The Flack Has Moved

Maybe it was the recent quip from my pal Todd Defren who called me "the last man standing on Blogspot." (Todd, I was also one of the first.)  Still, he got me thinking.  It's time to move on.  

I considered Tumblr, but decided, after nearly nine years on the Blogger platform, to have The Flack reside within the newly re-vamped Flatiron Communications LLC website on WordPress.

The link is here:  

In a week or so, all visitors to this site will be redirected.

Thanks for the support. Hopefully, we'll see you over at Flatiron.


The Flack Has Moved

Maybe it was the recent quip from my pal Todd Defren who called me "the last man standing on Blogspot." (Todd, I was also one of the first.)  Still, he got me thinking.  It's time to move on.  

I considered Tumblr, but decided, after nearly nine years on the Blogger platform, to have The Flack reside within the newly re-vamped Flatiron Communications LLC website on WordPress.

The link is here:  

In a week or so, all visitors to this site will be redirected.

Thanks for the support. Hopefully, we'll see you over at Flatiron.


The PR Quiz 4.0

Last week I had the good fortune to attend a lunch at the buzzworthy ABC Kitchen down the street from my old employer Burson-Marsteller. Our host, AirPR's Rebekah Iliff, raised the issue of the lack of technology literacy in the communications industries before this eclectic gathering of PR execs, the founder of a fashion/tech startup and an editor from Entrepreneur magazine.

I suggested that she consider developing a survey to back up the assertion that a vast majority of communications pros simply lack the tech skills to flourish in the new world order.  I then mentioned the questionnaire I developed and administered to prospective agency hires as one way to assess their fluency in the daily doings of our industry.

It's been several years since the last quiz, i.e., light years in terms of the communications biz, so I thought it was time for a refresh. The answers are now posted here.

The PR Quiz v 4.0

Q1) Rank the following in order of their number of unique visitors per month:

 ___ Buzzfeed
 ___ Huffington Post
 ___ Yahoo! News 

Q2) Which company did Facebook NOT purchase in the last year?________________________ 
  • What's App 
  • Branch 
  • Titan Aerospace 
  • Sportstream 
  • AOL Patch
Q3) Match the following journalists with their PREVIOUS and CURRENT places of work (from the list below):

___previous____Brian Stelter_______current______

______________Tina Brown___________________

______________Vivian Schiller__________________

______________Peter Kafka____________________

______________Peter Lauria___________________

______________Jessica Lessin__________________

______________Bill Keller_____________________

______________Howard Kurtz__________________

______________Ben Smith_____________________

______________Kara Swisher___________________

  • The Wall Street Journal
  • NBC News
  • The New York Times
  • The Daily Beast
  • Marshall Project
  • The Information
  • Reuters
  • CNN
  • Re/code
  • Politico
  • Buzzfeed
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Fox News Channel
  • TBD
Q4) Fill-in the cities where the following media outlets are based:

KGO-TV ______________________


The Guardian _________________


KCBS Radio _________________


_______________Globe & Mail

NY1News _________________

The Wrap _________________

Politico _________________

Mediaite _________________

The Daily Show _______________

Q5) Which countries do the following TV networks call home?

NHK ________________

BBC ________________ 

TF1 _________________

CCTV _______________

RAI __________________

RT __________________

CBC _________________

HBO _________________

Globo ________________

Q6) Rank the following by number of users:








Q7) In which social media channels do "selfies" typically reside (and propagate)? 




Q8) Name three companies that epitomize the "collaborative economy:"




Q9) Name the owner of these Twitter handles:

@sarahcuda ________________

@jack ______________________

@carr2n ___________________





@pmarca ______________________


@peretti _____________________

Q10) Which of the following news organizations (from the list below) are NOT using "native advertising" or "sponsored content?"

_____________________      _____________________        __________________________
  • Atlantic Monthly
  • Mashable
  • Buzzfeed
  • The New York Times
  • Associated Press
  • Forbes
  • NPR
  • Washington Post
  • The Economist
  • TIME Inc.  
Q11) What does this do? <a href= "   " </a>


Q12) What do you know about the following news sites/orgs/apps?

Re/code _______________________________________________________________________

The Information _________________________________________________________________

NowThisNews __________________________________________________________________

Quartz _________________________________________________________________________

First Look Media _________________________________________________________________

Circa ___________________________________________________________________________

Skift ____________________________________________________________________________

PandoDaily ______________________________________________________________________

The Awl _________________________________________________________________________

Facebook Paper ____________________________________________________________________

Medium __________________________________________________________________________

Q13) Is this statement true or false and why?

"News organizations are on a hiring binge of late for reporters/producers."



Q14) Rank the following in terms of viewership:

___ ABC "Good Morning America"

___ NBC "Nightly News"

___ NBC "Today"

___ CBS "This Morning"

___ CNN "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer"

Q15) What are:
  • Appointment TV ____________________________________________________________
  • Time-Shifting _______________________________________________________________
  • Binge Viewing _____________________________________________________
  • The Second Screen _______________________________________________________
  • Chromecast ____________________________________________________________ 
Q16) Rank these social nets in terms of their ability to drive traffic (eyeballs) to online publishers:

  • ___Pinterest
  • ___Reddit
  • ___Facebook
  • ___Twitter
  • ___Google+
  • ___LinkedIn

Q17) True or False? 

"House of Cards" just finished its fifth season and has been renewed for a sixth. _______________

Q18) What do Aereo, HBO Go and Netflix have to do with the future of television? 




The answers are now posted here.

All Press Required To Stay Strictly On Message

Ronan FarrowRonan Farrow, no stranger to controversy, is slated to receive a journalism award named for one of the icons of the profession: "The Cronkite Award for Excellence in Exploration and Journalism." The fact that this 26-year-old already has garnered an award for a relatively slim body of work is questionable enough, but there's one even bigger catch.

The host organization's PR consiglieres have demanded that those seeking press credentials to cover the event physically must sign a document in which they agree to refrain from asking any "off-topic" questions.
 "The theme of the evening is global education and service,” it says. “All press are required to stay strictly on message. Any press who ask guests or Mr. Farrow about off-message topics will be immediately escorted out of the event."
In today's New York Post "Page Six" story, a rep from event's host organization further explained
Walter Cronkite (1985)"We would like you to sign the form or indicate by return e-mail that you understand our goals to stay completely on message given the surrounding circumstances. We will not tolerate press questions about personal or family affairs related to Mr. Farrow in any circumstance at this event. Farrow is not doing interviews and the rules come from his team direct to you."
In the world of celebrity, from which Mr. Farrow was spawned, it is not uncommon for publicists to place interview restrictions on reporters or talk show hosts in exchange for access to their in-demand clients. The heavy-handed approach also extends to politics, as recently noted in reports that Vanity Fair contributor Michael Lewis allegedly allowed the White House to approve its quotes for a piece he penned for the Condé Nast glossy.

I mean this is how PR pros earn their keep, right? I guess. But it always strikes me as short-sighted, if not plain dumb, to place blanket limits on a profession that bristles at the very notion of being manipulated. (Rather, Mr. Farrow might be better advised to personally deflect any uncomfortable questions.) No one knew this more than Mr. Cronkite who'd clearly resent any PR plan to stifle the very profession for which he set a very high standard of practice.

UPDATE: Farrow and event organizers disavow their role in placing restrictions on the press:
"Well, not so fast. A spokesperson for Farrow is denying all of this. In a statement given to Gawker's J.K. Trotter, a rep for Farrow said, "Ronan and his team did not request any restrictions on reporters’ questions.” Trotter further reports that a "source at MSNBC added that the 'tip sheet' was created and distributed, without Farrow’s knowledge, by a 3rd-party public relations firm hired by the ceremony’s organizers." Furthermore, Heather Halstead, executive director of Reach the World, confirmed that statement, telling HuffPost’s Michael Calderone that the nonprofit -- and not Farrow or his staff -- came up with the stipulations for press coverage."

Under Armour’s Fashion Faux Pas

Polo Ralph Lauren for Team USA (Photo: Getty) 
Love it or hate it, Polo Ralph Lauren's Team USA Olympics apparel didn't have to do much to gain fans. Its "Made in America" label alone thrust the company over the finish line for the gold, especially in comparison to the scandal-plagued Made in China suits Team USA wore last Olympics go-round. As Huffington Post reports in its piece "Olympic Team U.S.A's 'Ugly Christmas Sweaters' Sell Out Immediately Online:"
"Despite the mixed reviews, the $595 sweaters and matching $195 pants have already sold out on Ralph Lauren’s website. For those yearning to wrap their bodies in the chunky knit, however, a select few are selling on Ebay for prices as steep as $3,000."
Still, the USOC didn't learn from past mistakes. Its fundraising mittens are still made in China.

Dream Teamer Charles Barkley
Few can argue with the reputational value this (increasing rare) kind of global exposure can offer a fashion designer. I won't forget working with Reebok on its Olympics apparel sponsorship. (Remember Dan n Dave?) I suppose it was Olympics Dream Teamer Charles Barkley who eloquently summed up his refusal to wear the Reebok-made warm-up suits at the time. I paraphrase: "I've got two million reasons not to wear Reebok" (referring, of course, to the lucrative deal he has with his primary sponsor).

The sports apparel companies are eager to prove their medal. This year, Under Armour apeared to have the gold all sewn up through some of the best PR money could buy. It was outfitting the men and women speedskaters in specially-designed suits that had dimples for better aerodynamics. On Christmas eve, the Washington Post quoted one athlete:
"'This is the fastest speedskating suit ever made, and it will be the fastest speedskating suit, period,'” said U.S. Olympic hopeful Patrick Meek of a suit being designed by Baltimore company Under Armour and Lockheed Martin."
U.S. Olympic Speedskater Shani Davis In Under Armour Suit (Photo: Reuters) 
Without warning, the company now finds itself in a most uncomfortable position. The Wall Street Journal and others are reporting that the U.S. athletes' unexpected poor showing (7th place as best U.S. finish) could be due to a design flaw in the new suit. In its piece "Sochi Olympics: Under Armour Suits May Be a Factor in U.S. Speedskating's Struggles," The Journal writes:
"According to three people familiar with the U.S. team, these suits—which were designed by apparel sponsor Under Armour and billed before the Games as a major advantage—have a design flaw that may be slowing the skaters down. These people said that vents on back of the suit, designed to allow heat to escape, are allowing air to enter the suit and create drag that keeps the skaters from staying in the "low" position they need to achieve maximum speed. One skater said team members felt they were fighting the suit to maintain correct form."
Yikes. To its credit, Under Armour quickly made a fix to the alleged flaw, but the damage may already have been done. Frankly, I'm not sure this will have a lasting negative affect on Under Armour's excellent reputation. Like "Dan n Dave" for which Reebok invested heavily in a marketing campaign to trumpet the pair of Olympic decathletes -- until Dan didn't make the team -- this may just end up being one big (and very costly) missed PR opportunity.

From Climate to Climax at The NY Tech Meetup

Will the New York Tech Meetup ever not sell-out its monthly showcase of tech startups? Judging from the full house that braved the frigid February New York weather, the answer is a resounding no. The NYC tech scene is simply too robust to forego the premier startup showcase event here. Also, it doesn't hurt that the New York Tech Meetup, with its 36,500 members, is the largest of the 142,000+ groups in's vast universe.

If there was a single theme that emerged from the event last week, it likely had to do with Olivia Newton John's signature song. App and software-related innovation gave way to the Internet of things -- with an emphasis on things.

Among the hardware on display were Birdi, a crowd-funded "smart air" monitoring device that somehow escaped any questions about how it hopes to compete with Google's latest and much-hyped acquisition Nest. I suppose there's room enough for more than one player in the wired home arena (though perhaps not in the branded aviary space). Still, Birdi did appear to offer a bit more functionality than Nest.

We were then treated to another tech-driven physical product that took the form of a soccer ball, but not just any soccer ball. Uncharted Play, a "for-profit enterprise," impressed the audience with the simplicity of its invention Soccket that doubled as an energy source.

Uncharted Play's Soccket
The more you kick the ball around, the more energy it gathered. Plug a custom lamp into the soccer ball's built-in USB port, and voila, the gift of light is bestowed upon remote communities that need it. Here's a video clip that explains.

Radiator Labs
Next up was a company whose primary audience lacked neither light nor heat. Crowd-funded Radiator Labs' co-founder Marshall Cox opened by asking the audience of predominantly NYC apartment dwellers how many have awoken in the middle of the night in a deep sweat as a result of an over-active l̶i̶b̶i̶d̶o̶ ̶ radiator? Some 750 of the 800 people seated in NYU's Skirball Auditorium must have raised their hands.

Smartly, Marshall and his colleagues identified a problem and the exact audience for which its solution would strike a resonant chord. They constructed a custom, pliable radiator cover with built-in fans that regulates the spiky blasts of heat that cause so much misery. Birdi and Radiator Labs have taken decidedly different paths in addressing home climate control.

Outside of the physical realm, I was captivated by Capti Narrator, which converts to audio any digital text you might stumble upon traversing the media ecosystem. While Capti's didn't custom-build its text-to-audio conversion technology, the software worked across an impressive range of file types.

Also, for varying fees, it allows you to choose the specific voice that would read your selected passage. Following the meetup, I told New York Angel founder David Rose that this was one of the demos I enjoyed. He observed that the underlying technology was not all that pathbreaking. Even so, Capti Narrator offers me an attractive solution to the challenge of reading my iPhone while on the elliptical every morning. It's clearly better that that annoying Flo from Progressive who never ceases to pollute my music play lists.

Snapchat ushered in an era where short-lived communiques captured the imagination of tens of millions of users (Mr. Zuckerberg among them). Now, Confide wants to do for email what Snapchat did for messaging and images - make them quickly disappear after they're read. Just think: SAC Capital's Mathew Martoma might be a free man today if he used Confide to share his insider trading tips. Just kidding, of course.  I'm sure there are many other legal business use-cases that would benefit by having their emails disappear "off-the-record."

ThinkUp's Gina Trapani & Anil Dash
I had seen Anil Dash and Gina Trapani milling about the auditorium before the show got underway. These two pioneering bloggers and technologists took the stage to debut ThinkUp, a social media aggregation and analysis tool that lets Twitter and Facebook users make better sense of their own activity and that of their friends/followers. Incubated at Expert Labs over four years, the premium tool delves deeper into the data to give users a raison d'etre in social networking.

As part of NYTM's "alumni demo," we heard from Lenddo, which helps the middle class denizens in emerging markets (the "underbanked") use their social connections to borrow money.  Since its inception in 2011, the platform has doubled its user base "every 60-90 days" and now has members in 35 countries. Loans are currently being made in Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines, with more on the horizon.

Cindy Gallop
Finally in light of Valentine's Day, and the confluence of technology innovation and the sex industry, the New York Tech Meetup went R-rated by inviting the effusive MakeLoveNotPorn founder Cindy Gallop to curate the last two presentations. In introducing Ms. Gallop, NYTM executive director Jessica Lawrence warned the live and live-streamed audience of the graphical nature of the coming demos. The sextro-verted Ms. Gallop, a Brit, kept the audience enthralled with her mission to normalize how sex is viewed around the world, and its ripeness for technology disruption.

She soon introduced Colin Hodge, founder of DOWN, a hook-up app formerly known as BangWithFriends. It describes itself as the "anonymous, simple, fun way to find friends who are down for the night." Someone in the audience asked whether unsolicited texts from once-removed strangers might be seen as a little creepy. Mr. Hodge answered that courters don't have unrestricted access to the objects of their affections. He also admitted, in response to my question,  that the company had to jump through hoops last spring to gain acceptance in the (more restrictive) App Store.

To conclude the evening, Ms. Gallop brought out Dema Tio who described the genesis of his product Vibease, "the first wearable vibrator." He explained how his girlfriend was working in Singapore and he was based here in the US.

Vibease's Dema Tio
Obviously, this posed some challenges in one specific area. Mr. Tio then demo'd his solution, which clearly wooed the audience. The young woman seated next to me raised her hand to urgently ask where she could purchase his invention.  What better testament could there be?

A Paper-less Facebook?

Everyone's favorite multi-purpose social network last week released a "reader" for iOS devices that many are saying will eventually replace the company's seminal newsfeed. It is simply called Paper, and allows the user to meld a handful of topics he or she wishes to follow, i.e., technology, enterprise, pop culture, into one's newsfeed. ReadWrite's headline touted the new app:
"Facebook 'Paper' App Attempts To Reimagine How You Read The News: Facebook wants to recreate your news feed with a beautiful news app."
The app uses both vertical and horizontal finger swipes to navigate within a story and from story to story, topic to topic. I'm still trying to figure out where the sharing functions reside, but suffice to say, I like the interface better than Facebook's cluttered and confusing mobile app (or browser-based version, for that matter). GigaOm writes that
"Facebook’s Paper is Facebook for people who hate Facebook"
Facebook's new reader "Paper"
(Like me.) When Paper first emerged in my Twitterstream, I wondered how Facebook was able to own such a common (albeit anachronistic) name for its first reader. As it turns out, the world's largest social network doesn't exactly have the rights to the brand name Paper. Moreover, the company that does is not too pleased by the surprise embrace of the name. The Verge reports:
"Facebook announced its new, gorgeous mobile app Paper last week, paving the way to today's launch on iOS. It's already an impressive new way of navigating Facebook. However, the company is now in hot water over the name, since Paper by FiftyThree, a well-regarded app in the App Store, has been around since 2012. FiftyThree CEO Georg Petschnigg took to the company blog this morning to politely ask that Facebook "stop using our brand name."
I'm not certain where this will all end up. Facebook could easily make Mr. Petschnigg a very rich man in exchange for the rights to use the brand name. Or, as Mr. Petschnigg suggests:
"There’s a simple fix here. We think Facebook can apply the same degree of thought they put into the app into building a brand name of their own. An app about stories shouldn’t start with someone else’s story."
The New York Observer postulates that Facebook could care less (thus far) about Mr. Petschnigg's grievance:
"According to Mr. Petschnigg’s post, Facebook has apologized for “the confusion their app was creating,” and for “not contacting [Paper] sooner,” but it hasn’t actually offered up any kind of solution to the problem."
Be that as it may, suddenly Paper by FiftyThree is in the news in a positive light.


I wonder how all this controversy affected its download rate? As for Facebook, I imagine it will have to blink -- something about David & Goliath.