When someone mentions the words spin doctor, Alastair Campbell will spring to mind for many Brits. Mr. Campbell, who was political strategist and communications chief for Tony Blair, is frequently labelled as a ‘Labour spin doctor’. But what exactly is a spin doctor and where did the term come from?
Origins of spin doctor
Spin doctor was first used as a term to describe public relations experts and professionals during the 1980s. It is not completely clear from where the term originates but there are several theories. Some believe it comes from the language of US politics after being used in the New York Times in October 1984 to describe former White House chief of staff Donald Regan (CORR), who was known informally as the ‘director of spin control’. Others believe the name comes from the 1950s slang phrase ‘to spin a yarn’ instead.
What does spin doctor mean?
A spin doctor is a senior spokesperson whose job is to provide a favourable view of events to journalists, i.e., put a positive spin on things. A spin doctor will seize on the positives of a situation and exaggerate these, while seeking to minimise the negatives to present a good image. As part of their role, a spin doctor is usually in charge of all communication to and with journalists. They must also keep track of all publicity for an individual, group or company.
They may be tasked with gathering or evaluating information which assesses the public’s reaction to an event, person or company too. Spin doctors need to have their finger firmly on the pulse. They need to be able to publicise an event or incident positively before other media get to it first or swiftly minimise the impact of a negative event. Good contacts are essential. Some public relations firms offer spin doctoring as a service, while others will use terms such as image transformation or transformation strategy.
So, how did Alastair Campbell become known as a spin doctor?
Mr Campbell, who earned a degree in modern languages from Cambridge, began his career in journalism. From 1980 to 1982, he trained with the Mirror Group, before becoming a reporter on the Mirror and Sunday Mirror, later becoming political editor and columnist on both publications.
He became press secretary to Tony Blair from 1994 and in 2000, became the PM’s Director of Communications and Strategy.