Like so many across the country, I’m hooked on “Hamilton: An American Musical”
From the moment the musical premiered off-Broadway, the country has been abuzz with “Hamilton” mania. Tickets sell for several hundred — if not thousand — dollars a piece; hordes of fans swarm its home, New York’s Richard Rodgers Theatre, hours before the curtain rises for the chance to win a seat; and its soundtrack, a blend of R&B, rap, rock and traditional Broadway ballads, peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200 charts and inspired countless karaoke videos, lip-syncing sessions and Tumblr accounts.
It’s easy to see why, too.There’s something in this show for everyone, including public relations practitioners. Its core themes — those of legacy and storytelling — are still relevant to the world today and form, in their own ways, part of what public relations professionals do. Here are some of the many lessons that public relations practitioners can learn from the musical incarnation of the “ten-dollar Founding Father.”
As “Hamilton” makes its way through the first act, we see some of his most important relationships take form, and all of these connections play a vital part in Hamilton’s rise. This is the reason why networking is such an important element of public relations: Knowing a lot of people in a lot of different places and having a good relationship with them can make a profound impact on the path you take, professionally and personally. As the second act of “Hamilton” shows, however, we have to take care of these relationships and connections, because while they help, not maintaining them can leave you in a difficult spot.
In this industry, turnover is frequent. Practitioners switch agencies or sectors, move to different cities and rise in the hierarchy. There’s constantly an influx of new faces and places. But it’s just as important to remember that while public relations is a big, competitive world, in a way it’s also small: your next boss or colleague could be someone you know. Each of us has our own ambitions and dreams for our careers, just like Burr and Hamilton did, and that means that we may end up competing with friends or teaming up with previous competitors. That being said, stay friendly and don’t let things become combative or uncomfortable, because in this field, you never know who may cross your path again.
One of the key themes “Hamilton” is time itself: learning how to manage it and how to treasure it. In our media-driven society, we treasure our time more than ever before. Knowing the best times to post on social media or time of year to launch a new campaign can make or break a venture into the public relations realm.
For every success the public relations field has, there are plenty of ideas or concepts that don’t make it past the drawing board or face backlash when put into action. It’s important to know, then, that not every strategy or tactic is going to work. But remember: Even Alexander Hamilton had his own misfires. (The Reynolds Pamphlet, anyone?) Chances are backlash is going to happen at some point, but knowing how to react to it is what can diffuse a situation or make it worse.
In public relations, values and ideals are essential. Every organization has a mission statement of some kind, as well as an ethical code that outlines how things need to be done, principles that must be held and procedures to follow. Every person, too, has their own code of values, morals or ethics that they live by. However, maintaining one code does not mean betraying another. As Hamilton learns, making this sacrifice can do more damage instead of repairing it. The balance between these codes is vital to how we conduct ourselves professionally and personally.
Often times, this industry gets hectic. It’s important to know when something needs to be said and when it doesn’t, which trends to follow or engage and which trends to avoid. Engaging the right trends can pay off. However, jumping into the wrong conversation can open you up to criticism or controversy that could have been avoided. An Alexander Hamilton-style rapid response works at times, because you may be running out of time to capitalize. However, it can also pay off to take Aaron Burr’s approach and wait for the right time or conversation to make your move. Knowing that distinction, of when to write like you’re running out of time or when to take a break, can speak wonders about your organization and either strengthen your relationship with audiences or hurt it.
It’s no secret that public relations is hard work. It’s a complex industry with many different sectors and aspects, so it can be overwhelming at times. It’s also an industry in which hard work can pay off fast with upward mobility, inching closer and closer to leadership and executive positions. “Hamilton” is about this type of ambition, of someone wanting to make their mark on the world. While Hamilton’s ambition may have proved an obstacle once he made it to the top, there’s no denying that he worked hard to get there.
Of the many themes “Hamilton” explores, the idea of legacy is chief among them. Its characters are obsessed with memory, especially Hamilton himself. With this in mind, each character’s choices are made knowing that they will make an impact of some kind, even if they don’t know what that impact will be. In public relations, every move you make can make a difference. It’s important to flush out your strategies and tactics, nail down your approach to achieve your objectives and to be confident in those approaches.
Public relations is an industry built on ideas and concepts that can change the face of a brand or organization in an instant. There’s no shortage of creativity or concept generation. However, there’s always the chance for conflict. It’s important to remember that not every idea you have is going to gel entirely with the ideas others have, but there may be a compromise. Welcome debate and lively conference room battles, a la the cabinet battles in “Hamilton.” Be open to new ideas, new mindsets and new opinions.
“Hamilton,” in the end, is not only about memory, legacy and ambition, but also about storytelling and the responsibilities and privileges of being a storyteller.
“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?,” sings the company in the show’s heart-rending finale. In short, as public relations practitioners, we do. It’s our responsibility and privilege to tell these stories in the best way we know how. Stories are diverse, precious, complex and meaningful, and as public relations practitioners, we help tell these stories to the world.
Drew Pendleton is a senior at The University of Alabama (UA) majoring in public relations and Spanish. He is currently the editorial director for Platform Online Magazine, the freelance editor for Mosaic Magazine and the director of media relations content creation for Capstone Agency, the university’s student-run firm. He also serves as the publications committee leader for UA’s PRSSA Chapter. Connect with him on Twitter @drew_pendleton, LinkedIn or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.