Is PR Spin? You Must Be Hyping Me!

Caterpillars spin cocoons. Spiders spin webs.  Young kids sometimes spin to make themselves dizzy. Whirling dervishes definitely spin toward a higher power, and fitness clubs are fond of offering spin classes. But is PR spin?

Most of the public relations professionals that I know consider “spin” to be a pejorative term in their profession. It connotes fabricating something to influence public opinion. Facts, the troubling things that they can be, can’t be “spun” although they can be interpreted differently depending on how they are presented.

I think when people use the term spin, they really mean “position.” For example, a client once called and had an annual environmental report to release, complete with letter grades.  

“How do you want to spin these this year?” the client innocently asked.

What he really meant was, in what context should we put the grades out to the public, given that there were many variables that determined the grade score and numerous geographic locations that were being graded. The answer to his real question —  How should we position the grades that reflect the realityof the environmental regions in question? — was relatively simple.

We would describe what each grade meant, but we would also (and more significantly) put the overall grade totals within the context of the region’s wider environment health. By positioning these markers against the larger issue, the public could get a genuine understanding about the general state of the environment, plus a good snapshot of which specific areas needed improvement, which ones had improved and which ones showed no change. Moreover, in the same news release, we would offer proven tips on how people could take personal responsibility on their own property, in their neighborhoods and their community to help make improvements in order to maintain a good grade, or to bump up the grade.

If we had approached this issue using the “spin” mindset, it would have given us license to play fast and loose with the facts and made the organization look disingenuous, if not duplicitous. Using spin, we could have resorted to subterfuge to gloss over the areas with lower grades, and we could have used hyperbole to inflate — or hype, another word often mistakenly used to describe PR — the area with strong B and A grades.  The result would have been a much muddier environmental assessment that did not reflect the true status of the areas in question.

Still, pop culture continues to malign PR by equating it with spin or hype, most likely out of naïveté and general ignorance.  The new “reality” show with celebrity Kim Kardashian reported today at PR Newser — a great little newsy and insightful PR trade website — is a good example of why I’m feeling a little dizzy at the moment.

The headline, “E! Launches PR Reality Show  ‘The Spin Crowd,’ Produced By Kim Kardashian,” pretty much says it all. The show, allegedly about how to set up and manage red carpet events in Hollywood, readily falls so far from the realm of what most PR people do in many different capacities each day that it barely merits mentioning. And now that I’ve accidentally hyped it in this hallowed space, it’s time to go for a real spin and get some fresh air.

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