It’s such a powerful phrase I’ll write it again!

“Public relations is anti-spin.”

Wow! When I came across this gem in a new Australian book on public relations, PRide and Prejudice: Conversations with Australia’s Public Relations Legends, it really brought home a lot to me about what PR is… and isn’t.

The man who uttered those words is named Harry Smith.

Harry was one of the PR legends interviewed for the book by its author Karen Morath. The book’s a beauty if you’re interested in how the foundations of Australia’s public relations industry were built and definitely worth a read.

Disclosure: Karen’s a good friend of mine and Harry is my former boss!

Harry was one of the founders of Professional Public Relations (PPR) in Melbourne, a company he helped build into one of the country’s best and most respected PR firms.

He must be close to 70 now but Harry still ‘gets’ PR better than most.

“I believe public relations is anti-spin – very much, because if companies doing things are involving people and keeping them informed, it’s very difficult to feed them a line of bullshit because they are already being well-informed about what is occurring,” Harry says in the interview.

He goes on to say that pro-active public relations involves companies being “first to fill the blank page”:  

“… if people running companies think they can not announce what they are doing and leave the pages blank so to speak, it is their opponents with alternative points of view or axes to grind who get the opportunity to spin because they’ve got a blank page to write on.

“And once a message is out there – that page is written on… the opportunity is lost for that company to communicate well.”

Then there’s this:

“Loud and proud communication is the opposite to spin and it’s anti-spin.”

And this:

“They (companies) must communicate on the front foot all that information and have the ‘first to market’ opportunity to lay their cards on the table. That’s pro-active public relations and has absolutely nothing to do with spin.”

There you go. In the space of half a page, Harry Smith has trotted out anti-spin, the ‘blank page’ theory and another great term – ‘loud and proud communication’.

I’ll finish up on this point where Harry – in response to the question “what contribution do you think public relations might have made to the world?” – says:

“You know, more people now understand the world they live in better because of what the public relations industry has done to encourage organisations to define their role in society.”

There endeth the lesson.