The Difference Between “Spin” and “English”
By: Mark Winter
Let’s resolve to end “spin” and speak in English.
In the sporting world, the difference between “spin” and “English” might be described thusly:
spin: the rotation on a ball in the field of play, either controlled or uncontrolled
english: the intentional and controlled finesse applied to a ball in the field of play to achieve a specific, desired result
As a PR practitioner, I’ve long recoiled at hearing the term “spin” being applied to my profession. I don’t think of myself as a “spin artist,” nor do I advocate that companies and executives master the art of “spin” when dealing with the media and constituents.
Rather, I prefer they speak in plain English. Audiences are people, too, after all. They think like us, they respond to messages like us, they have authentic reactions to written and verbal communications like us. So why do so many pretend that media, shareholders, clients, employees and other audiences don’t deserve to be leveled with the same way we’d want to be communicated with?
I’d like to think that we can all remove the veneer of inauthentic spin in our communications strategies and instead focus on speaking English as a first language. To illustrate the difference, let’s define both terms a few ways:
spin: disingenuous whitewashing of actual facts and truths
english: the truth, forthright and honest
spin: focus-grouped, legal-department-approved mush
english: the facts, clear for all to see and understand
spin: jargon-laden, acronym-burdened gobbeldygook
english: er, English…in layman’s terms
spin: what the traditional corporate press release says
english: what the press release really means
spin: what the legal department sounds like
english: what the average person sounds like
spin: what we’re conditioned to believe the corporate spokesperson should say in interviews
english: what the media are looking to quote
spin: safe, sterile and bulletproof
english: interesting, memorable, connective
spin: easy to recognize as “the company line”
english: easy to recognize as “from the heart”
I’m not suggesting that spokespersons and communications professionals shouldn’t work diligently to refine and construct strategic messaging. Quite the contrary. In fact, it’s sometimes harder to speak in plain English than to run things through the spin cycle. But look at how “english” is used in the sporting world. Sure, it’s controlled and it requires finesse. But it is applied with purpose and transparency.
What I am saying is this: let’s speak honestly, in terms we can all understand, and in ways that truly connect and resonate with the media, our constituents and whoever our publics may be. People will both thank and remember you for it.