In PR, Spin is a Four-Letter Word

altAs a novice tennis player, “spin” is a desirable skill I’m trying to master. As a public relations professional, it’s a four-letter word that makes me sigh, roll my eyes, and count to 10 to prevent a rant.

From business executives to TV shows like “West Wing,” the suggestion to “spin” a crisis or negative story is prevalent and harmful. Whoever coined the job title “spin-meister” should be flogged with a wet copy of the Sunday New York Times.

If your PR pro is worth his or her salt, your request for “spin” will be met with a resounding, “No way!” Here’s why.

If you feel the need to spin a story, you’re already on the defense and looking for cover. That’s the wrong way to approach a PR problem. First, recognize that the PR problem is secondary to the impact of actions that created the crisis. If you’ve fouled up, come clean and own the error, apologize (whether the lawyers like it or not), tell the public what you’re doing to fix it, compensate victims, and make sure it never happens again.

In the PR field, we often use the Tylenol scare as an example of handling a potentially devastating event the right way, sans spin. If you’re too young to have been around for it, look it up. Then compare it to BP’s handling of the Gulf oil spill. We may never know what BP’s PR staff actually advised management to do during and after the spill, but you can bet that BP execs didn’t have the Tylenol case in mind as a potential game plan.

“Spin” suggests that you’re avoiding the truth. Again, that’s a dangerous place to begin. Good reporters will smell the lie before you get to the second sound bite. Doling the truth out in bits and pieces is equally damaging and keeps the negative press flowing. Do you need to tell all of the truth? Not necessarily, but preparing a transparent message that dumps all of the bad news at once will begin to repair your brand image.

Maybe it’s a problem of semantics. Maybe clients don’t possess the vocabulary alternatives for “spin.” You can certainly craft a message, and you can pitch an angle on a story. Honesty and facts form the basis of those more appropriate perspectives on presenting and protecting your brand.

So, ask your PR professional to help with the message. Back them on the call to be forthright and forthcoming. Keep the spin on the tennis court.

 

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