POLLING ALL PR TYPES: What Do You Want to Be Called?


Here’s a serious question: What do you want to be called by your colleagues in the industry, pals in the media, partners and clients?

Everyone in this not-quite-fabled industry has an idea of what they like and don’t like, what they hear and ignore, what they answer to and what they wish no one would ever call them.

Some are accustomed to the big agency titles of account executive, manager, director, supervisor, and other synonyms for “hierarchy.” Others are interested in the boutique titles of guru, ninja, expert, and other nom de plumes that mean “badass.”

Before you jump, think about it: If you had to be labeled, what would your label read?

This question became less of a shower-worthy pontification and more of an exercise in futility when I recently had a spirited discussion on a certain social networking platform. I posted a story about the alarming lack of media transparency in the government, as first brought into the fray by journalism groups petitioning the White House.

problemTo wit, I shared my perspective as someone who spent 12 years on-air in radio and guiding newsrooms, as well as a professional in public relations for a decade more. My preface to the post was “as a hack-turned-flack,” both acceptable terms in each industry — each with its own source of cringe.

The word “hack,” which has been used to describe me on several occasions, is usually meant as a backhanded gesture to someone who works very much, makes very little, and lives under an ever-present immediate deadline. Since that colloquial has become more real life than a name hollered at the annual Edward R. Murrow Roast, it has since become accepted … by (many) journalists.

The word “flack,” which has been used to describe me on even more occasions, began as a verb thought to have its origin in the ’40s thanks to a movie publicist named Gene Flack. He was apparently so good at his job that many PR types have accepted the word as a term of almost-endearment.

Given that history, I received some pushback for using the term “flack.” Forget that the article will most likely be nominated for a Peabody (in my humble opinion)…I got poked about the headline.

Ack. The term flack is such a derogatory statement about the perceived role of PR…it is regrettable that our own professions portrays itself this way.

And, then from the ‘Amen’ corner…

Easy for some public relations professionals to have a thin skin, but the profession gets the image we advance and accept.

flacksThese comments came from two guys I respect. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. So, I decided to chime in…

And yet, some journalists call us that affectionately. What a strange world, huh?

Poking the furry bear brought this response:

Yup. Like using racially or culturally inappropriate terms in an “endearing” manner. It’s still disrespectful to a larger group of people.

While this truly regaled PR professional overcame some hurt feelers and I explained the difference between douchey networking events and unruly rallies, I began pondering the aforementioned question: If you had to be labeled, what would yours read?

Hack strikes a slightly more sour note than flack, in that “flack” became a curse word because of how people abused it rather than how it was created. So, if you had a choice, what term would you prefer? While you think about what to list in the comments below, a word:

Spin doctor is heretofore outlawed because one can all but see the contempt dripping from every letter. PR professionals is a title we have been asked by journalists to earn more often. Practitioner just seems to lack a certain panache in terms of reflecting all the varied jobs that a great PR person really does.