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The 9 Kinds of Capitol Hill Flacks

Is there any job out there better than being a Capitol Hill flack? No, this is not a rhetorical question. There’s something about pitching your boss, day-in and day-out, through votes, campaigns, cable TV interviews and the occasional scandal, that allows you to go home with a satisfied grin of a job well done.

But beneath that pile of press releases are flacks with different styles — and degrees of success. As campaign season comes into full swing, Roll Call’s Team Politics and Hill Navigator put together a list of the most common kinds we’ve seen come through our inbox, and HOH heartily endorses.

The My-Boss-Walks-on-Water Flack. Sure, we all want to believe in our leaders, but lay off the Kool-Aid. Your boss is human. And the press secretary who truly believes each of the boss’s every movements warrants a pitch, phone call, or reaction is often left crying wolf. Our advice: Save the big media pushes for when you have something to announce. And remember, if you’re one of out 435, adjust your perspective on what makes news accordingly.

The You-Think-You’re-Helpful-but-You’re-Not Flack. “Off the record, my boss really cares about this issue. Also — between us — the sky is blue.” Yeah, thanks. We love “on background” quotes as much as the next reporter, but give us something worthwhile if you want us to keep returning your call. If everything you’re handing us is off the record, then you’re less of a help and more of a gatekeeper who likes to talk to reporters.

The Uber-Aggressive Flack. Yes, you’re trying to earn every penny of your salary — which we as journalists can appreciate — but when you start questioning how reporters spend their time, you’re going one step too far. Just because your boss reported fundraising numbers doesn’t mean it’s news, and even the most upbeat of telemarketing won’t change that. You’ve probably been educated in the art of corporate, flood-the-inbox, gotta-send-the-client-deliverables school of public relations. Your best bet is take time to read what we write and offer us an exclusive or a heads up. Flooding our email and voicemail boxes may get you noticed, but not in the way you want. Trust us.

The Super Chatty Flack. We get it: You love talking to reporters. Who doesn’t? We’re an interesting bunch! And chances are, if you’re chatty, you’re probably a pretty good source for us, thanks in part to your affinity for gossip. But there’s this little thing called “deadline,” and unfortunately, we have to meet it. We promise to take you out to lunch when we can spare a couple hours. But in the meantime, dropping a “Do you have a few extra minutes?” on the phone will go a long way.

The Been-There, Done-That Flack. You may have the institutional know-how of Constantino Brumidi, but that does us no good if you can’t use email and don’t return our calls.

The Two-Timing Flack. We love exclusives, but not if you’ve already shopped them elsewhere. Spare us your sweet nothings. If you’re pitching an exclusive, keep it monogamous. Not, “yours until I get a better offer.”

The My-Job-Is-Awful Flack. Maybe your boss is a jerk or got tripped up in a scandal, or he’s a really nice guy but he’s going to lose anyway. We feel for you. You don’t need to ask for sympathy, but if you’re nice to us we’re likely to be even nicer back. On the bright side, you can always get a gig in crisis communications after your boss gets indicted! We’ve all been on the losing end of something before, it’s how we weather the crisis that sets us up for our next gig, preferably working for a winner.

The True Believer. This is the campaign flack who wants to tell you that their candidate is legit, even though they have no money and no institutional support. We, too, can wish upon a star, but we won’t write about it. See also: “My-Boss-Walks-On-Water Flack.”

The Actually-Helpful Flack. You are our favorite! You reveal information instead of canned statements, speak candidly off the record or on background, don’t run every quote by your boss and only pitch a story that makes sense for our beat and publication. You are a rare breed, and we salute your efforts. Please, never change — at least as long as we’re working on Capitol Hill.  

Recognize someone here who would make a great nominee for Roll Call’s Fab 50 ? Email Editor-in-Chief Christina Bellantoni with your nominee.

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