Public Relations is NOT ‘Spin’

Although it doesn’t happen as often as it used to, people do use the dreadful term “spin” when referring to public relations. It’s not as shocking as it used to be, though it can still make PR professionals’ blood boil. Another day, another mischaracterization of public relations. Any time “spin” is brought up in conversation, it’s another attempt to convince the world that PR is not (and should never be) labeled as “spin.”

Media relations and earned media

The first and most heavy-hitting argument typically introduced when defending the PR profession is that public relations relies on earned media rather than paid media. Earned media refers to publicity or awareness of a product/service gained from word-of-mouth. Essentially, earned media relies on the public to spread the message.

And yet, the PR people are the ones who are accused of “spinning” the message.

When dealing with earned media, there is no cost for ad placement – a client hires a public relations firm to create credible, genuine media exposure for their product or service. As part of a media relations strategy, earned media a very organic way to send a message. Although, it doesn’t happy overnight. Media relations is a process that takes time and dedication. 

Let me put it this way: If you’re scrolling through Facebook one day and a video advertisement pops up that says something like, “this product is the cleaning product around,” are you likely to trust it? One could definitely make the argument that you’ll hesitate to do so because the client has paid money to place the ad, and the client controls the message. By contrast, if you’re clicking through Instagram stories and one of your friends keeps posting about how he loves and recommends the same product, would you trust that? It’s far more likely.

This is because earned media yields more trust from the consumer. It’s likely your friend isn’t getting anything from that company in return for posting that message on Facebook. He is posting because he wants to.

Maybe the company works with influencers and smart and sent free or discounted product to your friend because of his status as an influencer. The PR firm behind the influencer management might be hoping he likes the product and will post about it on social, but there’s no guarantee. In this PR strategy, no reward is promised for a positive review, so it cannot, by definition, be “spinning” the truth.

Public relations: An always evolving industry

The public relations industry is constantly evolving. It’s not just press releases and media pitches. However, one thing that always stays the same is that the industry would completely dissipate without the core element of trust. That’s why we’re the ones leading the charge at press conferences. From admitting when things go wrong to communicating what’s being done about it, our overall goal is to raise positive awareness of our client.

PR professionals hold a difficult job; we are the liaison – the gatekeeper – between the public and your organization. We keep both groups top of mind, and these groups are sometimes (maybe even frequently) at odds with one another. And we do it all while the eyes of the press are on us.

Here’s the bottom line. A public relations firm presents the opportunity for a client’s product or service to be promoted, but the public does the rest. It’s strategic, creative and always a challenge trying to find the best way to communicate with the public.

As Jean-Louis Gassee says, “Advertising is saying you’re good. PR is getting someone else to say you’re good.”