Eliza Hamilton Shows PR Professionals How to “Tell Your Story”
Updated: Nov 19, 2020
In the midst of crisis, Hamilton becomes “nonstop” with her brand
By Jordan Doyle
Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, the best of wives and best of women, is an unlikely public relations hero. In case you don’t know who she is, she is the ten-dollar founding father without a father’s wife, otherwise known as Eliza. Whether you’re a theater lover who first heard of Eliza while watching Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” or you’re a history buff who already knew of her, you can’t argue that Eliza helped carry on her late husband’s legacy. The ways in which she did that are precisely why she was a great PR professional.
Removing yourself from the narrative
In the “Hamilton” musical, Eliza burns most of the letters Alexander Hamilton wrote her. This isn’t just fiction—Eliza really did burn most of her letters. However, historians neither know when exactly she did this nor why she did this. Although, some historians believe it was near her own death when she did. Regardless of when she burned the letters, an important lesson can be learned from her actions here: know what not to talk about.
It is crucial that public relations professionals know what can be detrimental to their brand if spoken about. It is PR workers who often write speeches for executives or talk to the media. If they say the wrong thing at the wrong time, the company’s reputation could plummet. Yes, it is important for PR workers to be honest with the media. However, there is a key difference between just throwing information out to be honest and strategically calculating what needs to be said, how it needs to be said and knowing what doesn’t need to be said at all.
Becoming nonstop in a crisis
Eliza was no stranger to crises. She lost her son, husband and father in a matter of three years. During this crisis, though, Eliza worked and worked like she was running out of time. Within a few years, Eliza established the first private orphanage in New York City, opened the first school in Washington Heights, helped publish some of Alexander’s last writings, raised funds for the Washington Monument and went toe-to-toe with James Madison to make sure Alexander got credit for writing Washington’s Farewell Address, not Madison. This is marks an important lesson in public relations, too: keep working no matter what.
Who lives, who dies, who tells your story
Through all of the aforementioned work, Eliza made sure that she was the person who told Alexander’s story—not the media, not his other lover, not his political rivals. This is important for the field of public relations, because if professionals aren’t careful, a lot of outlets can tell a company’s story. Ultimately, there is no control over what story the media runs or if information leaks out to the public. However, there is control over if a brand’s legacy lives or dies. The control lies in the hands of public relations professionals.
According to the Public Relations Student Society of America, “At its core, public relations is about influencing, engaging and building a relationship with key stakeholders to contribute to the way an organization is perceived.” If an organization isn’t perceived well, its reputation dies. If an organization is perceived well, its reputation lives. If an organization isn’t being perceived at all—its public relations team might as well not even exist. It is public relations people that tell stories. Eliza told the story of her husband. She made sure that he was perceived well so that his reputation and legacy would live.
All in all, Eliza inadvertently taught a lot of public relations lessons. More than most people would expect. She taught us that sometimes it’s better to remove ourselves from the narrative when it can cause more damage than good; that we have to keep working and striving to have a good legacy and reputation, no matter what moments of crisis may occur; and that it is ultimately up to us on whether or not a brand’s legacy lives or dies.
About the Author:
Jordan Doyle is a senior public relations student at the University of North Texas. She is passionate about storytelling, and she has helped tell the stories of the Dallas Zoo and Reunion Tower through PR work. Upon graduation, she hopes to do PR for another tourist attraction.