Gini Dietrich

Five Ways to Fight Spin and Change the Perception of the PR Industry

By: Gini Dietrich | April 8, 2014 | 
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Five Ways to Fight Spin By Gini Dietrich

Last night, at Third Tuesday in Toronto, a question came up during the Q&A portion.

The attendee wanted to know if we’re ever going to win the fight against spin.

Her point?

Spin works. Negative campaigns work. We want to watch the train wrecks. We’re more interested in “conscious uncoupling” than in what’s going on in North Korea or in Russia.

Of course PR has a perception issue. Virtually every industry has a perception issue.

Wall Street has Bernie Madoff and Michael Milken.

The oil industry has BP.

Banking has Lehman Brothers.

Attorneys and car salesmen are held up against the lowest of the low human beings

The PR industry is seen as scummy and shady because of whisper campaigns, astroturfing, media manipulation, and unethical business practices.

I don’t know if we’ll ever win the good fight in my lifetime – and it certainly is a lofty vision – but there are some things we each can do to get us there.

Five Ways to Fight Spin

  1. Tell the truth. Another question that was asked last night was, “How often are you asked to lie or do something unethical?” Today, I’d venture to guess it happens only once a year. I can point to three times in our history when a client has asked us to lie on their behalf. Do not lie. Do not stretch the truth. Do not pretend to be someone you are not. Clients and executives will either understand or they won’t. If they don’t, you need to be working elsewhere.
  2. Remember astroturfing sucks. More likely than not, sometime in your career (if you haven’t already), you are going to be asked to write positive reviews for a product or service you’ve never used or to create fake accounts to write reviews. Do not oblige. Not only is this unethical, in some states in the U.S., it’s illegal.
  3. Work with ethical clients or organizations. You are growing your business or your career. You land your dream job or dream client. Then you start working and realize it’s not what you initially understood. It’s okay to stand up for yourself. You do, however, have to be ready to be fired.
  4. Be open to criticism. This one is so hard. None of us like to be criticized. We don’t like to hear negative things about ourselves or our work. But if we are open to it – and truly listen – we can improve our products, our services, our business processes, our speaking, our writing, and more. Improve and grow.
  5. Be human. Last year, an employee was accused of plagiarism. I talked to her and she promised me she hadn’t done it. I believed her. A few months later, additional information came to light that showed the employee hadn’t told me the truth. I could have left it at that and never said a word about it to anyone. Instead, I wrote a blog post and came clean. I still feel awful about it and can feel my cheeks getting red as I write this. But I was human and guess what? Humans make mistakes (as much as I really hate that).

The list is probably a few hundred long, but I’m running out of time to get this published.

Here is where we stand: Be ethical, be honest, be transparent, don’t hide anything, don’t sweep anything under the rug, and don’t spin.

If we all agree to behave this way, we will win the fight.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

  • Yes, yes, yes. Especially #4: This one is why it’s so important to have someone who gets PR at the decision-making table. It’s not enough to have good comebacks when people criticize you (which is what people often think PR is). It’s also important to understand your audience(s) and their needs well enough to know when it’s time to make changes to your policies. You have to be willing to walk the talk.

  • Cheating is always easier. Faster. Less troublesome. Until you get caught. 🙂

  • It’s certainly an uphill battle, but a noble and worthwhile one.

  • belllindsay  Indeed.

  • Eleanor Pierce  That goes for the consumer too. At the paper, we’d get these letters or people demanding us write a story about a business.

    When I’d inform them I was going to contact the business before doing anything, they’d get really mad at me. Why? They never contacted the business with their complaint. Instead, they went online and started pounding away, and wanted the paper to do the same.

  • Perception is so hard to change.

    The last paper I ran had a margin in the teens – most businesses would be very enviable. We had multiple revenue lines, some in decline but many in growth mode. It was a solid business with revenues, expenses and profits most business owners would envy.

    Yet hardly a week went by without my being asked, “How much longer can you hold out?”

    We have to preach to the choir, which we do here. But we’ve also got to do some street preachin’ and some evangelisn’ to let the unbelievers know that there is a very different way, and that PR can be a noble, honorable profession as long as it attracts noble, honorable people who act on their conscience.

  • ClayMorgan Eleanor Pierce  Yep, I’ve seen that one. People do that in their personal lives, too! “I’m so mad at Clay. I’m not going to say anything to him, though. I’m just going to complain about it when he’s not in the room.”

  • bobledrew

    You are, as usual, on the money. Doesn’t that get tiresome? 

    There have been times when I’ve gone public with vulnerabilities, with the “human” parts of me, and I’m still surprised at just how much response those things get. There have been tragedies in the social media space where people have held that “human” side back and been destroyed by the pain and suffering in their lives. 

    And yet, I still have to struggle from time to time to reveal that part of myself. 

    Then, when it comes to organizations, I think the challenge can be similar. It’s not that an organization can be ‘human’, but to at least show the  human faces behind the brand. 

    Looking forward to hearing your talk tonight!

  • Hi Gini, I have a quick question. In a blog post some time ago, you mentioned that your team sometimes would decide to let a client go. What goes into that thought process? Is it only based on them being unethical or is there more variables?

  • That was a great question, and sadly, I suspect a more than commonly asked question.  I was actually most intrigued hearing how Kelly justifies it.  The political arena  certainly employees these strategies and appears to benefit in the short run (at the marathon level, they’re losing). 

    It was amusing to hear someone ask Gini on her take about Rob Ford.

  • I love this list Gini. I might add, from a traditional advertising point of view: 

    Don’t steal work. Don’t comb European creative journals for ideas then represent them as your own. Don’t recommend media campaigns based on the amount of the commission. Don’t tell the client his idea is great when you know it’s weak, but an easy sale. Don’t present the first idea you come up with as if it’s the be-all end-all of creativity. 

    We could go on and on, couldn’t we?

  • So today I had the most interesting discussion with a professor of ethics (for an upcoming blog post), and one of the things he said to me (that this post speaks to) is that when a organization clearly lays out values, and then follows through on those values by rewarding actions which reinforce them and punishing those that don’t. AND they are fully embraced by the executive level of the company in both word and deed, an amazing thing happens…the employees form community around those shared values, it is where they find strength and kinship. It gives them power to speak out against what isn’t right, and push forward what is.

  • LauraPetrolino  – Absolutley! This must be reinforced in recruiting and hiring, though, or it’s all for naught.

  • barrettrossie LauraPetrolino  Excellent point!

  • zthru_analytics

    A lot of industry experts get into the industry of social work to help others grow and increase their life situations. However, when working with customers, social staff should sustain apparent limitations to make sure professional ethics and duty. Great point Gini! 🙂

  • Pingback: Ethical Decision Making: Why Good People Do Bad Things by @lkpetrolino Spin Sucks()

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