The Death of 'Spin' (Will It Kill The Future Of Public Relations?)

Feb 13 2014, 3:01am CST | by

The Death of 'Spin' (Will It Kill The Future Of Public Relations?)

My friend and collaborator Dr. David Gruder and I are having a lively conversation on the case for journalism and PR without spin. This is a seismic shift in perspective, because 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.

But eliminating spin altogether? Yes, the concept is extreme. The public has come to mistrust so much of what they read in the press that Gruder actually remarked, “What does it say about us as a society and about our faith in authentic journalism when comedy shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have become our most popular mechanism for busting through spin?” It’s not good.

As a content universe we’ve come to expect the death of traditional SEO as it is supplanted by quality content, though many continue to grapple with the results. That evolution is big, and it’s good. But now for the next horizon: the media universe (and Google algorithms) are increasingly demanding content that is not only authentic (and yes, interesting) but also genuine in its representation and devoid of manipulation and spin.

Is it even possible to eliminate spin? In my opinion, yes, it is. Bear in mind, however, I believe the hours expert writers spend creating irresistible headlines, using power words to command attention and testing A and B alternatives to provoke a result are not a breach of integrity, so long as the content of the piece is genuine to the promise of the headline, and provides readers with material and information that is honest, accurately identified and cited, and that they genuinely want to receive.

Likewise, Dr. Gruder and I both acknowledge that writers will continue to write with particular opinions or bias. In the new world of journalism, bias is tolerated as long as writers are transparent about disclosing their connections to a source or a story and are honest about the bias they hold. But a transparently biased slant is a different thing entirely than “spin,” which by its very design is intended to manipulate and deceive.

The New Media model of the community is a groundbreaking development in this regard, I believe. By editor Lewis Dvorkin’s admission the model of native advertising and contributor content is not yet perfect; however it is forging new territory and has done much to keep the Forbes brand (and the growing audience) at the front of the curve. Articles provided by sponsors are clearly identified. Contributors are contractually bound to a code of ethics that is increasingly strengthened and strongly enforced.

Even more importantly, readers are integral participants in the new content model as the conversations they initiate through comments are largely uncensored. Articles succeed or fail on readers’ level of interest.

Yes, traditional journalism’s numbers are shrinking, but in many respects, community-driven content may be even more effective in its ability to crowdsource and self determine the validity and relevance of the information reporters and contributing authors provide.

As this model progresses, smart communicators and marketers should be working harder than ever before to ensure the content we produce (and the content we reward with our attention, as consumers) is actively speeding the evolution to a world without spin.

To that end, Dr. Gruder has offered a set of examples of the arenas that currently require our action and attention as marketers and consumers in order for a “no spin zone” utopia to emerge and survive:

  • Social Networking Spin: Networkers Abducting Networkers. The advent of social media has paved the way for rapid deception on social networking mediums that is especially dangerous to teens and vulnerable adults. Assumed identities, adults posing as teens, bullying of every variety and identity theft are a few examples of the worst integrity breaches social media misuse can allow. As parents, as individuals an as a society we need to be mindful and to police and prevent these tendencies to every extent that we can.
  • Media Spin: Media Abducting the Public. In the new world of content, anyone with a keyboard, a camera and an internet-connected device can become a publisher and can use the guise of “journalism” to present their results. This is a very bad thing for a free society. While requiring transparency of sources (news sites that require genuine personas, no assumed identities) is one means of quelling the dishonesty tide, “lazy journalism” pushes the dishonesty envelope as well: when one outlet reports a mistake and an avalanche of others simply follow the first, the public is victimized by so-called reporting that is misleading or false.
  • Political Spin: Politicians Abducting Citizens. There are too many examples in this category to number. Broken rules. Broken laws. Dishonest representations. Disillusioned readers and voters pay the terrible cost.
  • Likewise, Political Groups Attempting to Abduct Voters (Special Interest Spin). In a small (though rampant) example, political groups in the recent San Diego mayoral campaign sponsored polls that produced vastly differing opinions of the campaign’s expected outcome, in an effort to overpower opponents in the final days of a “hairsbreadth” campaign.
  • Advertising Spin: Corporations and Agencies Abducting Consumers. Gruder notes that Coca-Cola is the reigning champion of deceptive campaigns, recently taking up the mantle of a campaign meant to align the Coca-Cola brand as a voice in fighting obesity, and disguising the ads as public service announcements. Yeah, right. (Yet both Gruder and I are active or even avid Coke drinkers – so does this make us potentially complicit in the campaign?)
  • Email Spin: Marketers Abducting Prospects. Spamming that pretends to not be spam is a grave offender in the war against spin. Examples include false anti-spam compliance footers declare the recipient is receiving the email because they signed up when the “sign up” is an absolute lie are horrific offenders. Worse still is clicking on a “remove” link that’s actually disguised and designed to activate your email address to be sold, rented or shared with other spammers. There are other horrific email examples as well:

-The seemingly personal email with supposedly unique link and time urgency to manipulate immediate action: ”Please review and confirm the following credit update reported today. You may view your updated credit score at no charge today. (Phony deadline for additional urgency often included as an added touch: ) This offer to see it an no charge expires today, so be sure to use it right now.”

-Newsjacking that Quotes authorities as thougth they have something to do with the product you sell when they don’t:  “Dr. Oz exposes miracle food for 2014.”

-Offering a seemingly attractive deal in order to trick people into providing contact information: ”Thank you for taking the time to give us feedback. At RewardZone Corporation your comments and observations are important to us. Please take the time to take this quick survey and qualify for a $100 Burger King Gift Card.”

-Lying to create fear that tricks readers into a sales funnel: “Breaking News: Are Government Shut-downs as well as Civil-Unrest Only The-Beginning? Why is it That FEMA Storing 450,000+ Plastic-Coffins Near-Atlanta? This Eye-Opening Video Is Getting Tons Of Attention! Go See This Video Now.”

Do we have your attention? How quickly can we collectively bring a greater degree of no-spin communications about? We welcome your discussion and thoughts. And again, my thanks to Dr. David Gruder, “America’s Integrity Expert” for his contributions to the integrity conversation as it relates to PR.

8 Marketing and Advertising Jobs with a Bright Future

Source: Forbes Business


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