Public relations in general is an instinctive action. We all do it, we all manage our reputations in real life and online, with varying degrees of success.
I have a reputation for being gloomy rather than the life and soul of the party… but you don’t know the half of it. My gloominess is an act; I’m actually putting a positive face on reality. Spinning, if you will.
Believe it or not, spin lies at the heart of almost all of our communications activity, as individuals and as organisations. Watch Match of the Day; it doesn’t matter what the result was, the role of the manager in the post-match interview is to say how good his /her team were. Even if they weren’t, the best he or she can do is confirm the worst fears of their own fans, but they would still express that in a way that gave cause for hope in the next game.
We don’t think of football managers as evil and manipulative1. We may call it ‘gloss’ or ‘shine’ or ‘putting on a brave face’ but spin is exactly what they are doing.
Wikipedia (I know…) defines spin as:
“…a form of propaganda, achieved through providing a biased interpretation of an event or campaigning to persuade public opinion in favor or against some organization or public figure… “spin” often implies the use of disingenuous, deceptive, and highly manipulative tactics”“Spin (public relations)”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spin_%28public_relations%29
Is fracking good, or bad? I don’t know. But if I was working for a fracking company I’d be telling anyone who wanted to hear why it was good; and if I was working for the objectors I’d be telling anyone who wanted to hear why it was bad. That would be my job. And in either case I’d have a wealth of data to back up my argument.
As a member of the Chartered Institute of course I’d have the Code of Conduct firmly in the front of my mind – and it’s the Code of Conduct that makes the difference. Working on either side of a high-profile campaign such as fracking, the professional public relations practitioner should not – must not – bring themselves or the profession into disrepute.
The ethical and moral behaviour ascribed to signatories to the Code of Conduct only makes sense if we ourselves exhibit such traits in our personal lives, so that they are second nature. Our personal public relations practice should push us towards better business and professional public relations practice.
If spin “often implies the use of disingenuous, deceptive, and highly manipulative tactics” then perhaps we should call that what it is: lying? Specifically, lying to gain an advantage where none would naturally accrue… including the sexing up of dodgy dossiers.
You Spin Me (right round)
While researching for my Chartered Practitioner paper (I’m an old school Chart. PR), I came across the relativistic fallacy ‘if-by-whiskey’. It could just as easily be ‘if-by-spin’:
If, when you say ‘spin’, you mean being disingenuous or deceptive, seeking to manipulate public opinion; or to create fake or misleading testimonials, either directly or through editing; or delaying the release of potentially unwelcome but nevertheless important news so it can be hidden by other events, then certainly I am against it.
But if, when you say ‘spin’, you mean the promotion of an ideal, cause or objective to the advantage of a client or oneself while not to the detriment of the public good; or the provision of well-researched data from a reputable source; the honest, unedited attestation of clients and customers; and respect for the law and relevant codes of conduct, then certainly I am for it.
If people have a positive image of who I am, what I do, like my work and recognise my professional standing and qualifications, and then call me a spin doctor, I’m not going to argue. My own ‘public relations’ and my own reputation should reflect my professional equivalents, as they would in other professions. I am what I am.
- As a Leeds United supporter, we’ve had a few Chairmen that would fit the bill though. [↩]