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 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.


The 3 Star Coffee Shop, 86th Street and Columbus Ave


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.