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Spin-‘Truth or Fiction?

The debate surrounding Public Relations activity and business ‘kudos’ is becoming
increasingly an issue in the public domain. Some notable business disasters emanating
from the events surrounding Baring’s Bank and Enron, as well as other ‘gaffes’ like
Gerald Ratner’s infamous ‘knocking’ of his own products as ‘crap’ have led to a
heightened spotlight for greater visibility and accountability.

Can we blame PR for creating an angry public? We are becoming a much more
litigious society and feel that ‘blame culture’ and having easy scapegoats are the
norm. A Marketing Communications analyst recently writing in The journal of
marketing communications’ rather provocatively entitled his article ‘this company
sucks .com’ where he inferred that with the advent of instant gratification through the
world wide web that companies are laying themselves open constantly with feedback
channels on line for people to always complain!

Surely the argument should be that in a pluralistic society PR is about giving ‘voice’
where the voice gives authority, credence and value to ‘groups’ and ‘publics’ who
may well share as well as having different values. The result of this phenomenon’ is
that, rightly so, self-preservation comes through ‘self-presentation’ where we can
deduce the ‘attention for advantage’ syndrome.

We undoubtedly now inhabit a ‘promotional culture’ universe where one of its


distinctive features is an ‘argument culture’ where Tannen(1998) argues: ‘Our spirits
are corroded by living in an atmosphere of unrelenting contention-an argument
culture-….which urges us to approach the world-and the people in it-in an adversarial
frame of mind’.

However there is a clear distinction to be made in PR activity-where the notion of


‘positive spin’- is prevalent and necessary because one can always distinguish
between positive need for making an argument in public for a point of view than the
just negative view of having an argument for its own sake. On this basis one could
argue both spin is always relevant where truth overtakes fiction and consequently and
that ‘voice’ or ‘words’ can be significantly more relevant thus countering the view
that ‘actions speak louder than words’!

The concluding notions about PR values and roles in a modern society should centre
on engagement with its publics. PR is very much the ‘voice’ of mass-mediated
interests and opinions. Sometimes there is a blur with the increasing emphasis
probably driven by ‘American’ society‘s preoccupation with ‘commit to nothing,
admit to nothing approach’ to anything contentious. However these ‘voices’ are
always persuasive by intent whether they are heard as the self-rampant publicist or the
‘Victor Meldrew grumpy old man’ protagonist.

Perhaps a good summation of my thoughts on this Public Relations perceptions and


values or morality of ‘Spin’ is best argued by the Victorian philosopher John Stuart
Mill who argued that ‘Truth is what is left after public argument’. The fiction is
probably the natural outcome of society demanding ‘a good story’.
Alan J Seymour-October 2009