Hillary's smart media-relations move: Sitting down with Lena Dunham

It wasn't the interview the media wanted, but the Democratic frontrunner's chat with the 'Girls' star has a definite purpose.

Lena Dunham interviews HIllary Clinton. (Image via Politico.com).
Lena Dunham interviews HIllary Clinton. (Image via Politico.com).

Media relations move of the month goes to Hillary Clinton for opening up to Girls star and creator Lena Dunham – even though it doesn’t fall under the classic definition of media relations.

Earlier this month, the Democratic frontrunner sat down with Dunham in an interview that will run in full on Tuesday as part of the debut of Dunham’s website, LennyLetter.com. Snippets of the conversation have already appeared online, showing Clinton discussing feminism and her own experiences in her 20s.

The video is bound to result in more gripes from the traveling press corps and the national media, both of which have felt ignored since the former secretary of state first soft- and then formally launched her second campaign for president. However the interview is worth some bickering from the media for the Clinton campaign.

We in the press may not like to admit it, but using pop-culture icons and influencers to go around the media and reach specific audiences works. On its face, President Obama sitting down with Zach Galifianakis – a comedian best known to most Americans for his roles in The Hangover series – might have seemed absurd. However, there’s no disputing it helped the White House convince 18- to 34-year-olds they should enroll in healthcare plans through the Affordable Care Act at a crucial time for the healthcare-reform law.

Clinton’s chat with Dunham is in the same vein, but with a more serious tone. From excerpts, the former first lady talked about what feminism means to her and her outlook on life when she was in her 20s. It clearly targets women in their 20s and 30s, which is a key demographic for Clinton.

The interview also makes sense by the numbers. Though the viewer demographics for Girls are complicated and ratings have dropped in recent years, LennyLetter.com, which self-describes as "an email newsletter where there’s no such thing as too much information" has a clear target audience. (Also, Clinton and Dunham are kind of neighbors).

Clinton has also recently appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and talked with website Refinery29. More traditionally, she also showed up on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

The strategy should help to get Clinton’s human side across to potential voters. In June, before her campaign formally kicked off, top aides said they needed to stress not only the former secretary of state’s qualifications for office, but explain the personal reasons why she’s running and what drives her. Sitting down with Dunham is more likely to do that than an appearance on Meet the Press, where she’d be bogged down with policy minutiae.  

Journalists may not like it, but they’re going to have to get over it. Media relations is changing again, this time to sometimes exclude the media itself.

Frank Washkuch is news editor at PRWeek.

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