Dynamic Chiropractic – May 24, 1991, Vol. 09, Issue 11

Don't React!

How to respond to ...

By Donald M. Petersen Jr., BS, HCD(hc), FICC(h), Publisher
Not too long ago, a Kansas chiropractor wrote a letter to a newspaper columnist in response to a statement regarding valium. The columnist happened to be an MD who was much more sophisticated in the public relations arena than was our poor chiropractor.
The MD, Peter Gott, printed the chiropractor's response for the world to see:
"Dear Dr. Gott: Valium, the No. 1 prescribed drug -- what does it cure? What does it help? Nothing! So, UP YOURS, you drug pusher, UP YOURS! See you in court! Fool!"
Needless to say, Dr. Gott had a field day at the expense of this chiropractor. He was in a position to dedicate almost 20 times as much space to his reply. In addition, Dr. Gott was able to formulate his position in a cold, calculated manner which made the entire profession look like unprofessional fools to the general public. Imagine yourself, as a chiropractic patient, trying to explain to a friend (whom you have been telling about the importance of chiropractic) that this kind of response is not typical of all chiropractors.

Now we have the latest assault against our profession: in the National Enquirer's April 23, 1991 issue -- "Chiropractors' Neck Treatments Can Cause Deadly Strokes, Study Claims." This from the publication that brought you the two-headed baby fathered by an extraterrestrial.

(It should be noted that as our profession matures and gains greater credibility these types of incidents will become more frequent.)

The article discusses two studies of four and six subjects each. A couple of MDs are quoted and finally our friend William Jarvis, Ph.D. is quoted as saying, "No one should undergo chiropractic treatment involving neck manipulation."

Is this upsetting? Very!

Is this loathsome? Extremely!

Is the first response one of retaliation? Definitely!

But this is the world of public relations. A world in which rash actions can bring greater disasters than the original problem.


The first rule of PR is to attack the message, not the messenger. There is more than sufficient data to show just how safe chiropractic manipulation is; and these studies involve thousands, not a few.

The second rule is that all actions must be well thought out and well coordinated. If an incident such as this takes place on a state level, it is a job for a state association which may seek the assistance of a national association. Because this is a national issue, both the ICA and the ACA should be contacted.

If a letter writing campaign is called for, then it should be well executed. If there is to be no response (which is sometimes the best action) then that should be carried out with the participation of the entire profession.

We can't respond only when we are emotional. We must be willing to act when it will provide the profession with the most benefit. It should be noted that in another of Dr. Gott's columns a question was raised about chiropractic diagnosis which created divergent opinions from the profession.

Most professional organizations have special individuals who act as official spokespersons. There are those who plan very carefully just how the organization should respond to a particular incident. The strategy of defusing or taking advantage of what may seem like a negative is a job for specialists.

A good friend of mine is a spokesperson with the Air Force. His former position was with the Department of Defense (DOD) as "Director of Public Affairs, Space Division." He was responsible for every word that was released to the media and the public regarding the space shuttle program.

He is an incredible professional. He knows how to work the press, what to do behind the scenes, how to make the best of "timing"; in short, he does this for a living, and does it well.

Both the ACA and the ICA have similar PR specialists. They may not be as talented as their DOD counterparts, but they are very good and very professional.

But it doesn't matter how good our PR people are if the profession is represented by a mob; their voice will be lost in the commotion. The information and expertise that they can use to reverse an incident must be the voice of the profession.

If a problem occurs on a local level, you or your local society are the voice of chiropractic. If on a state level, your state association should be alerted. If a national level, contact the ICA or the ACA. (Believe it or not, they do work together on many PR situations.)

Be ready to do your part when called upon, but don't try to make yourself something you aren't. As we continue to grow and mature, our professional reputation will depend on our ability to communicate with the public as a united, responsible profession.

Let's not give antagonistic media people anything to whip us with.

DMP, Jr., H.C.D.(hc)

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