On his Social Media Explorer blog, Jason Falls logged “Here’s a Little English to Doctor the Spin.” Falls seems to be saying there are two kinds of public relations: good PR and “good” PR.
The difference for Falls seems to be that good PR is effective, honest and transparent, while “good” PR is effective, dishonest and its motives are obscured by the practice of “spin,” which actually is bad.
The bothersome notion in all this is that many well-intended people, companies, organizations and political movements have not just fallen victim to good spin, but have exacerbated the problem by repeating it. When my friend and noble public relations professional Geoff Livingston recently told us (or more likely repeated an assertion that) fried chicken causes breast cancer, I shook my head at another unfortunate and unsuspecting victim of good spin doctoring.
Trouble is, Livingston never said that fried chicken causes breast cancer. He made the same point about obesity as a precondition of cancer that Falls made. But Falls needs a fall guy, so Livingston gets misquoted. Livingston does get rather lost in the maze of cause marketing, arguing that perhaps KFC should have reserved its pink buckets in support of the Susan B. Komen for the Cure breast cancer fundraising for its grilled, not its breaded and fried chicken.
I would argue that any food sold by the bucket can’t be good for you unless you’re a horse.
So Falls stands Livingston up as his straw man to illustrate how gullible we are, how ready to believe a one-sided story instead of listening to all the facts and drawing one’s own conclusion that is immune to “spin.” And this susceptibility to spin, he seems to say, is a societal problem:
But what happened to us as a society that we’re so apt and willing to believe a one-sided story? When did self-directed decision-making leave our conscious
Did “good” PR kill good PR? Is our ADD society producing droves of drones who’d rather accept the common thread rather than raise a hand and ask questions? Will the consumer-based marketplace reverse the trend or will the socially adept extremes dictate popular belief?
Falls does make passing reference to the polarization of our political discourse these days, but I think he, like the rest of us with working brains, is afraid to try to suss out the driving forces behind the Tea Bag Party. Because that doesn’t appear to be the working of “spin,” but some deeper, scarier form of ignorance.
No, I think Jason Falls missed his own point here. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “spin” will out. In other words, BP’s attempts to do a little spin behind the Gulf oil disaster were met with almost universal condemnation. KFC’s attempt to hide its homicidal chicken in a worthy cause was met with derision. People get spin — they know it when they step in it.
What’s missing is a healthy skepticism, the tendency to not believe and to question everything. Now at some point, you have to stop asking the same questions (Hey birthers, are you listening?) and make a decision based on the information you’ve gathered. But the point is to gather your own and not to simply accept what the guy in the $800 suit tells you.
Perhaps it’s due to information overload or perhaps it’s just the need to carve out a space and stay in it — I’ve made up my mind, don’t confuse me with the facts. But that’s a conscious decision, one that is made by thinking people, skeptics, not drones.
I agree with Falls that the level of discourse in our society is appalling, even alarming. But I refuse to blame it all on PR spin — public relations just ain’t that effective.
2 Thoughts on “Don’t Blame Public Relations for Humans’ Gullibility”
Ironically, I think we’re both saying the same things. You put it a bit more eloquently than I. Nice work.
Jason: Thanks for being a gentleman about me using you as my straw man.