Here are three memorable examples of spin:
1. In 2015 the Flint, Michigan city administration filed false reports with the state about its poisoned water. Brad Wurfel, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality spokesperson, told a reporter, “Anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax. It does not look like there is any broad problem with the water supply freeing up lead as it goes to homes.”
2. In 1998 President Clinton declared of Monica Lewinksy that he “ did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
3. In 2014, it was widely reported that Edelman, the world’s biggest PR firm, was found to have engaged in spin by promoting climate-change denial.
At its least harmful, spin is a positive take on something.
The three examples above are much more representative of its darker purpose: the deliberate distortion of truth. It includes lies, deceit, manipulation and misrepresentation.
If you’re fed up with this dubious behavior, don’t be disheartened. You can stand up, fight and be counted. Here are eight ways to tackle spin:
1. Become a member of a professional association.
Signal your professionalism by joining one of the groups that represent your interests, whether in PR (PRSA), or in marketing (AMA).
Familiarize yourself with your association’s code of ethics. Often organizations publish guidelines on client-agency relations. Abide by them and consider including their initials on your work email signature.
2. Challenge it in writing.
Challenging every incident of spin would probably be a full-time job, but you can stand up to one case every month or every quarter.
Identify the head of the organization responsible, find his or her email address and send your protest in a letter.
Though this is an effective way to start a conversation, turn your letter into a blog post if you’re met with silence. Executives hate to come across such a complaint. If no one responds to your complaint, publish your letter.
3. Heed the counsel of best practice professionals.
Kathy Barbour, 2015’s National Board Director of PRSA, said that the practice of twisting information is out of date, and there’s no place for it in proper PR practices:
The idea of spin is antiquated and unethical. Trust is most important to the clients and companies PR professionals serve, so there’s no place for spin. To combat spin, an ethical code or an industry guide, like the one all PRSA members must agree to, is absolutely necessary. PR pros who enroll in continuing education and Accreditation are less likely to get sucked into spin.
Francis Ingham, Director General of the PRCA, stressed the importance of living by a code of professional conduct:
One factor separates the spinners and the cowboys from pros―adherence to an external code of conduct. That’s what clients should insist upon. A case in point is our expulsion of Fuel PR. If you don’t subscribe to a code, you’re not prepared to be accountable. It’s that straightforward.