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5 PR Lessons from Season 5 of Orange is the New Black

Note: Spoilers ahead.

A PR pro can spot the communications lesson in practically anything, and that goes for the most recent season of Orange is the New Black. A few office obsessives and I recently compared notes on the season, including key takeaways familiar to us as PR counselors.

1. Media training is essential

Aleida Diaz may be out of Litchfield Prison but still stands trial in the court of public opinion when she lands an opportunity to tell her story on national TV. The first of her two interviews was cringe-worthy to us PR pros, as we kept wanting to scream, “LOOK AT YOUR INTERVIEWER, NOT THE CAMERA!” and tell her to ignore her friend’s advice to “always answer their question with another question.” While the scene played to its intended humorous effect, we knew that if Aleida had been our client, we would have been sitting next to her in that makeup chair going over her talking points and general on-camera tips.

Lesson: Always be prepared.

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2. Have a message and stick to it

In her second interview, which she shares with former fellow inmate and celebrity chef Judy King, Aleida quickly moves past the deer-in-headlights look and outlines what would have been our #1 key message on our interview tip sheet – Judy King received special treatment (including many privileges), while the other Litchfield inmates suffered daily injustices. She cites specific examples to back up her message (where other inmates shared a large open dorm and had bunk beds, Judy had her own room and was given a seltzer maker), and drops her on-camera façade (and a few mild profanities, which we don’t recommend) to better connect with the audience through her authenticity.

Lesson: Be yourself — minus the swear words — to get your message across.

 

3. Know the right channel for your story

Meanwhile, back at Litchfield, the riot is well underway, with Taystee and Cindy leading the storm on Caputo’s office where Josh, the prison’s corporate PR head, happens to be. Taystee makes a video demanding justice for Poussey—the inmate killed at the end of last season by a correctional officer—and a conversation ensues about how to get the video out into the world, as the inmates don’t have phones or social media accounts. When they get their hands on an iPad, someone suggests they Snapchat when Josh interjects that Snapchat is a closed system, and uploading the video to YouTube and tweeting out a link would be more effective. Soon, the video even sparks a meme that the inmates don’t quite get because, as they note, “social media years move faster than dog years.”

Lesson: Stay on top of new media and know where your audience lives.

 

4. Show your audience some love

Some of the season’s best comic relief comes from Team #Flaritza (Flaca and Maritza) who use the downtime of the riot to start their own makeup tutorial YouTube channel, offering tips for how to achieve their flawless looks using ingredients found in any home (or prison). They post regularly, acknowledge requests made in the comments and give regular shout-outs and thanks to their fans. Their work doesn’t go unrewarded. By the end of the season, a trove of fans is waiting outside of the prison cheering as their new favorite YouTube stars emerge.

Lesson: Follow your passion, keep the conversation going and have fun!

5. In a crisis, know all the facts and stay focused on the objective (MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD)

Taystee learns this lesson the hard way when she passes on an unprecedented prison reform deal to end the riot, not knowing that the hostages had been released by another inmate. Of course, when she does learn what happened and tries to backpedal on her decision, the SWAT team is already breaking down the doors. Taystee lets her insistence on the arrest of the correctional officer responsible for Poussey’s death distract her from accepting the prison changes that would benefit everyone.

Lesson: Internal communication during a crisis is key, and don’t let emotions get in the way of your overall goal.

BONUS: Don’t be afraid to take risks

We can’t complete a post about this season of Orange is the New Black without commenting on the structure of the season itself. Here, the show breaks from its successful mold of mixing present-day action at Litchfield Prison and individual character flashbacks to sustain 13 episodes that take place over a mere three days. We’re able to go deeper into the action and real-time reactions, as well as enter the psyche of some of the characters we know are running on little food and sleep.

There’s a lot of mixed feelings among reviewers about whether this change was a successful experiment, and it’s certainly risky to play with something tried and true that might turn off loyal followers. But when you’re a groundbreaking series with a rich story on your hands, it behooves you to continue to break new ground. It’s those risks that reap the biggest rewards.

Lesson: Keep innovating.

Examples of good (and bad) PR surround us every day. Not that I need an excuse for my Netflix binge-watching, but it’s a nice bonus to be able to call it “work research.”


Amanda ReCupido is an account supervisor working with healthcare and nonprofit clients. She cannot pull off a jumpsuit.