Ceisler’s Alison Burdo watched the racy British show about crisis management and saw little in common with the work we perform.
Press agent. PR specialist. Publicist. Spokesperson. Mouthpiece. Spin doctor. Fixer.
When it comes to public relations, there are lots of names for the job, though just one is an often-used expression known for its pejorative undertone: “Flack.”
The slang term is also the name of a highly popular British TV series now running on Amazon Prime. The show stars Oscar-winner Anna Paquin, who plays Robyn, an ex-pat American at a high-profile London PR firm who cunningly and calmly navigates the drug-laced, sex-soaked scandals that her celebrity clients repeatedly face.
The series premiere of “Flack” opens with Robyn kneeling over a man’s nude lifeless body as she performs chest compressions and rattles off orders to her panicked, cocaine-fueled and also naked client, a professional athlete. Mere seconds into the show, it is obvious “Flack” will live up to its name – and perpetuate the false narrative that the work of media relations and communication firms is lying to the press and deceiving the public.
For example, Robyn, sitting beside client Calvin Cooper while on an overseas flight, asks him to explain a transgression by saying, “Tell me now. Exactly please.” While the details of his wrongdoing are inaudible, it is clear Calvin could be facing serious criminal charges. “Okay, fine. It’s going to be fine. We can deal with this,” Robyn replies.
The content of their conversation is far afield from what Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy – and any reputable firm – handles for clients, but some aspects ring true when it comes to issues of crisis management. Robyn’s insistence that Calvin shares the full scope of the situation, her steady demeanor, her quick and astute decision-making, and her unyielding determination: these are all qualities that my colleagues and I share with the character.
When a client is dealing with a crisis (what Robyn calls a “challenge”), it is critical to know every detail. We must have a complete understanding of the crisis to properly and truthfully communicate why it occurred, how it will be corrected, and what steps are underway to ensure it won’t happen again.
The ability to remain composed under difficult circumstances is a desirable attribute in any PR agent. A crisis can rightfully unnerve a client. We, however, have the distance to remain focused on analyzing the issue, finding solutions and conveying the appropriate information to the necessary parties.
Robyn is shrewd and clever as she brainstorms potential paths to resolve Calvin’s likely criminal charges. She delegates tasks to her teammates despite the flight attendants’ efforts to confiscate her phone. We too are sharp and decisive. Our team has a wealth of experience and a diversity of perspectives. Together, those characteristics mean we are prepared to quickly form an effective crisis communications plan.
Whether a closeted soccer star caught with a prostitute or an organic cosmetics company founder photographed recovering from a facelift, Robyn is intent on preserving (or if necessary, rebuilding) her client’s reputation. Like the “Flack” protagonist, we are also committed to our clients and resolute in our efforts to support them. We take calls at any hour, answer emails on vacation, and work nights and weekends. We research new tools and conceive new communications strategies. We share resources, network with potential collaborators, and stay informed on policy and trends.
Unlike the damaged star of the show, we will not aid or abet a crime. We will not partake or encourage the use of illegal drugs. We will not knowingly represent clients who undermine our ethical standards.
“Flack” begins each episode warning viewers of its “sordid, shocking and salacious” nature. As for flack – the nickname for the job, I’ll warn you that we may be none of those things – but we are smart, steadfast and savvy.