Why Spin Is Spin, Not PR

Public relations and marketing are based on authenticity, not disingenuity. Spin at your own risk.

Public relations and marketing are based on authenticity, not disingenuity. Spin at your own risk.

Spin isn’t and shouldn’t be a public relations tactic, says Jane Dvorak, who is this year’s national chairwoman of the Public Relations Society of America.

“Truth is the foundation of all effective communications,” Dvorak said in a released statement. “By being truthful, we build and maintain trust with the media and our customers, clients and employees. As professional communicators, we take very seriously our respond suability to communicate with honesty and accuracy.”

Cynics and critics have labeled PR professionals as spin doctors for a long time. “Spin City,” the television show about a fictional local government in which the character played by Michael Fox is constantly trying to twist the truth, didn’t help public impressions of “spin.”

But the issue of public fibbing has burst to the forefront on the tip of the tongue of President Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway who coined the term “alternative facts” to explain the discrepancy over the size of inaugural crowds.

Most marketing communications are intended to inform and motivate potential customers or clients. Stretching the truth or hiding part of the truth when communicating with potential customers can boomerang by eroding trust or loyalty. You might get a sale, but lose the customer.

As Dvorak explained, marketing consists of telling stories about companies, organizations or associations. Those stories need to be authentic and true or else credibility can be at risk.

"PRSA strongly objects to any effort to deliberately misrepresent information. Honest, ethical professionals never spin, mislead or alter facts,” she said. "We applaud our colleagues and professional journalists who work hard to find and report the truth."

One long-time Portland reporter told me, “Burn me once with a story pitch that is untrue or misleading and you don’t need to bother to call me again.” As a former reporter and editor myself, I recall saying something similar to news sources who offered up sketchy details and questionable facts.

It’s understandable brands and their brand managers want to put their products and services in the best light possible. But that doesn’t mean a false light. 

PR professionals and marketers have a professional and ethical obligation to produce communications with accurate and verifiable claims. If their clients insist on spin instead of facts, then the right move for PR and marketing pros is to disengage and avoid damaging their reputation. Clients considering the alternative fact route would also be well advised to choose a different road to travel.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.