Think back to the smoke-filled rooms filled with reporters clamoring for a quote on the latest PR crisis. Back in “the day”, public relations professionals mostly worried about spin and image. If a negative story broke about a client, they were the first to jump on it and find a way to spin the story so that it no longer cast their client in a poor light. However, this practice often came at the cost of integrity, which is why relying on spin is no longer the most effective way to mitigate PR problems.
Before, trying to find a better spin or angle on a story often required a bit of creative tooling. Sometimes this required getting ahead of the story, having ins with journalists who may be getting ready to break a story. Other times it was a matter of reacting in the right way, finding another destination to spin the blame or paint a different picture that exonerates the client.
While public relations is still about image and public perception, times have changed. Now, the expectation is much stronger that companies will be more transparent and be held more accountable for their actions. This means that publicists can no longer simply spin a story more favorably without a concrete reason to do so.
So how can public relations still manage perception successfully? The concept of getting ahead of a story still applies, though there are definitive ethical violations in having too many inroads with journalists who may scoop a story. However, monitoring headlines and internal communications can be useful in getting ahead of a storyline before it makes huge news. Any head starts in PR are useful, particularly now how information spreads quicker than wildfire online.
Another uphill battle publicists fight when it comes to spin is the idea of recasting blame on someone or something else. While this practice may have flown before, this isn’t always the case today. Now, the mudslinging and blame game often serve to further alienate the public rather than bring in more allies. Therefore, publicists must find more creative ways to redirect negative attention.
Perhaps there is an opportunity to do some positive public relations to help offset something negative. Perhaps it’s as simple as taking ownership of a problem — in most cases, this accountability and honesty will actually have a more positive result than deflecting.
Many outside observers often associate spin with PR and vice versa. This conversation is shifting, however, as consumers now seek more authentic interactions with companies. Even if this authenticity relies on transparency, consumers have shown that they value this more than seeing only the highlights associated with a company.
Levels of consumer trust among individuals are low currently. This can be attributed to several factors, including the political climate we currently live in. This lack of trust can be polarizing, and when it comes to trusting businesses consumers are even warier.
Because of this, relying on spin (because spin is not always the authentic truth) can actually be more damaging than helpful for a company’s image in the long run. It’s important to remember that there is no easy fix, and sometimes a genuine, honest statement will go much further.
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