What Is "Spin" vs. Strategic Communication?
I recently received a comment on this blog from a reader who wrote:
“so let me understand your org Media training is teaching people to spin??
YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM!
You Know that this is just not right yet you don’t care!!”
That reader is far from alone in believing that media training is about “spin.” But from my perspective, “spin” is the exact opposite of what I do.
“Spin” infers that there’s something dishonest at play – an Orwellian manipulation of words that serve as a purposeful reversal of their intended meanings. It’s naming something that loosens air regulations the “Clear Skies initiative,” or firing someone and claiming he “retired.”
Professional media training, on the other hand, has to be rooted in honest communications. A dishonest spokesperson can fool some of the people some of the time, but few can pull it off long-term. As an example, I believe there’s a reason John Edwards never won the Democratic nomination in 2004 or 2008. Too many people saw something about him that seemed inauthentic and selected a different candidate instead.
Here’s where the lines get blurry for some people. There’s a diner in Manhattan called the “3 Star Coffee Shop.” I always chuckle when I pass it – on many ratings scales, “3 stars” is a mediocre rating. On one hand, I give them credit for truth in advertising. On the other, I’d never want to eat there.
If I was advising them back when they opened their restaurant, I would have suggested they go with “The 5 Star Coffee Shop,” or at least “The 4 Star Coffee Shop.”
Is that spin? Or is that just smart communications?
There’s a difference between dishonest “spin” and strategic communication. Politicians want to present proposals in their best light, business executives choose to focus on their products’ benefits, and job interviewees discuss their strongest traits.
I’d argue that all of those things, within reasonable limits, fall into the category of fair and honest strategic communications, and reject the notion that they represent “spin.”
What do you think? Where is the line between “spin” and strategic communications? Please leave a comment below.
Spin doctors are having difficult times. Why? Today you don’t fool people anymore that easy. If Mr. Media Trainer was a spin doctor, believe me, he was selling shoes today.
Strategic communicators, conversation managers and public affairs people are the future. Help them doing a great job. Do they fool us? Expose them. I need new shoes 😉
If, as Hemingway once observed,”journalism is facts and fiction is truth,” then spin is nothing more than an artful blend of facts and truth. To say someone retired when he was fired is lying. To say he was fired because he worked like he was retired is putting a spin on what might really have caused the guy to lose his job. Time to drop this naive purist attitude that spin is a sin. We’re here to call the proverbial glass either half full or half empty. It’s no wonder I say that as the title of memoir is “Spin Man.”
Thank you for your comment. I agree with the spirit of your comment and appreciate your passionate defense of the word “spin.” I suppose this comes down to a definitional question: is spin defined as an “artful blend of facts and truth,” as you maintain, or is it something more insidious? It seems clear to me that the public has already answered that question as the latter – I’ve never heard the word “spin” used as anything other than as a pejorative. Therefore, the definition the word “should” have seems a bit irrelevant – language evolves, and the public seems to have taken some place more negative than your more neutral definition suggests.
Just my perspective…I very much appreciate you stopping by the blog and leaving yours.
One of the things I sometimes find a fascinating dilemma is how much what to say and how much one doesn’t need to say. And of course, there’s always that percentage of people that’ll nonetheless believe what you say is spinning anyway, which is usually frustrating enough to warrant shutting up instead.
Keep writing on the subject. To say this is fascinating is an understatement. 🙂