10 lessons in spin tactics from Mad Men

10-lessons-in spin tactics nmatejic

Feeling a little dizzy after reading today’s headlines?

From global affairs to sales, politics to journalism — everyone is taking their turn spinning stories on the merry-go-round of public opinion. It’s exhausting. It’s overwhelming. And it’s entirely strategic.

But what happens when your audience realise they’re being conned?

With trust the leading differentiator in your ability to manage issues and crises; the spin tactics of years gone by no longer produce the same outcomes in an environment where information has been democratized and anyone can and will have a voice.

We don’t live in the Mad Men era, it’s not 1967. But have spin tactics really changed that much?

Here are my top 10 lessons in spin tactics from Mad Men:

1. Strange bedfellows still get laid

10 lessons in spin tactics from Mad Men

Lies manufactured for quick and dirty impact won’t stand up to scrutiny — in which case you’ve just manufactured your own crisis. Stop playing coy — however uncomfortable the truth, better it comes out on your terms while you retain some control of your narrative than waiting for a journalist to ring with questions they already know the answers to.

2. Oh cry me a river!

10 lessons in spin tactics from Mad Men

Crisis not your fault? Media to blame? Competitor to blame?

Seriously — it’s not them, it’s YOU.

If you want to be taken seriously roll up your sleeves and get some skin in the game. No one wants to listen to ranting incoherence in the midst of a crisis. You must demonstrate leadership, accountability and communicate a vision for the future. Respect is earned.

3. A polished turd is still a turd

10 lessons in spin tactics from Mad Men

Take off those rose coloured glasses, there is no disco ball on your ceiling. If you can’t fairly evaluate the players that contributed to your crisis — your bias will lead you from crisis to disaster. Yes, managing individuals may be uncomfortable, but you can’t cover for people’s incompetence forever unless you are prepared to wear a badge of negligence.

Don’t put your needs or the needs of a subordinate above the needs of your organisation and its shareholders.

4. If it’s on Facebook it must be true…

10 lessons in spin tactics from Mad Men

Do you believe everything you read on Facebook?

No? So why then, are you so concerned with what people say about your organisation?

Unless their complaint is legitimate or defamatory at law, being overly sensitive to what is said about your organisation online isn’t the best use of your resources. Your social media analytics will tell you what matters and from that you can make informed decisions about changing your approach (or not). Don’t let subjective opinions by keyboard warriors and trolls create a workflow effect without doing your due diligence first.

5. Let’s talk

10 lessons in spin tactics from Mad Men

If you don’t like what is being reported about your organisation in the media during a crisis — ask yourself why that is and what you can do to change it.

Are you accessible to the media? Have you taken responsibility for the crisis? Like most communications activities, you need to invest in the news media cycle over the long term to get a return on your investment — so don’t wait until a crisis hits to start that investment strategy.

6. Dirty laundry day

10 lessons in spin tactics from Mad Men

White washing.
Green washing.
Rainbow washing.

Dress that inconvenient truth up all you want; people still won’t buy it. What they will walk away with is a distinct perception about your corporate culture and ethics. Own your crisis with honesty and transparency or spin your reputation into the ground.

7. Disco denial

10 lessons in spin tactics from Mad Men

If your leader is missing in action during an organisational crisis, you best hope the paparazzi aren’t camped out at their golf club. Leadership necessitates you lead during good times and bad, and the needs of the organisation come before those of the individual leader in the majority of cases.

Creating a smug, aloof or mysterious persona during a crisis only leads people to suspect you are both out of touch and being dishonest.

8. You like it? We’re taking it away

10 lessons in spin tactics from Mad Men

Nothing creates fear more than taking away something people relate to, rely on or think they can’t live without. Spinning the loss, however insignificant or far-fetched is sure to manufacture outrage BUT beware: you need to have a pivot point in your strategy or before long you’ll just sound like a broken record.

Take that emotional connection and move your audience from issue to action, or your legacy will stagnate with your negative campaign without producing a tangible outcome.

9. If you can’t convince them, confuse them

10 lessons in spin tactics from Mad Men

Unpopular decisions don’t win friends or favour. An often misunderstood aspect of spin is the old ‘confuse your audience’ tactic to ensure they focus on the gaffe rather than the issue at hand. Because if your audience truly understood what you were doing with their entitlements, there would be a mutiny. With purposefully confusing people comes reputational damage — your trust rating takes a hit as the perception of incompetence reigns.

Can your organisation withstand the repercussions of using such spin tactics?

10. The lesser of two evils

10 lessons in spin tactics from Mad Men

If your organisation is prone to incidents of crisis, redirecting attention to a previous crisis and what you’ve done to ‘fix’ those problems is a smokescreen tactic. Why? Because unless you keep fueling that fire, at some point the smoke will clear and people will see your current crisis for what it is and to make matters worse, they’ll also see your attempts at flying it under the radar.

In using fear as a motivating agent for change, we often create organisational cultures that make our messaging less trusted. Like the Boy who cried Wolf, what will happen when you tell your next story if your legacy is steeped in spin tactics?


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