Here are three memorable examples of spin:
1. In 2015 the Flint, Michigan city administration filed false reports with the state about its poisoned
water. Brad Wurfel, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality spokesperson, told a reporter,
“Anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax. It does not look like there is any broad problem with the water supply
freeing up lead as it goes to homes.”
2. In 1998 President Clinton declared of Monica Lewinksy that he “
did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
3. In 2014, it was widely reported that
Edelman, the world’s biggest PR firm, was found to have engaged in spin by promoting climate-change denial.
At its least harmful, spin is a positive take on something.
The three examples above are much more representative of its darker purpose: the deliberate distortion of truth. It includes lies, deceit, manipulation and
If you’re fed up with this dubious behavior, don’t be disheartened. You can stand up, fight and be counted. Here are eight ways to tackle spin:
1. Become a member of a professional association.
Signal your professionalism by joining one of the groups that represent your interests, whether in PR (PRSA), or
in marketing (AMA).
Familiarize yourself with your association’s code of ethics. Often organizations publish guidelines on client-agency relations. Abide by them and consider
including their initials on your work email signature.
2. Challenge it in writing.
Challenging every incident of spin would probably be a full-time job, but you can stand up to one case every month or every quarter.
Identify the head of the organization responsible, find his or her email address and send your protest in a letter.
Though this is an effective way to start a conversation, turn your letter into a blog post if you’re met with silence. Executives hate to come across such
a complaint. If no one responds to your complaint, publish your letter.
3. Heed the counsel of best practice professionals.
Kathy Barbour, 2015’s National Board Director of PRSA, said that the practice of twisting information is out of date, and
there’s no place for it in proper PR practices:
The idea of spin is antiquated and unethical. Trust is most important to the clients and companies PR professionals serve, so there’s no place for spin. To
combat spin, an ethical code or an industry guide, like the one all PRSA members must agree to, is absolutely necessary. PR pros who
enroll in continuing education and Accreditation are less likely to get sucked into spin.
Francis Ingham, Director General of the PRCA, stressed the importance of living by a code of professional conduct:
One factor separates the spinners and the cowboys from pros―adherence to an external code of conduct. That’s what clients should insist upon. A case in
point is our expulsion of Fuel PR. If you don't subscribe to a code, you're not prepared to be accountable. It’s that straightforward.
You would do well to follow in these PR pros’ footsteps.
4. Amplify, support and collaborate with those who investigate and expose it.
Use Google to track daily alerts of spin keywords. Share your views about the results on social media.
When spin gets investigated by mainstream or trade media—or by organizations like PR Watch and Corporate Watch—share their news and add your views.
If you are passionate about a cause, volunteer. Get involved with Greenpeace for climate change
or Animal Defenders International to fight mistreatment of animals. Also consider joining Fight Spin, a nonprofit activist group.
5. Speak up when bloggers and journalists equate PR with spin.
Let your voice be heard when reporters and bloggers treat spin as synonymous with PR or communications.
Add relevant hashtags, such as #fightspin and #PRFail, along with a hashtag or Twitter handle of the organization when you speak out online. Don’t forget
to comment on the articles in question.
6. Speak up in your workplace.
This may be tough because of reprisals, but if done well, protesting can transform an organization.
The best tactic is not to do it alone. Lobby with others in your team. Speak to your manager, your organization’s head of communications, PR or
marketing—or even your CEO.
Above all, constructively engage and question. Speak to the strengths and qualities of the organization’s workforce and then challenge them to do better.
7. Claim your stance in your email signature.
Declare your membership in your professional organization on your email signature and link to its code of conduct. Since many organizations have abandoned
their requirements for a standardized email template, you can even go further.
Why not add your protest and fighting attitude to your signature? Consider “I fight spin,” or, “No spin zone” to show your zero tolerance. It can open
conversations with those who read your emails. It can also showcase your vigilance, making you a person of integrity and a true professional.
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8. Lobby your professional association to do more.
Should your association do more to fight spin? If so, recommend it post an area on its website for the public to complain about members who infringe its
code. Suggest that a member expelled for spin be identified on its website.
What other ways can you take an anti-spin stand, PR Daily readers?
Robert White is the founder of