Spin, as we all now understand the term in a PR sense, died quite some time ago.
Some ‘practitioners’ still like to play with silly tricks, like saving up their bad news for a busy news day in the hope that no-one will notice. But the approach whereby you twist words and ‘bend’ the truth to avoid giving an honest answer was long since dead and buried, fortunately and for good reason.
That’s why it was such a surprise to see how the Environment Agency managed to get itself tied in knots over the whereabouts during the December floods of its chairman, Sir Philip Dilley.
Asked about his location he was said to be “at home with his family”. It’s not technically a lie, if he counts his Barbados abode as home…. though it does seem to have been a cynical obfuscation, as does the following response when that one was queried, that it was his wife’s home – though it later turned out she’s actually from Jamaica.
To try that tactic once could be described as incompetence. To have a second go at it might be described in some quarters as idiocy…
Do things properly – don’t spin if you don’t
Public and media relations in this age of open, instant conversation and fact checking is about integrity and honesty. If you are caught on the hop your best defence is to own up and do what you can to put things right, because if you’re caught in a lie (or what you consider a stretchy truth) your reputation is done for.
If you’re a big brand that might cost you an awful lot of time and money to repair. If you’re a small business, you lose credibility and word of mouth and it is very likely to finish you off.
Whoever failed to impress that fact on their boss on this occasion did themselves and him a massive disservice. As Sir Philip said himself, he approved the statement, but he should have been advised otherwise.
With a business head on you could actually argue that, as chairman, his role is strategic, not operational. Surely he’s the man who leads the follow-up once the waters have receded to find out what was done well and what could have been done better?
Unfortunately, that all got lost because they tried to spin it.