Ditch the spin

By Heather Claycomb, Chair of PRINZ

There are many things that spin. In fact, spinning is most often a good thing. 

We want the Earth to keep spinning – that’s a good thing.  Those of us who spin multiple plates simultaneously are praised for our skill.  Other good things that spin include cricket balls, wheels, fans, tops. 

You see where I’m going with this, right? While spinning can be a good thing, in the context of communication it’s bad.  Very bad. 

When it comes to my colleagues working in public relations, the New Zealand media loves to claim our role in communications is to ‘spin.’ Newshub’s gripe on 1 June is a typical example. Journalists love attacking the communications profession with this single word.  They know it gets up our nose (and, oh does it ever!). 

That’s because ‘spin’ implies we spend our days sitting around trying to figure out how to twist facts, obfuscate, divert attention, block the flow of information and outright lie when it suits our secret agenda.  Spin conjures up images of a devious mastermind behind the scenes putting lipstick on a pig and convincing you to call it pretty.

For the most part, our community recognises the disrespect certain terms imply in other professions.  You wouldn’t call your trusted legal advisor an ambulance chaser.  Educated and informed people wouldn’t publicly label a homoeopath a snake oil doctor, a local government worker a pen pusher, your therapist a shrink, a midwife a baby catcher or your respected boss a suit.  Media wouldn’t dare continuously repeat these unprofessional monikers in news stories time and time again.  So why should ‘spin doctor’ be an acceptable synonym for us?

I wanted to speak out to assure the New Zealand business community and confirm that for those communications professionals who have committed to ethical PR practice – as 1,000 of my fellow PRINZ members have done – our goal is to provide transparent, honest, forthright information to audiences who need it.  That includes the media.

As the professional body representing the PR industry, PRINZ will defend our profession when we must but we also need to acknowledge bad communications practice when it occurs.  And we’ve certainly seen a few examples these past few weeks.

If you’re reading this, can I ask you a favour?  Stop using the word ‘spin.’  If you find yourself equating spin with strategic communications, stop yourself.  Recognise the incredible insult it is to call ethical PR practitioners ‘spin doctors.’  Not only is it offensive, it’s hurtful at a very personal level.

I say it’s time for the media – and the business community at large – to choose their words wisely when it comes to the strategic practice of public relations and communications.  Ditch the spin.

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