Friday, May 1, 2009

My Least Favorite Word

I’m a former journalist and I often exasperate my accountant. I ask him question after question regarding taxes (I am convinced I’m being taxed twice. He insists I’m not.) His final response, offered to move the conversation to other topics is usually, "It is what it is.”

I spend much of my time media training. I frequently get asked how to make sure "good news” gets out in today’s media environment. I explain that good news to a journalist is not necessarily good news for an organization. Journalists are trained to cover events that are out of the ordinary and that means, usually, adverse events. The fire at the plant or the fatality at the construction site is more newsworthy than the fire prevented or the accident avoided.

I counsel clients to focus on the story that is and not the story they think (or wish) it should be.

This brings me to my least favorite word in public relations. Spin.

Spin implies the use of fancy words to convince people that an event or issue is something it is not. Take Swine Flu for example. Vice President Biden offered some pretty drastic advice when asked on the Today Show what families should do to prevent the disease.

VP Spokeswoman Elizabeth Alexander used many more words than her boss trying to convince us of what the Vice President actually meant.

New York Times columnist Gail Collins found the humor in all if it (as she always does). The airline and travel industry less so. According to MarketWatch, shares of U.S. Airline stocks fell between two and five percent that day.

I believe one of the reasons we don't like politicians much is that they don't seem to be bound by the truth. Truth inspires confidence.

Companies are bound by the truth, especially public companies. In an adverse event, truth is usually simple, clear and easy to discern. Details emerge over time that provide context and can give us a more complete understanding of truth… what “really” happened. Truth has shelf life. Spin doesn’t.

Reputations are not spun out of whole cloth.

Reputations are earned.

It is what it is.

I might owe my accountant an apology.

Bill Salvin

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