Public Relations is NOT ‘Spin’

It happened again. Sigh. Another person using the dreadful term “spin” when referring to my profession. It honestly doesn’t shock me anymore, though it still makes my blood boil a bit. Another day, another mischaracterization of public relations, another attempt to convince the increasingly obstinate world around me that PR is not (and should never be) labeled as “spin.”

The first and most heavy-hitting argument I typically introduce 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.

I’ll continue. When dealing with earned media, there is no cost for ad placement – a client hires a PR person to create credible, genuine media exposure for their product or service, and they cannot directly control the message that is birthed from this process. It is a very organic way to send a message.

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 best weight loss 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 scrolling through Facebook and one of your friends keeps posting about the success of the same weight loss program, would you trust that? It’s far more likely.

This is because earned media yields more trust from the consumer. Your friend isn’t getting anything from that weight loss company in return for posting that message on Facebook. She is posting because she wants to.

Maybe the PR person was smart and sent a free trial of the weight loss product to your friend because of her status as a Facebook influencer. The PR person might be hoping she likes the product and will post about it on her blog, 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.

The public relations industry will completely dissipate without the core element of trust. That’s why we’re the ones leading the charge at press conferences, admitting when things go wrong, attempting to communicate what’s being done about it and hopefully raising positive awareness of the ways our client does it right. PR people hold a difficult job; we are the liaison, the gatekeeper, between the public and the organization. We keep both groups in mind – groups which are sometimes (maybe even frequently) at odds with one another. And we do it all while the eyes of the press are on us.

Bottom line: a PR person 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. But all the leg work is done by the person sitting to your right and to your left.

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