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Media relations wisdom from the girl behind HBO's "Girls"

Matilda Schieren

Whether you’ve watched the first four episodes or not, it’s highly unlikely that you’re unaware of HBO’s latest Sunday night special “Girls,” the semi-Judd Apatow produced show that critics and viewers of both genders have been touting as Gen-Y’s follow-up to “Sex & the City.” (This post isn’t about me telling you how indescribably relevant this program is to my life and how it’s poignancy makes it a must-see for men and women, but if you’re asking my opinion then, absolutely, you should give it a try.)

What’s even more worthwhile examining than the plotline itself is the cultural calamity “Girls'” 30 minute segments have been stirring through all echelons of the media, from The New York Times to YouTube, and how the show’s creator is navigating through it all. Initial reviews raved about Lena Dunham (the 25-year-old bumbling brunette/anti-hero who writes and stars in the show) for her ability to so accurately recreate the essence of a particular cohort and her self-deprecation in personally portraying the not-so-beautiful (but always comical) side of twenty-something life.

By the morning after episode two, the discourse morphed into a criticism of Girls’ lack of cultural diversity. Overnight, the show’s spotlight went from its pithy dialogue to its demographic flaws, from sentiments resembling, “The show’s characters were too ethnically homogenous,” to “How could a show be representative and encompassing of all Millenials’ if that cast excluded integral populations?” It wasn’t exactly an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or a padded CEO résumé, but still a PR crisis in its own right.

I was too excited then, to listen to Lena’s interview with NPR goddess Terry Gross, to see how she would tackle the inevitable interrogation regarding the unplanned criticism. When the topic arose, I was relieved to her Lena’s heartfelt response, which can be boiled down to this final quip, “I did write something that was super-specific to my experience, and I always want to avoid rendering an experience I can't speak to accurately.”

While I must admit that Terry Gross’ presence alone and the unmatched tranquility of her voice could make anyone reveal their innermost thoughts or most sacred secrets on air, the credit goes to Ms. Dunham for striking the optimal balance between honesty, sensitivity and chutzpah. She didn’t play the victim, protesting the naysayers in defense of her art, nor did she bow down to them, in hopes of squashing the debate.

So what does this mean for us PR folks?

On a client level, it’s a healthy model to follow when we find ourselves in crisis communication mode – the know-how to stay calm under pressure, the understanding that you cannot address every critic individually, and the aptitude to choose your words, and the venue for them, wisely.

And for us, as people who write and create and strategize for a living, we, like Lena, should be willing to defend our work, play it ever so cool in the face of scrutiny and, if possible, make all confessions on Fresh Air.