Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Is spin really a bad thing - or does it just have a bad reputation?

By Tracy Jones

As a public relations professional, I’m often accused of being a “spin doctor”. Many of those who use the term do so in a disparaging way, coming from a view that all spin is “bad” and designed to mislead the audience.

But is that right? Is spin in itself a bad thing?

Consider this example:

From one point of view: You work as a licensing inspector at the motor vehicle registry. You implement rules that make it harder for me to get a license and register my car. Your work costs me time and money.

And from another: I work as a licensing inspector at the motor vehicle registry. I implement rules that ensure drivers and vehicles on our roads are safe. My work saves lives.

So which is spin and which is the truth?

The fact is, they’re both. Both these points of view tell the facts as they are. But they are overlaid with context that gives meaning to those facts. In the case of a licensed driver, the additional context is that rules and regulations do make it harder to get yourself and your car on the road. As an inspector, you know the job you do contributes to safer roads.

So spin is simply the telling of the truth from the context of your own position. You add meaning to the bare facts by putting them into context. And let’s face it, each of us tells the truth from our own viewpoint.

So why has “spin” attained such a bad reputation? And when is spin wrong?

• When it is designed to hurt or defame
• When it deliberately misleads or omits important parts of the truth
• When it is a lie.

There are ways to ensure your public relations consultant does not take you down the path of unethical spin doctoring.

Choose a professional who is a member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia or related world-wide professional body. They are bound by a Code of Ethics that prohibits them from such behaviour. And the Code is enforceable through the institute.

When choosing a consultancy, check they are a member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia’s Registered Consultancies Group. Not only are these consultancies bound by an additional Code of Conduct, their Managers are also required to ensure all employees act in an ethical manner.


Tracy Jones is the principal of Creative Territory, a Registered Consultancy Group member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia. She is a Fellow of the institute, a former National President and currently serves on the national board.