The Results Are In: You Don't Need Spin to Get Good Coverage

It’s easy to see how some PR pros fall into the trap of spinning a story when they’re vying for the attention of journalists.

After all, it’s not easy stand out in a competitive media market — a market that increasingly appears to value sensationalism over substance.

Back in my reporting days, it wasn’t uncommon to see releases that exaggerated research findings for the sake of a snappy headline, or ignored key data in order to make a point.

Unfortunately, this practice has only gotten worse.

But what if I told you that you don’t need to spin or hype to get your story told in the media? In fact, you have as good of a chance to get coverage if you stick to the facts — and that playing it straight will help advance your organization’s credibility and reputation at a critical time?

That’s the key takeaway from a research report that looks at how press releases about scientific research are covered by journalists.

While the finding that spin doesn’t pay should be encouraging to all of us who value the truth, other aspects of the research are troublesome. 

That’s because the report shows that many journalists merely report what’s spelled out in a news release about research.

In too many cases, journalists fail to dig into the research itself — relying on the headlines and takeaways highlighted in the release.

Brian Resnick, a reporter for Vox, summarizes the findings quite well:

“To be honest, the research on how scientific press releases translate to press coverage doesn’t make my profession look all that good. It suggests that we largely just repeat whatever we’re told from the press releases, for good or for bad,” Resnick writes. 

“It’s concerning. If we can’t evaluate the claims of press releases, how can we evaluate the merits of studies (which aren’t immune to shoddy methods and overhyped findings themselves)?”

That’s where you come in.

As a PR professional, how you choose to present information in news releases is critical to how the story ultimately presented. You’re the first (and sometimes only) gatekeeper between the information that your organization is disseminating and what makes its way into news coverage.

And because this research suggests that spin is no more likely to get covered than straight facts, there should be no incentive to gin up your results in order to get covered.

This doesn’t mean you should make your releases boring or that you should refrain from emphasizing interesting angles.

Quite the contrary. 

Good, effective PR people do their organizations — and the journalists they work with — a favor when they can identify a newsworthy angle and tell a colorful story

In turn, they help the public better understand the world around them.

But we also have a responsibility to do it truthfully.

That’s really important these days, when it’s increasingly difficult to find truth from the mouths of our politicians and media outlets.

That gives you a lot of power — and a lot of responsibility.

Use it wisely.