Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Testimonial from a member of the Flack Anti-Defamation League

I used to be called a publicist.

I'd send pitch letters in the mail to the Today Show and Good Morning America, asking them to book my client, wait patiently for a week and then follow-up to find out if they'd do it. I'd fax my client's polls overnight to TV and radio stations with my contact information written on top. I'd pitch Wireless Flash quirky stories with my clients as experts, and if they liked it, they'd distribute my contact information free to thousands of radio stations.

When my friends and I met girls outside a Fire Island bar, they'd ask what we all did. My friends would reply, "Doctor." "Doctor." "Doctor." "Doctor." "Doctor." And I'd proudly say "I do public relations" because it was different and cool. Of course, the girls went straight for my friends because being a doctor was a pretty straightforward job description, and "doing public relations," well, nobody really knew what that meant. "You mean you make the commercials I see on TV?" "No, that's advertising." Yes, it took some explaining to do sometimes.

But then one summer night, I was walking home to my apartment and thought nobody was around. I heard some footsteps behind me. I turned around, but nobody was there. I kept walking and suddenly ran right into three big grungy guys poking at me with their smokes. They surrounded me and sneered, "Where you goin', flack boy?"

"F-f-lack boy?"

"Yeah, flack boy," said the tallest one. "You look like a flack boy to me. Blisters from your typewriter. Red ears from being on the phone all day. What's that, a copy of the AP Stylebook stickin' out of your knapsack?"

"No comment."

"See, boys. I told you if he said that, it would be a dead giveaway."

From that moment on, me and others of my kind had a new label: flack. At first, I thought it was something I did to my clothes -- "Hey, I'm going to the cleaners to get my pants flacked" -- but no, that's not what it meant. It was a name that lumped all of us publicists into some kind of social outcast society where nobody would ever look at us the same way again.

Suddenly, I was not my client's publicist any more. I was their flack. And what I did for them? Flacking. And my profession? Mere flackery.

"Mom, oh mom," I cried to my mother the next time I went home to get my clothes washed. "Why do they call us flacks? Isn't that antiaircraft artillery?"

And she'd reply, with a sad look in her eyes, "Son, there's nothing you can do about it. I told you to go to law school, didn't I? But no, you had to be an English major and apply for a job as a publicist? Now I have to go shopping for groceries just before the store closes because they know... they know I'm your mother!"

My father would take a swig of Jack and say: "I lost my job yesterday at the plant when they found out what you do for a living. Son, it's bad enough that you're a flack, but whatever you do, do not become a hack flack. No, that's the lowest of the low."

Flacks multiplied, like rabbits. The e-mail pitches I once sent to TV producers? They were piled high into in-boxes with all the other flack e-mail. I'd call up reporters and they say: "Who're you flacking for?" When I was quoted in the newspaper, was it as a spokesperson? No, I was "so and so's flack." And Wireless Flash? They now charge flacks $800 a year to run their stories if they feel they're good enough!

I've run into superflacks... ├╝berflacks... people "taking flack"... the "flack community"... "highly paid flacks"... "ex-flacks" (and they weren't laxatives, either)... "flack" jackets... Roberta Flack....

We are now a huge global community of flacks, and we've grudgingly accepted this name thrust upon our profession. Our mission is to fight the defamation of flacks, to secure justice and fair treatment for all. Yes, that means you, Michael Arrington, Robert Scoble, and anti-flack flack Steve Rubel!

There's a lot of flack hate floating around the Internet, whether it's petty little personal blogs to major newspapers spouting "Why People Love To Hate Their Publicists" or "Pushy publicists are easy prey for teasing." We've found cases of Flack Denial, people who firmly believe that there are no such thing as publicists, that press coverage magically happens by itself.

Just be warned that if you see me on the street, and call out, "Hey, flack boy," in a weak moment, I may lose it and cry out to you:

"I am not a flack! I am a human being!"

1 comment:

DSL said...

Hilarious, Drew! But, I thought journalists were the downtrodden ones? Anyway, thanks for the plug!

Dave Louie
Wireless Flash News