Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It's time to fight the spin.

By Tracy Jones

There’s nothing like a bit of “spin” to excite the media and the Opposition.

But is the Government’s investment in public relations really throwing money down the drain as today’s Northern Territory News suggests?

The News revealed $9 million of taxpayer money was being spent in marketing and communication units across Government.

When the uninformed call marketing and communications professionals “Spin Doctors” and question our value to society, we need to remind them of the difference these disciplines make to everyday lives.

Imagine where we would be if no-one ever “spun” the horror of AIDS?

I remember when AIDS first came to light in the eighties and the panic and uncertainty that took hold as people began to realise there was a new and vicious disease emerging in the world.

While the medical community fought the disease with research and pills, another weapon was unleashed - public relations.

The "Grim Reaper" advertising was highly controversial. People were shocked by the rawness of the message. But it did work. It made us sit up and think. And take notice. And act.

Yes, AIDS remains a terrible disease and - like most diseases that take hold - seems to be taking the worst toll in developing communities without access to the medical assistance, the drugs and (dare I say) the public relations channels of more affluent countries. PR did make a difference - a big difference - to the impact of AIDS in our community.

Every single day the Government sends us messages about issues we need to know about.

Just this week we’ve been informed about the availability of dozens of jobs, free dietary advice for healthy living, free business events, how to save energy, a car park closure, how to become a foster parent, joining the Youth Round Table, volunteering to help out at the museum and ways to get into home ownership if I am on a low income. And that’s just in the NT News.

That doesn’t count the websites, newsletters, meetings, mailouts and direct contact undertaken by Government every day.

Government has a duty to inform its citizens about these issues. It has a responsibility to undertake social marketing in the areas of community health and welfare, road safety and substance abuse. It’s hardly surprising that the Department of Health and Families is the biggest spender in this regard – I’d be affronted if they were not.

Marketing and public relations play an important part in our community. These activities raise money for important medical research, convince us to donate blood, warn us about the risks of travelling to certain countries, show us why we should report suspected child abuse and help us make choices that will change our lives.

One of the key roles that often comes under attack is that of the press secretary. But let’s not undervalue the role of the press secretary in helping Ministers and Opposition members contribute to public debate. And seriously …. I’d love to see how newsrooms would get their stories without the work of the much-maligned media minder.

There’s no doubt there are some questionable pieces of “marketing” that make us wonder about the appropriateness of Government spending our money on them. Rather than tarring all PR and marketing activity with the same well-spun brush, it would be far better to question the value of individual activities.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:30 PM

    This ongoing NT News debate on spin has been most unhelpful for practitioners in the different areas of communications. I'm working within a new organisation where I am trying to mature an appreciation of communications and an understanding of its various areas. As if the challenges of delivering good communications weren't enough without the uncritical presentation in the media of the whole range of communications as "spin" working against us.