News & Insights

The changing world of spin in challenging times

by Steve Earl

For anyone working in the field of political or corporate communication, the ‘art of spin’ has been a factor of the job for several decades now.

The rise of the ‘spin doctor’ is mostly associated with the world of UK politics in the 1990s. But enormous media evolution since then, and very different economic horizons today, mean that the practice of ‘spinning’ information for reputation gain has changed much since then.

These topics were covered in a breakfast session in the City of London this week, the first member event that BOLDT has staged since joining the Norwegian-British Chamber of Commerce, which represents the interests of Norwegian companies doing business in the UK. 

My personal debut in the world of spin came in the mid 90s as a regional journalist in the UK, twisting stories well beyond the kernels of fact on which they were (just about) based.

But what is spin anyway? Does it infiltrate everything that we communicate on behalf of companies? Is it just a slant that you put on something to put it in the most positive light possible, a technique to deflect attention wherever possible from something negative, or even pure misinformation? These were the topics that we discussed at the breakfast session, covering the often limited merits today of well-worn tactics like:

  • Politicians leaking what they are going to say in parliament before they say it, to ‘own the agenda’ or ‘get ahead of the story’
  • ‘Burying’ bad news by saving it up and releasing it just after something really bad has happened, or announcing it on a Sunday when fewer people are listening
  • Using euphemisms to sugar-coat something that isn’t as sweet as it sounds
  • Zoning in on one narrow aspect to make the story as positive as possible for the organisation telling it
  • Releasing news just before editorial deadlines to impact the ability to check the facts
  • Fire-breaking: staging something else to divert attention from a negative story
  • Smear campaigns: leaking negative or skewed information about a rival

The discussion outlined why spin as we knew it is ‘dead’ in a sense today, because of how the media landscape has evolved – and primarily because the intention of the ‘spinner’ is now under public scrutiny because media has become a two-way street. The internet has brought down the ‘wall’ that traditional media used to represent between organisations and their publics. 


And anyone can conceivably ‘be a journalist’ and self-publish information, every media story can be commented on, every corporate statement can be tried in the court of public opinion.

Above all, the real thing that has changed is that the intention of what is communicated and how it is done can now be assessed by anyone, in ‘broad daylight’. That can become part of the story. And the public reaction can become a story in its own right.

We also discussed alternatives to conventional spin tactics for corporate storytelling today, and the media factors that impact authenticity, fact-sharing and communicating strategic shifts. This covered the focus and conventions of the UK media, and how this differs in Norway and elsewhere.

Picking a path through all of this is harder than it ever was before. But with a clear understanding of the media environment and solid data-driven understanding of how communication can be received, communication strategy can be an effective blend of art and science.

Thank you to NBCC for organising the event, law firm Wikborg Rein for hosting it and BOLDT Partner Morten Pettersen for making a quick trip from Oslo to share his perspectives.