Does Spin Suck?

To spin or not to spin, that is the question.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

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Does spin suck?

The word “spin” does have a neg­at­ive con­nota­tion. One of my favour­ite PR blog­gers, Gini Dietrich, even named her blog Spin Sucks.

And to be fair, I’m sure I would agree with how Dietrich would define spin. Deliberate dis­tor­tion of facts, manip­u­la­tion, and out­right lying to the pub­lic — yeah, that spin sucks

But I see no reas­on to dis­miss a per­fectly usable word. We’re in pub­lic rela­tions; we should know that every story has more than one side.

Here we go:

What is Spin?

According to Wikipedia, here’s how to define spin:

In pub­lic rela­tions, spin is a form of pro­pa­ganda, achieved through provid­ing a biased inter­pret­a­tion of an event or cam­paign­ing to per­suade pub­lic opin­ion in favor or against some organ­iz­a­tion or pub­lic fig­ure. While tra­di­tion­al pub­lic rela­tions may also rely on cre­at­ive present­a­tion of the facts, “spin” often implies the use of disin­genu­ous, decept­ive, and highly manip­u­lat­ive tac­tics.”
Source: Wikipedia 1Spin (pro­pa­ganda). (2023, November 19). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​S​p​i​n​_​(​p​r​o​p​a​g​a​nda)

Ouch. That is not a very pos­it­ive description.

According to Merriam-Webster, a spin doc­tor is “[…] a per­son (such as a polit­ic­al aide) whose job involves try­ing to con­trol the way some­thing (such as an import­ant event) is described to the pub­lic to influ­ence what people think about it.”

Well. Merriam-Webster’s descrip­tion doesn’t shout “evil” as much as Wikipedia’s, so that’s something. 

Well, here’s what I think:

We shouldn’t be strangers to reclaim­ing neg­at­ive words to make them pos­it­ive. After all, Edward Bernays, the fath­er of PR, wrote in Propaganda from 1928:

I am aware that the word pro­pa­ganda car­ries too many minds an unpleas­ant con­nota­tion. Yet wheth­er, in any instance, pro­pa­ganda is good or bad depend upon the mer­it of the cause urged, and the cor­rect­ness of the inform­a­tion pub­lished. In itself, the word pro­pa­ganda has cer­tain tech­nic­al mean­ings which, like most things in this world, are neither good nor bad but cus­tom makes them so.”
Source: Propaganda 2Bernays, E. L. (1928). Propaganda. Horace Liveright.

Still, Bernays didn’t exactly suc­ceed in turn­ing the tables for the word propaganda.

But the major­ity is some­times wrong. I think both “pro­pa­ganda” and “spin” deserve bet­ter PR. 

We are all cap­tives of the pic­ture in our head — our belief that the world we have exper­i­enced is the world that really exists.”
— Walter Lippmann (1889 – 1974)

A Glass of Many Truths

A half full and half empty glass of water.
A glass filled with truth.
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A Glass of Many Truths

Let’s say that there’s a glass of water stand­ing on a table in front of you — and there’s water in it. The glass holds 100 ml of water but could store 200 ml if filled up.

I could say that the glass is half full. That’s true.

I could also say that the glass is half empty. Still true.

Both state­ments are equally val­id, of course, but the choice of words will influ­ence our ste­reo­typ­ic­al think­ing about the state of the glass and its con­tent

The second state­ment emphas­ises empti­ness (the glass needs a refill), and the first state­ment is full­ness (the glass needs no refill).

Now, let’s get even more creative:

The glass is full. True, yes?

Technically, this state­ment is true as well:

50% of the glass con­tains water; the oth­er 50% is split between roughly 78% nitro­gen, 21% oxy­gen, argon, car­bon diox­ide, and small amounts of oth­er gasses. 

How about this:

The glass is not half full, nor is it half empty. Also true.

An equal split between water and gasses implies an exact divi­sion of pro­tons, neut­rons, and elec­trons. But Heisenberg’s uncer­tainty prin­ciple says no.

Such accur­acy might not mat­ter to you or me, but for a phys­i­cist, these pre­cise ver­sions of the truth might make all the difference.

So, what does a glass of water have to do with PR?

  • In a demo­cracy, com­pet­ing interests will put for­ward the truths that best serve their pur­poses. If you care about your interests, you should spin for the win, too.

Learn more: Does Spin Suck?

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Everybody Spins

As humans, we spin. We frame our state­ments to make them serve our pur­poses. Fundamentally, it’s our right to make a case that is ours and not someone else’s.

And if someone comes along say­ing that they have the abso­lute author­ity on what ver­sion of the truth you and every­one else must abide by? 

Well, run. And while you’re sprint­ing for safety under pan­ick­ing breaths, you can be assured that those scary author­it­ari­ans had their tyr­an­nic­al ver­sions of the truth ready to go.

Spin for the Win

In a demo­cracy, we’re sup­posed to have our say to influ­ence our world with our words.

If you don’t get to spin your real­ity the way you see it, someone else will surely do it for you — but not neces­sar­ily with your best interest in mind. 

I’m proud to say that I spin my ver­sion of how I see the world — all the time. And I help my cli­ents to spin their ver­sions of the truth, too. I’m a propagandist!

This is just semantics,” some might argue.
Well, that’s my point exactly, I say.

Signature - Jerry Silfwer - Doctor Spin

Thanks for read­ing. Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing art­icles with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tions and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. You might also con­sider my PR ser­vices or speak­ing engage­ments.

PR Resource: Fundamental Approaches To PR

Three Approaches to Public Relations - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
Three approaches to pub­lic relations.
Spin Academy | Online PR Courses

Approaches To Public Relations

There are three schol­arly approaches to pub­lic rela­tions (PR):

  • The Excellence Approach
  • The Rhetorical Approach
  • The Critical Approach

The Excellence Approach. A busi­ness-ori­ented approach focused on object­ives and cor­por­ate value cre­ation. The under­ly­ing motiv­a­tion behind the the­ory was that pub­lic real­tions was mainly a vari­ety of tac­tic­al tools that des­per­ately needed a man­age­ment the­ory to work well in a soph­ist­ic­ated organisation.

Notable men­tions: James E. Grunig, Larissa A. Grunig

The Rhetorical Approach. A clas­sic­al approach that stems from ideas dat­ing back to ancient Greece. It’s a psy­cho­lo­gic­al the­ory of how com­mu­nic­a­tion struc­tures human cul­ture by shap­ing human minds. An absence of mor­al judg­ment char­ac­ter­ises the rhet­or­ic­al approach and is utilitarian.

Notable men­tions: Edward Bernays, The Toronto School of Communication Theory, Robert Heath

The Critical Approach. A crit­ic­al approach deeply rooted in the­or­ies around soci­et­al power dynam­ics. Power is seen as a means to exert dom­in­ance, manip­u­la­tion, and oppres­sion. The crit­ic­al approach bor­rows many ideas from the rhet­or­ic­al approach by pla­cing them in mor­al frameworks.

Notable men­tions: Walter Lippmann, Noam Chomsky

Read also: 3 PR Approaches: Excellence, Rhetorical, and Critical

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ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 Spin (pro­pa­ganda). (2023, November 19). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​S​p​i​n​_​(​p​r​o​p​a​g​a​nda)
2 Bernays, E. L. (1928). Propaganda. Horace Liveright.
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
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The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that there is more to life than strategic communication.

The cover photo has

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