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The Stain of 'Spin' on PR is unfair - Hear me out!

BY: Bridget Mensah
The Stain of 'Spin' on PR is unfair - Hear me out!
Bridget Mensah - The Writer

There was a time long ago when Press Agents were mostly worried about spin and image. If a negative story broke out about a client, they will first jump on it and find a way to spin the story so that it no longer casts their clients in a poor light.

However, this practice usually came at the cost of integrity. Today’s PR practice cannot rely on spin to mitigate PR issues and crises.

Mischaracterisation of PR:

When I helped my son with his Religious and Moral Education (RME) assignment, little did I know it would lead to the mischaracterisation of Public Relations. My son came home with an assignment and an instruction that neither the parent nor the student should rely on the internet for the assignment.

Well, for me, the question was a practical one, so I could share my thoughts on the issue without referring to the internet.  The question was, "Why should families/ friends of about-to-wed couples support them for their wedding ceremony?"

I am not a fan of big wedding ceremonies, I feel it's a waste of resources, but I must admit that no matter the size of a wedding, help is needed. Financial, and material to emotional support from family and friends will go a long way to ease some of the couples' burdens. And that's exactly what I did; to enumerate why that help is needed from families to the about-to-wed-couples.

How did that then become a reason for my son's teacher to say:

"Oh, that's why! Those people know how to talk; even if the thing is bad, they can make it look good," sigh.  Apparently, when he learned from my son, I was a PR Manager (not to gloat, but it turned out my son's assignment was his favourite, wink). Perhaps I was able to sway him from an earlier opinion held on the matter with my arguments to now see things from my perspective. That is a good thing, right?

But many people, including my son's teacher, use the dreadful term "spin" when referring to my profession.

Let me attempt to convince the increasingly obstinate world around me that PR is not spin.

What is spin:

First, let's define spin. According to www.prsay.prsa.org,To spin something is to communicate it in a way that changes how people are likely to perceive it. As such, spin is intentionally misleading and can, in fact, give the opposite impression of what would naturally occur.

When inconvenient but relevant truths are intentionally omitted in the communication process and less relevant but true details over emphasised, that is spin.

You cannot talk about the history of Public Relations without talking about Edward L. Bernays. In his 2002 biography, "Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations, " he was referred to as "The Father of Spin.

But spin is not Public Relations, and Public Relations is not spin.

The art of persuasion:

Don't get me wrong; Public Relations is a persuasion business. Public Relations' core responsibility is influencing publics, building relationships with stakeholders, enhancing reputations and strategically raising awareness of a product, service, or even a cause (I have the Ghana Institute of Journalism to thank for this knowledge).

The Code of Ethics:

The PR industry will completely dissipate without the core elements of trust, truth and transparency.  That is why the Institute of Public Relations, Ghana (IPR), the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Women In PR Ghana (WiPR), among other associations and organisations, have a code of ethics that is meant to ensure the "The protection and advancement of accurate and truthful information that is essential to serving the public interest and contributing to informed decision-making in a democratic society."

The Code of Ethics also presents values that set the industry standard for public relations.

Advocacy: acting as responsible advocates for those we represent.

Honesty: Maintaining the highest standards of accuracy and truth. There is also loyalty, Fairness, and expertise, among other principles.

These principles are a far cry from picking and choosing specific facts with the intent to mislead as spin doctors do.

PR is Earned Media, results not guaranteed:

Another argument in the cap of PR is that, it is earned media.

What this means is that, when dealing with earned media, there is no cost for ad placement- a client hires a PR Consultancy to create credible, genuine media exposure for their product or service- and they cannot directly control the message that comes out of this process. It's a very organic way to send a message.

Here is a classic example: if you're scrolling through any social media platforms and chance on a video advertisement that says this body lotion is the best moisturiser for glowing and flawless skin, would you trust that product because the copy of the advert says so? You will be hesitant to trust the product because the distributor has paid money to place the ad, and the distributor certainly controls the message. By contrast, if you're scrolling through social media and couple of your friends keep posting about the success of the same body lotion, would you trust that? It's far more probable that you will trust the body lotion, right?

This is because earned media yields more trust from the consumer. Your friends posting about the body lotion aren't getting anything from the body lotion company. They are posting because they want to.

Another likely scenario is that, if you hire Global Media Alliance (GMA) for your PR campaign, the PR Account Manager assigned to the body lotion company may have sent a couple of your friends a free trial of the body lotion because of their statuses as social media influencers. The PR Account Manager might be hoping that they like the product and post about it. There is no guarantee that they will post. In this PR strategy, no reward is promised for a positive review, so it cannot by definition be "spinning" the truth.

Conclusion:

PR people hold a difficult job; we serve as the liaison between an organisation and its publics. We keep our stakeholders and publics in mind-groups that most times are at odds with each other. And we do all this while the eyes of the press are on us.

The fact is, a PR person presents the opportunity for a client's product or service to be promoted, but the public does the rest. It is strategic and creative, but that doesn't make it a spin.

Like Jean-Louis Gassee said: "Advertising is saying you're good; PR is getting someone else to say you're good."