Public Relations is Nothing But Spin
“Public relations is nothing but spin?” this document has set out to examine what Public Relations really is, its uses and common arenas, as well as what ‘Spin’ means and the manner in which it is used today in Public Relations by companies and politicians and governments.
We endeavour to give definitions of both as separate entities first, as well as to provide in-depth and current examples to enhance clarity and understanding.
we have provided examples of both PR and Spin as they are used by corporations, as well as the manner in which ‘spin doctors’ use both PR and Spin in the game of politics.
Today Public Relations is a multi-million dollar industry and is being employed more and more as an image raising tool. However it is vital to point out that different organisations will use it in different ways to gain market advantage over their competitors, as well as to draw its intended public. Likewise spin is used by companies and governments alike, and both employ it to their advantage. Which is exactly what this report has set out to highlight in the discussion.
We have also briefly included Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in this report as we are aware that CSR is concerned with ensuring that organisations, investors, Legal firms, advertising firms and governments all handle marketing and Public Relations in a responsible and ethical manner that considers the well-being of society. We are aware that CSR is rapidly changing from a ‘would like’ to a ‘must have’ feature of business. We also realise that as PR and Spin both entail dealing with various publics it is vitally essential that their best interests be protected at all times.
In today’s media there is quite a heated debate about how PR (Public Relations) and Spin are used, and how it twists and contorts the truth, and the way in which people are deceived into buying from or supporting a particular organization based on the information they have been given.
In our essay we will analyse this in greater depth. Our core objective will be to examine the following statement:
“Public Relations is nothing but spin”.
In order to correctly answer this question we will firstly define what PR and spin really are. Thus, making it possible to understand and analyse the statement appropriately. We will examine PR and Spin from two angles. Firstly we will discuss this statement from an organisational point of view and secondly, from a government point of view. We shall endeavour to answer questions such as ‘When organisations use PR to promote their company or product is PR nothing but spin?’ ‘How do governments use PR?’ ‘Is there a difference in how the two use spin and PR?’ Along with this report, various examples and case studies will be given/used as reference to support the answer to the question at hand, is public relations purely and solely spin?
There are many definitions of Public Relations (PR), but none which is universally accepted.
First, PR is a strategic marketing communications tool.
Simply PR is “the development of and maintenance of good relationships with different publics.” And the publics correspond to different groups of people on which an organization is dependent. When the World Assembly of Public Relations met in Mexico in 1978, they agreed that:
“Public Relations is the art and social science of analysing trends, predicting their consequences, counselling organisation leaders and implementing planned programmes of action which will serve both the organisation’s and the public’s interest.” (Smith, 2002)
The Institute of Public Relations (IPR), which is the professional body for public relations in the UK, framed this following definition in 1997:
“Public Relations practice is the planned and sustained efforts to establish and maintain goodwill and understanding between an organisation and its publics.” (Smith, 2002)
In a word, PR is a positive marketing communications tool, of which the aim is the creation of and maintenance of good relationships with different publics. Well-planned and executed public relations programmes can build a relationship of trust between an organisation and its publics, which helps the organisation to survive and prosper. (Harrison, 2000)
The PR mix involves both building creditability and raising visibility. Before visibility is raised the company has to build creditability through their product, ethics and social responsibility and corporate image. Things that have to be considered when building creditability are: quality assurance, employee relations, customer relations, community relations and corporate communications (see appendix 1).
After creditability has been achieved PR can focus on raising visibility through publicity-generating activities like, news releases, publicity stunts, events and sponsorship (see appendix 1). If a press release is to be successful it has to be targeted correctly and released at the right time. (Smith, 2002)
Spin has a variety of meanings. According to the website of “wordreference”, spin is the practice of presenting news or information in a way that creates a favourable impression. It can be compared to twisting news or information.
Another definition is derived from The Columbia Guide to Standard American English 1993:
The noun spin has several specialized senses beyond its basic “the act of spinning.” A new slang and jargon sense of the noun comes from the argot of political campaigners and their spokespeople: “a new, distinctive interpretation, even a distortion, of a statement or an opinion,” as in “She took his press statement’s apparent blunder and put a spin on it that would be acceptable to the voters.” A person employed to do that sort of thing is what current slang calls a spin doctor.
Spin is a fascinating use of language whereby those who thrive on spinning, turning around, sexing up, stretching facts and winding truths are today called “spin doctors.” (Wilson, 1993)
The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) defines spin as “the attempt to manipulate the depiction of news or events in the media through artful public relations – often used with derogatory connotations.” (http://www.cim.co.uk)
Kraft Foods has become involved in the public health discussion. Kraft wants to realign their brand to be more caring towards their customers and their health. Kraft has used PR in repositioning itself in customers’ minds and opinions and they have done it in a masterful way. The New York Times quoted Kraft’s co-chief executive Betsy D Holden statement:
“The rise in obesity is a complex public health challenge of global proportions. Just as obesity has many causes, it can be solved only if all sectors of society do their part to help. Kraft is committed to product choices and marketing practices that will help encourage healthy lifestyles and make it easier to eat and live better.”
According to the New York Times, Kraft Foods will help in the development of policies, standards and procedures through setting up a global council of advisers. They will also eliminate school marketing to children, introduce smaller portion sizes and develop healthier options. Kraft Foods hopes that their programs will get started next year and be fully completed in three or four years.
”If the industry is going to have to change ‘why not be perceived as the one to lead the change.” Mr. Brownell at Yale
(David Barboza, 02 July 2003)
The rescue of the Perrier Brand
12 years ago Perrier, a French mineral water producer, was forced to recall products from stores because scientists found traces of carcinogenic benzene in the bottles in the US. Even though the levels were not so high that it could damage your health media covered this story extensively and Perrier’s reputation was harmed.
At first Perrier handled the situation quite poorly, Perrier in France did not take the situation seriously enough. They thought that it would blow over in a few days but the sales plummeted and the decision was made to recall 160 million bottles worldwide at a cost of ï¿½150 million.
When Perrier realised the scope of the problem all efforts were focused at rebuilding their reputation. The recovering plan included press releases and announcement of a $25 million US re-launch programme. When the product was reintroduced in the US “Perrier Day” – events were held where 275 000 bottles were given away for free. After a few months Perrier had recovered from the scandal. (Mark Johnson, 29 March 2002)
Corporate Social Responsibility
Deloitte ; Touche Tohmatsu (DTT) has a Black Economic Empowerment strategy in South Africa. The strategy involves scholarship programs, diversity workshops and a “Partner Pairing” initiative to link black professionals with senior management at DTT’s.
Volvo is working on a project together with the UN High commissioner for Human rights that addresses discrimination in the workplace.
Unilever is working on a global Water Sustainability Initiative and on initiation is to help restore a dying river estuary in the Philippines. (Jonah Bloom, 13 May 2002)
Discussion: “PR is nothing but spin”
Companies use PR to create goodwill. But is that the same as “spinning” the story? And if it is, is it a bad thing?
Spin is spicing up an image by adding invented details or building up an eligible reputation. Just as individuals seek to project a good image, so also corporations seek to project a good “corporate image,” stressing their benevolence, as being “on your side.” Thus, spin amongst companies is a very important tool to keep or to build up a good reputation.
For PR to be successful a company needs to first create reliability before raising visibility. Kraft Foods used PR to create a new image as a health-concerning organisation. But did Kraft spin the story? It might sound ironic when a snack-company promotes healthier living, but is it wrong? Even though the motive is to increase revenue, Kraft has to carry through their promises to be successful. When Perrier struck some bad luck they had to do something to rebuild their trust with customers. Is it wrong for a company wanting to survive? It was through PR Perrier survived.
Iraq War 1990
Bringing the Iraq War in 1990 to mind, a lot of spin has appeared regarding politics. A very notorious story is the incubator story, which was launched by the testimony of a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl, who appeared before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in October 1990. None at that time bothered to ask who this weeping Kuwaiti girl was or to ascertain the veracity of her claim. This girl, Nijirah al-Sabah, was, it later transpired, the daughter of the Kuwait ambassador to Washington. She lied before the US Congress that she witnessed Iraqi soldiers looting incubators and pitching the Kuwaiti babies on to the floor. This was a lie manufactured by the US public relations company Hill & Knowlton. (Ameen Izzadeen, 06 December 2002)
Dossier of Ibrahim al-Marashi
Another good example for spin in politics could be the dossier of Ibrahim al-Marashi, a post-graduate student from California, used by the British government to justify the Iraq War. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman conceded that Downing Street “should have acknowledged” that sections of the dossier about how Saddam conceals weapons of mass destruction, were lifted directly from the paper. Nevertheless, he admitted that the sources used should have been listed clearly. However, he insisted Mr al-Marashi’s work was “solid” and an important part of the case against the Iraqi dictator. Furthermore, the revelations were all the more embarrassing for Downing Street because the dossier was praised by Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, in his presentation to the United Nations Security Council in February 2003. Mr Powell described the document as a “fine paper”. (Tony Helm 08 February 2003)
Tony Blair spins away
The BBC story, which began the hysterical confrontations, which led to the suicide of Dr. David Kelly, was a story in the pure meaning of the word. Even after it has been discredited, you can feel its emotional force. Tony Blair arrives at Downing Street promising to clean up the corruption of the old Conservative regime and bring in a new politics. At the beginning, only a few cynics notice that Blair achieved power by the use of spin. As the years pass, the ranks of the doubters grew. But Blair has a winning formula and is constitutionally incapable of changing it. He determines to commit an act of breathtaking audacity and spin Britain into a war. Honest spies warn him that he must not mislead Parliament and the public, but, blinded by his past success, he orders his sinister henchman, Alastair Campbell, to instruct the intelligence services to ‘sex-up’ the dossier on Saddam Hussein’s arsenal. When the BBC blows the whistle, Blair’s government falls apart. The Prime Minister’s reputation is destroyed by the spin, which created him.
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