Unpacking “Flack” – PR Fact or Fiction?
Author: Tricia Heinrich
July 07, 2021
Being a virtual agency, Bospar doesn’t exactly have a water cooler – but if we did, much of the current buzz in the break room would be about the show “Flack,” currently airing on Amazon Prime. Instead, Bospar employees rely on Zoom and cans of LaCroix, but we’re all still talking about this TV show that purports to illustrate what it is like to work in PR.
At least in celebrity PR.
By way of background, “Flack” is the story of Robyn, an American PR person living and working in London, played by Anna Paquin. Her tragic backstory, along with massive amounts of booze, cocaine and self-loathing, propel her through a life of working as a fixer for a rainbow coalition of truly repellent celebrity clients. More than PR, Robyn’s firm – complete with a boss who makes Cruella de Vil look like a schoolmarm, an uber-bitchy peer, and a credulous stooge of an assistant – specializes in old-school press agentry and odious damage control.
Robyn and her ethically challenged colleagues spend their days getting celebrities out of jam after jam and doing whatever it takes to save or repair reputations while simultaneously feeding the tabloids and social media ecosystem. This includes controlling media access to their clients and peddling false narratives or outright lies whenever it suits, while being generally catty and prancing about in outrageously high heels, because that is apparently what PR people do. Backroom dealings all around add an element of skullduggery, and ethical accommodations are made whenever it suits the purposes of clients and the agency.
For example, Robyn and her team orchestrate the creation and targeted leaking of a sex tape as a career-enhancing move for a teen pop star. In a unique plot twist, the young performer’s mother serves as her daughter’s stand-in during the sex scene, and everybody is okay with that. The show trots out a number of similar crises, ranging from transphobic comedians to kinky footballers.
“Flack” does a great job of creating spectacle. And let’s be honest – everyone does love a train wreck, and the sizzle and spectacle make watching a few episodes a fun diversion. But the show’s connection to most of PR is tenuous at best, because it is really just a soap opera, no more about PR than “Downton Abbey” is about housekeeping.
Other than the fact that the characters do appear to understand how to use computers and mobile phones, there aren’t many similarities between the world of “Flack” and the real practice of public relations. Our daily work lives are much more mundane, thankfully! We strategize, plan and implement truthful campaigns. We work with the media in an ethical manner, and we’re not asked to clean up anyone’s dirty laundry. We’re about business results, not hackery and scandal.
As an escapist adventure, “Flack” is hard to beat, and it has a particular, extra appeal for PR pros because we sort of share the same job description. However, just as Samantha from “Sex and the City” was a cosmopolitan-drinking caricature trotting around New York, the Londoners of “Flack” inhabit a place that could best be described as “fun to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there!”