Flack, Flak — Which Do You Prefer?
Posted on October 15, 2008
Filed Under General
It’s time for another sad story. At first blush, you might think I’m talking about AIG, because it is irresistible to report that after getting egg-faced over the $400kexecutive retreat in the midst of being handed a $122.5 billion government lifeline, four executives from the insurance giant went on an $87,000 partridge hunt last week. You are probably not surprised — I was not either (though shooting down partridges is not my style). What caught my eye — and what’s in it for YOU the PR person — is the way The NY Post reported on this story.
The reporter Kate Sheehy asked for comment from AIG, and here’s what she reported: “An AIG flak defended the trip, saying it was previously planned.” There are three things wrong with that sentence — that the trip was defensible; that Sheehy referred to the PR person as a “flak” and that Kate apparently missed Spelling class, when what really meant to type was “flack.” Oddly, the word flak could work well with this story too, but I won’t digress.
Technically, most dictionaries will refer to flack as a press agent/spokesperson. But we all know it’s not the preferred name for a spokesperson, for a communicator, for a PR executive. Yet it’s used all the time. Whether behind your back or to your face. It’s used informally and often without malice. It’s akin to journalists being called hacks, which technically, is not incorrect for many writers who “work for hire.”
The term, as used in the NY Post story, connotes a certain condescension for the PR trade. Perhaps if the unnamed spokesperson had given a better response to the reporter’s question, the story would have referred to the flack as a spokesperson or by their formal PR title. But the response to the media was lame.
So I end where I began — it’s a sad story — or a sad state of affairs — any time bona fide PR professionals (and I am assuming the PR dept at AIG is legit) are referred to as “flacks.” The industry should not have to take such flak.
What do you think? Are you OK with this nickname?
– Diane Schwartz