what bullying in schools could potentially lead to with the intention to create awareness and better the public. I feel the show could have taken more precaution to the wildly intense subject, but from a creative perspective they did not want to sacrifice the message. With such a relevant and sensitive topic, it is hard to say what measures they could have taken that would have changed some viewers reactions.

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  27. Haley Nemeth

    As mentioned I think that the show could have done a better job at getting their message across and supporting the viewers who struggle with the same situations as the show. First, I think that the show had an undertone that the main character blamed her suicide on other people. Since this is a book I do not know how much of that could be changed, but I thought that was very toxic for the viewers that had the same thoughts in their heads. I also agree with experts in that before every episode there should have been a trigger warning. Although all the campaign ideas in this article were great it would not have been practical for Netflix to do every single one of the ideas due to the money and time it would take. The #13ReasonsWhyYOUMatter could have been really effective for Netflix, while also being socially responsible. The campaign could of incorporated some of the other ideas in the article including having each actor/actress state why the show is important to them and ways to get help each day. Overall, Netflix could have done a better job of supporting it’s publics by doing more outreach and providing more supporting information.

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  28. Ana G Canahuate Torres

    I agree with Rafaellas point of view regarding the show 13 reasons why has negative and positive consequences. First of all the show is to educate the public about these common behaviors that are seen in highschool. How the different scenarios that the main deceased character had to undergo and the way that even her closest friends or parents could not imagine the amount of suffering she had. In a way the show is very graphical and just very difficult to watch, but it really opens your eyes about what goes on the real world. The only point I dont agree is the producers airing a second season I feel that would be commercializing an idea that was meant for the greater good of the teenagers from this generation. If I had a say on the decision to air the second season I would not because of the harm that could cause and becasue I feel that the show was made for the purpose to show or even teach the parents and kids on how to identify those different types of situations. To add on the same idea it is important to educate the future generation on how to express their feelings in order to avoid a loss of life.

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