Thursday, June 12, 2008

Spin, Rinse, Repeat

I was in a meeting this week and got into a conversation with a business owner. He was offering his understanding of the difference between communication and PR. Communication, he opined, was basically sender-receiver (I bit my lip and refrained from pointing out that we have come a long way from that Shannon-Weaver model of communication in the last 60 years). And as for PR, that's where you spin.....

That's where I interrupted.

It may have been a semantic difference. He thought my objection was to trying to persuade or "sell" things. Well of course you have to do that in business. But spin has negative connotations, and it is neither strategic or ethical to deceive people. I offered to buy him a copy of "Lipstick on the Pig," Tori Clark's mea culpa epiphany that PR should be, gosh, honest.

Actually, what the well-meaning business owner was saying is that we need to have strategies and be persuasive and not merely 'get the word out.' Exactly. But what's interesting is that he, and no doubt many like him, speak of spin as a positive thing. They therefore perpetuate the concept that PR is spin, even though they are not PR practitioners.

So we are caught in this cycle whereby critics of the profession criticize us for being spinners, and then people outside the profession criticize us for counseling against spinning. I have to defend PR to critical theorist professors who point out examples of unethical PR practice (probably carried out by business owners who thought spinning was good) and then generalize to the whole profession. Then I have to advocate for ethical practice to people who think college professors are out of touch--discounting the fact that most PR professors I know have worked in the profession and are in touch with countless scientific studies that show spin doesn't work. The public can't all be fooled all the time. Your spin will find you out. Read up on source credibility and related concepts and you'll see what I mean.

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