Putting Lipstick on a Pig, Making a Silk Purse Out of a Sow’s Ear – these phrases have been used for years to describe so-called “PR spin.” It’s the usually fruitless activity of trying to slap a positive face on a negative event.
A few years ago, a struggling charity that had expanded its services beyond what it could adequately fund, sent out a letter to its contributors. The letter, written in a cheerful – almost giddy – tone, described this “exciting” news: the organization was cutting many of its programs (and the people who worked in them) to focus on its core services.
Yes, it was a positive move financially; no longer would the charity have to struggle to pay its bills. However, the tone of the letter indicated a complete lack of regard for the negative impact of its decision – not only on the people who used those discarded programs, but also on the employees who had just lost their jobs.
In trying to make what was a necessary, but distressing, decision sound positive, the letter came across as insensitive and insincere. How much better to just state the facts – that the organization was having financial difficulty and was forced to make cuts to ensure its future survival, since its core services were sorely needed by the community. That could be followed up with a Call to Action, asking donors to help with the current situation and perhaps increase donations for the future in order to restore some, if not all, of those programs. After all, one presumes that a charity’s donor base is essentially a friendly audience that supports the cause.
This type of behavior is not unique to that charity; we see it almost daily in the media. Some prominent organization or person will do or say something that is embarrassing – or, in some cases, just plain awful. Then they will try to pretend that the incident either never happened – or didn’t happen the way it was portrayed. Usually these denials are so transparent they prolong what would have been long-forgotten with a simple mea culpa.
In short, when bad things happen, it’s always best to face up to it. Get the facts out there, quickly and without subterfuge, and tell everyone what you plan to do about the situation. Ask for assistance (if it’s called for) and report back from time to time to inform everyone about how things are going.
You – and your organization – will look a lot more credible without the “spin.”