PR Insider: Should We Rebrand PR Because of Spin?

Robert White
Robert White

We know PR is about managing reputations and creating value through meaningful content that engages individuals, groups, organizations and communities.

Sadly, PR also has its critics, who only wish ill of our profession. The naysayers characterize PR by use of negative references and synonyms, while at the same time refusing to countenance a professional definition of it. Instead, they cast aspersions and denigrate, with some going so far as to call it untrustworthy and even dead.

They argue that PR is tarred by spin and is synonymous with it. They do not see its inherent value and ignore the positive results achieved by countless organizations, including grassroots, commercial and not-for-profit, across every business and sector.

As for spin, we know full well that it distorts, manipulates and downright lies, often - though not always - in the service of vested interests: those with power over others, who dominate ruthlessly in marketplaces and governments. Predictably, spin is cruel, callous and disrespectful of those it wishes to deceive.

Let’s be frank: Spin is to PR what stupid is to Albert Einstein. After all, can you remember when spin ever worked? Who doesn’t know that the mainstream media - as well as the millions of us in social media - will quickly recognize that a “news” story is spin? In today’s 24/7 world and despite all of its white noise, it's fair to say such recognition occurs in the blink of an eye. And woe betide any individual or organization that has committed such deception because a backlash always follows.

The fact that there remains the stupid determination to spin and that vested interests continue to use spin doesn’t mean to say we are hoodwinked by it. It’s simply that vested interests are monolithic and resist change. The problem, therefore, lies with those who are abusive of their power: they are the merchants of spin, not PR professionals.

And because of their power and almost unlimited resources, they are effortless in endlessly repeating lies in the self-deluding hope that, as with Goebbels, their oft-repeated lies will come to be seen as the truth. We all know the Emperor isn’t wearing Armani.

For those of us who work in PR, we know to fight and resist spin precisely because no good ever comes of it. And since we do, after all, work in communications and engagement, isn’t it incumbent upon us to challenge negative perceptions of PR by showing evidence to the contrary through transparency and integrity of content? If not, we may be proving our own incompetence at precisely the thing we practice: the management and protection of reputation.

The naysayers, however, seem to think we must join them and abandon ship and all hope for the practice of PR. Now they are busy bees who use “disruption” and sophistry to throw up - a phrase not used lightly - new highfalutin terms and double-speak jargon instead of relying on and continuing to invest in the credibility of PR.

But isn't the rejection of PR a disingenuous effort?

What is wrong with identifying as someone who is dedicated to public relations? Doesn’t the word ‘relations’ give cynics a clue about PR? What’s so bad about maintaining and growing professional relationships through the communication of value-based content? Why is engaging in this practice considered so bad?

In the knowledge that PR is about building relationships through efforts that inform, reflect a shared understanding, listen, respond and engage, surely it’s the polar opposite of spin.

As long as we in the profession remain committed to doing what is right and of value, PR should not fear what it knows best: that spin lies, undermines and destroys shared value, and PR is about creating relationships based on them. PR and spin will never be the same thing.

One thing seems certain. In the more than one hundred years since its principles were first declared by Ivy Lee in 1906—love or loathe it, value or disparage it, PR is here to stay.

Robert White is principal and founder of PR Matters. He has consulted for financial services firms and charities. Follow Robert: @prmattersdotorg