What We're Thinking

March 16, 2019

Frank Ahrens

Vice President
BGR Public Relations

Twitter and the Era of Flack-Shaming

Originally published in PR News


By Frank Ahrens

Prior to social media, the most humiliating response a PR pro could expect was an angry hang-up or testy email from an annoyed reporter. If the response was silence, the PR person was forced to trepidatiously phone the reporter, which usually then led to the angry hang-up. Sometimes with profanity.

Today, though, we are in an era of flack-shaming. Reporters routinely publish on Twitter the most ridiculous email PR pitches they receive for their followers to mock. Often, the shaming is warranted, especially if the PR pro is “reaching out” or “circling back” to the reporter, asking if they can “jump on a call,” or “have a desk-side meeting.”
Twitter and Journalists

The most generous journalists redact the names of the offending communicator. Some reporters make a point of pantsing the PR person. They share the entire exchange on Twitter, including the cringe-inducing faux-chummy language and the sender’s email address.

There is a useful saying: “Never type anything on a screen you don’t want to see in print.” Until now, there has been a reasonable expectation that communications between PR pros and reporters remained between them.  Today, though, there is no bar, so communicators must write email understanding they may be published.
Why It’s Done

Transparency: Why do journalists do this? Some may see it as transparency, a way to show how the sausage is made. PR people assume that every reader knows that companies, politicians, charities, celebrities and countries have PR pros, but maybe not. So when a reporter brings to light the typically prosaic exchanges that occur between journalist and PR pro, especially if they are written in goofy or insincere jargon, it can feel like the reader is getting a glimpse into the secret world of spin-doctors. Everyone gets a laugh at the PR person’s expense.

Outrage: Sometimes reporters flack-shame to publicly expose that a nefarious or controversial entity has retained PR representation. This is a double shame: It shows the entity is trying to buff its image with positive media coverage and it identifies the PR agencies willing to work for such entities.

Ethics: Reporters also flack-shame to virtue-signal to their peers and sources that their journalistic and ethical standards are unimpeachable. When a PR person invites a reporter to an event or – worst of all – offers payment, a tripwire is triggered. This results in the most dangerous form of flack shaming. The reporter will be understandably angry and incredulous that a flack thinks their byline is for sale.

Thus motivated, they will take to Twitter and They. Will. Hang. You.
Pay for Play Part I

Huawei’$ Ca$h:  Recently, The Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin reported to his 203,000 Twitter followers that he received an email invitation from a representative of Chinese telecom giant Huawei. The invitation promised an all-expenses-paid trip to visit the company’s facility in Shenzhen. Rogin tweeted the email invitation, along with the name and address of the PR person…

Read full article: https://www.prnewsonline.com/Twitter-social+media-shaming-Ahrens-Taco+Bell

Tagged: Twitter, Flack-Shaming, PR,

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