“spin” (public relations) — In public relations, spin is a form of propaganda, achieved through providing an interpretation of an event or campaign to persuade public opinion…While traditional public relations may also rely on creative presentation of the facts, “spin” often implies disingenuous, deceptive and/or highly manipulative tactics. — Wikipedia
As a PR teacher and practitioner, it upsets me terribly when I see the awful “spin” word used to describe our profession. Yet, “spin” remains front-of-mind when people think of public relations. Sadly, “spin” and PR have been linked for a long time.
The first known use of “spin” as related to story-telling appeared in 1812 in James Hardy Vaux’s A new and comprehensive vocabulary of the flash language, describing when sailors would go about, “yarning or ‘spinning’ a yarn, signifying to relate their various adventures, exploits, and escapes to each other.”
“Spin” re-emerged around 1980 when the terms “spin doctor” and “spin control” became closely associated with politics. In 1996, Stuart Ewen wrote a best seller titled, “PR! A Social History of Spin.” Larry Tye followed up with “The Father of Spin: Edward Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations.” And just a year ago, an article by Cheryl Connor appeared in Forbes with the headline, “The Death of ‘Spin’ (Will it Kill the Future of Public Relations?)” She wrote, “In many people’s minds, the world of PR is the world of spin. Next to hired assassins or hackers, perhaps, PR is often considered the world’s most ungodly career.”
Stuart Ewen, now a distinguished professor at Hunter College, will be lecturing on March 25 at the Museum of Public Relations on the legacy of Edward Bernays. I hope he’ll take the opportunity to explain–and denounce–the use of the word “spin” in his book’s title. It’s disparaging and disrespectful to those who practice PR ethically.
Thomas Hoog, former CEO of Hill+Knowlton, told participants at PRSSA’s national convention in October, “In PR, we’re all about truth. There’s no place for ‘spin’ in our profession.” As students and practitioners, let’s find ways to forever expunge the association of “spin” and PR. Your thoughts?