Get “spin” out of your lexicon. It’s bad for your business health.

In media training workshops I try to pre-empt the notion of spin even before it comes up, telling clients I’m not in the spin business and they shouldn’t be either.

My job is to teach them the techniques of answering interview questions responsively, but on their terms, from their perspective.

Reporters typically know when you’re spinning and use it as motivation to really dig in their heels and come after you.

Case in point, JetBlue CEO David Barger’s response to an accurate contention by Fox Business Network anchor Neil Cavuto that his airline, formerly fee-less, now is hitting customers with some of the same additional charges as other airlines. Barger’s response: “…we’re now terming flying as jetting because we want jetting to be a good part of your life…” He followed with all the comforts and embellishments of JetBlue’s airplanes, and concluded that the core product remains the same with no new fees tacked on. (Click on video below)

Now why didn’t David Barger simply admit that JetBlue’s increased costs require some additional fees? It would’ve been so much more refreshing and credible. People already understand that airlines are charging for things like checked bags because their fuel costs have been astronomical. They may not like it, but they usually understand it.

Barger could’ve—and should’ve—just come clean instead of spinning his answer into trying to make us believe we’re lucky to get the same core product for the same price. And that line about “flying” now being termed “jetting”…where did that come from and what did it have to do with his answer?

3 thoughts on “Spin

  1. Seems to me that the term “spin” entered the communications industry lexicon many, many years ago as a result of the media itself having decided that spin was what pr folks, disparagingly call “flacks,” were trying to do to them. During my 30 years in the pr industry, I don’t recall the pr community initiating this phrase; I believe, and hope, we thought higher of ourselves and our clients’ objectives than to use such a superficial term.

    Unfortunately, ever eager to be on top of things, the younger breed of pr people adopted the term, and unfortunately it has stuck with them and the media; commentators love it.

    So, I’d say the pr community was the willing victim of the media, who are ever interested in catch phrases regardless of their accuracy. (Inaccurate use of the term “bailout”, referring to the TARP, is the most recent example of the media getting it wrong; but, hey, it is snappy!)

    It used to be that a term such as “spin” and “bailout” were adopted by the print media, in particular, because they easily “fit into a headline.” Now they seem to be popular because of their perceived “über” with-it-ness. There’s another example of superficial coolness, uber-everything, and it comes from the ever über-cool Left Coast techies and the über-hip media covering them.

    The key elements of effective communications are clear, direct, accurate and easily understood descriptions of what it is that you are trying to convey to an audience. Demonstrations of coolness only diminish this effort. Therefore, we’re back to the need for simple declarative sentences using words that are immediately understood and meaningful. Uber-spin doesn’t have a place in that effort, now also referred to with catch phrase “transparency.” That used to be known as honest and candid communications with stakeholders.

    One of the beauties of Ernest Hemingway’s writing was his ability to make simple sentence extremely vivid and rewarding to read. His strength was in his effective use of verbs and nouns, not adjectives and adverbs. Unfortunately, many of today’s communicators — journalists and pr folks alike – cannot describe a simple declarative sentence, write one or even spell everything in it correctly.

    And that’s my spin on the über-deterioration of professional communications among journalists and pr folks.


  2. A couple of years ago, I was at a PRSA function and Harris Diamond (the CEO of GolinHarris and Weber Shandwick) said that PR professionals are paid to spin and that it’s not a bad term. I got pretty upset at the time and engaged him in a debate.

    Those who know me well know my blog (www.spinsucks.com) is all about spin and why it’s important to tell the truth…or not work with that client.

    I 100 percent agree with you – reporters know when they’re getting spin and all it does is hurt your credibility.

    Gini Dietrich
    Chief Executive Officer
    Arment Dietrich, Inc.

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