PR Boot Camp
Certainly there is no denying the chiropractic profession has suffered the worst defamation campaign ever conducted by one rival profession upon another to create a contrived image that we still suffer with in the eyes of many people.
Even Judge Susan Getzendanner mentioned this in her opinion in the Wilk v. AMA trial:
“The [illegal] activities of the AMA undoubtedly have injured the reputation of chiropractors generally…In my judgment, this injury continues to the present time and likely continues to adversely affect the plaintiffs [chiropractors]. The AMA has never made any attempt to publicly repair the damage the boycott did to chiropractors’ reputations.”
Indeed, from persecution to vindication, our story is one that must be told if we are to win the hearts and minds in the public. We must explain to the public the hidden agenda of the medical propaganda that continues covertly today. But to do this we need polished storytellers and spokesmen.
An occasional 3-minute TV appearance as we saw on Dr. Oz is nice but it does not get to where we need to be in presenting chiropractic. What I recall most in that video were the members of the audience flinching as the DC did his adjustments, only embellishing the fear factor since he never explained the process.
Other than being theatrical, there was no discussion about:
the paradigm shift from discs to joints as the primordial source of back pain
the role of vertebral subluxation and joint complex dysfunction rather than “slipped discs”
explaining the spinal kinetic chain,
teaching the history of the illegal medical war against chiropractors,
show the expanding role of chiropractic in DVA, TRICARE, MHS
emphasizing preventative spinal health care rather than only acute care,
revealing the ineptness of MD training in MSDs,
exposing the fallacy of “bad discs” explaining why fusions fail,
condemning the tsunami of opioid addiction due to back pain,
revealing the unwarranted use of epidural steroid injections,
exposing the high cost of unnecessary spine surgery,
explaining the impact of SMT on neurophysiology,
introducing neuroplasticity and intracranial treatments
showing the various specialties within the chiropractic profession,
or just to give hope to the millions of suffering people, to name a few issues.
In fact, when was the last time you’ve seen an in-depth, “fair and balanced” article about the benefits we, the third-largest physician-level profession in the nation, bring to an ailing society where back pain, our specialty, is the #1 disabling condition in the nation and a $300 billion industry?
If like most, probably never.
Distilling the Public
Long before the public will accept our care as readily as they do dental care, we need to back up, reeducate, and reposition them about why they think the way they do about chiropractors. In effect, we must distill them from their lifetime of medical impurities.
After nearly a century of hearing only the medical defamation in the media, most of the public is terribly polluted about our care. They all know the stigma, they’ve all heard the epithets, we’ve seen the fear in new patients, and we all have experienced the medical animus.
If you viewed the documentary, Doctored, you may recall the excerpt from The David Susskind Show panel discussion that included Lou Sportelli debating Stephen Barrett, the infamous medical propagandist who clearly met his match when Dr. Sportelli ably responded to his snide remarks.
This debate did more good to reposition the public than any newspaper ad, Tweet, or Facebook comment could ever do because the panel discussion hit at the primordial issues in the minds of the public as well as revealed Barrett’s intolerant medical bias.
Indeed, it would be powerful if we had the opportunity to do the same today—actually discuss the medical bias and harm it’s done to the public. Again, there is a reason why back pain is the #1 disabling condition in the nation—the medical boycott and defamation of chiropractors!
Accepting Blame: Mea Culpa
I have found some in the media are curious, many are still skeptical about our profession, and most are just confused. They simply do not understand why chiropractors’ image remains so poor; obviously they know nothing of the medical assault on our profession as Judge Getzendanner mentioned.
Incredulously, I also realize some within our ranks believe we brought this bad public image upon ourselves. I agree our collective image has been soiled by a former demagogue who brought national humiliation to our profession when the largest chiropractic college lost its accreditation, but he certainly did not represent the mainstream profession or our colleges.
We’ve also been embarrassed by other so-called philosophers, yellow journalists, and practice gurus, as well as the occasional practitioner convicted of insurance fraud or sexual abuse, but they also represent a small minority.
Do we owe the public a mea culpa? Showing any contrition would have been helpful when Life fell, but every profession has had its handful of misfits, troubling practitioners, and zombie science. However, these problems are pale in comparison to the medical war on chiropractors’ image and reputations.
Fortunately, the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress (F4CP) was formed to address this dilemma; their mission is “positive press for chiropractic.” This organization now has over 5,000 members and is growing.
Although I have been somewhat critical of their approach (no, not me), I support the mission of positive press; the disagreement is in strategy.
First of all, let me admit there was a push-back after my comments that appeared to attack the integrity of the folks at the foundation. Apparently some of my remarks may have appeared caustic. I have been reprimanded about my “style” and I have taken that to heart since I do not want to be hurtful, just helpful.
Let me now I apologize to Mike Flynn, Gary Cuneo, Kent Greenawalt, and Laura Carabello who owns the PR firm of CPR Strategic Marketing Communications. Perhaps in my zeal, I was insensitive as to how my message may have been perceived.
Certainly Dr. Flynn and Mr. Cuneo have dedicated their lives for decades to the chiropractic profession fighting on our behalf. Kent Greenawalt, like his father, Dr. Monte, has been overly generous in funding this foundation, and I was informed that Ms. Carabello has volunteered her CPR’s efforts. Again, let me apologize if I hurt their feelings or misrepresented their position.
Rather than wanting to offend, I simply wanted to push the envelope for consideration of a new approach. After discussions at NCLC, I came away with the impression that we all want something to be done that will reposition our profession in the eyes of the public.
The question is how to do just that, so let me offer a few suggestions (here I go again). Simply placing WOC ads without mention of the money involved and politics in spine care is not addressing the underlying problems. But one thing is for certain: the power of the press, but only if you own the press.
Follow the Money: the Boycott Continues
We have been the Mystery Science profession that remains missing in the media, but you all know that since it’s been obvious for years now—it’s no secret that the mainstream media health reporting is controlled by a few MD journalists who are sponsored by Big Pharma that has no interest in promoting a drug-free health profession like ours, and these medical puppets have no interest in offending their sponsors.
Nor do hospitals want anything to do with chiropractors considering we compete directly with their biggest money maker of all—spine surgeries.
A brief from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality placed spinal fusions at the top of the list of costliest hospital procedures in 2011. Spinal fusions accounted for $12.8 billion, around $16,600 per hospital stay, making them the most costly procedure. Laminectomy was also among the top 20 procedures, accounting for $2.3 billion. Together, this amounts to $15.1 billion.
Despite the Wilk victory, obviously the medical boycott continues to bar chiropractors, exploit patients with high costs for unnecessary surgeries/hospitalization, and denies them the legal requirement of “informed consent” to be told about alternatives like chiropractic care.
Instead of an exposé on the benefits we offer, we continue to see the periodic “chiropractic causes stroke” articles piling on chiropractic to obfuscate the truth about the safety of our treatments.
Many simply suffer from “professional amnesia.” Most often the news reporters fail to give us equal time to refute the biased accusations as we’ve seen on NPR and CNN from the medical trolls who take cheap shots with impunity.
Indeed, this is a newsworthy topic if the press only knew or weren’t so biased to ignore. Fortunately we’ve now seen a growing number of articles critical of medical spine care, which is good, but they also completely omit chiropractic as the rational alternative.Indeed, to some degree, it appears every newsman is tainted by the medical trolls.
Revisiting What We Are Doing
While the foundation continues to use ads in large newspapers featuring Jerry Rice and other celebrities, perhaps a more effective PR method for consideration might be actually talking to the media and the public about:
the contrived stigma we face as a result of the historical propaganda campaign that can be documented, and
the good news about the cost and clinical effectiveness of chiropractic care for the pandemic of back pain in the new world of cost containment and outcomes.
Instead of paying thousands of dollars for ad space in newspapers or to celebrity pitch men, it costs nothing for interviews other than the cost of a publicist. We do not have to abandon all the advertising currently being utilized but rather redirect some of the resources.
“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics” according to the PR Society of America.
In this light, PR basically is communicating our issues to educate and reposition the public to our point of view about the benefits of our brand of spine care with the intent to improve our market share.
Getting the Media’s Attention
Some people believe “social media” like Facebook or Twitter will be effective, but I disagree. We simply cannot Tweet ourselves to a new image and public understanding with 140 characters of text; I wish it were that simple.
The mainstream media and the major cable networks like CNN, MSNBC, or FOX News unfortunately have their plates full with political issues and the news of the day, plus they are under the significant influence of Big Pharma.
Obviously we need to find a more receptive news organization. I know it may sound heretical to recommend contacting Aljezeera America, but I am impressed by its objectivity and in-depth reporting. If you have not watched its programs, I urge you to do so without prejudice.
At Aljezeera America you will recognize many of its reporters who previously worked at other national news organizations. Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report did an interview with John Seigenthaler who now works at Aljezeera America confirming it is not the news agency of al Qaeda.
We need a breakthrough in the international media and maybe working with a news organization also suffering from an unwarranted stigma may actually be helpful for them to identify with our dilemma.
Perhaps F4CP might consider extending a hand to meet with this news staff to tell our fascinating story from persecution to vindication. In a nutshell, someone needs to explain our history, the contrived image by the AMA, and the benefits we bring to a sick society in midst of a healthcare reform.
Even if we took a page out of the AMA’s war strategy and hired a reporter or paid a national spokesman of great renown, such as former president Bill Clinton, to promote our profession, it would be a starting point to catapult our profession into the national dialogue.
I believe for the same $250K that Jerry Rice allegedly is paid, Bill Clinton might put in a few good words for us, just as he did when one of his donors’ son died from an overdose of Oxycotin that lead to the CNN program, Deadly Dose, with Sanjay Gupta. You might enjoy the letter I wrote to Mr. Clinton when he called for a national discussion on this topic during that program.
Regardless, it is an approach we have not tried and the time may be ripe for such interviews since Obamacare is now a hot topic in the news and all are looking at ways to lower costs and improve outcomes.
PR Boot Camp
Shifting from the focus from paid advertisements to public relations will require developing a stable of articulate spokesmen and women who can discuss our case on talk shows on the local, state, and national levels.
Although some of our war-weary colleagues may flinch at the mention of the on-going war, considering the recent push-back from the spine surgeons with their new “minimally invasive” sales pitch and PTs seeking direct access to do “manual therapy,” our war is far from over and the need for chiropractic journalists/speakers remains paramount.
Currently we have spokesmen who articulate our position very well, but when this generation soon retires, who will step up? Replacing these individuals requires in-depth knowledge and the ability to articulate “on your feet” rather than having a sheet of talking points that may or may not prove adequate.
If we are to fight future battles in Congress and in the media, we need to develop a PR Boot Camp to prepare future fighters in the medical war to get everyone up to speed. Just as the ACA has speciality councils in clinical areas, why not begin a council on public speaking?
We have potential spokesmen now, but most still need polish on all the issues to get up the learning curve and to hone their public speaking skills.
Obviously talking points do work as we saw this year at the 2014 NCLC when former Congressional Majority Leader Rep. Richard Gephardt addressed the reception of DCs and students after politicking on Capitol Hill. He was extremely impressed as he read directly from the ACA’s Issue Brief handout about the Washington State workers’ comp. study showing the rate of patients requiring spine surgery was 1.5% for DCs compared to 42.7% for the medical approach.
If every Congressman had the same response, we would be viewed as we should be—the most important practitioners to combat the pandemic of back pain by improving outcomes and lowering costs. Indeed, healthcare reform is now a matter of money, not partisanship, to the MBAs who now run these organizations.
This message will resonate today—the timing is right and the message is right. With the data and evidence-based guidelines on our side, the delivery does not have to be confrontational but factual, persuasive, and believable.
Once such articulate spokesmen are honed at a PR boot camp, the F4CP’s PR firm, each state association, and college could place speakers on local radio and TV news programs as I did while promoting my book on local TV morning talk shows.
This booking of notable chiropractic speakers is already happening with Kent Greenawalt’s Foot Levelers Speakers Bureau. Instead of spokesmen on primarily musculoskeletal issues, ICD-10 coding, or body kinetics, this could be expanded to include speakers astute on the history, current legislative issues, poli-sci, and the practical application of our brand of spine care.
This model can be exemplified by the TED Talks—a 15 minute talk about what you know best—chiropractic care and natural health. Dr. Scott Donkin did a fabulous TED Talk in Lincoln, Nebraska, introducing how to “sit smarter,” using the “smoking = sitting” analogy, the “tipping point,” and the Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” concepts. Imagine if we had DCs like him in every state to speak about the benefits we bring to an ailing society.
Fortunately the training of speakers and retaining a publicist are not terribly costly and the results should be fairly visible within 6-9 months especially if we were to hit big time on the national level. If the program does not work we will be able to debrief on “why,” “what” obstacles we need to overcome, “how” to develop a new strategy to enter this arena, and “where” we need to focus our energies to accomplish our goals. But we must do something on this level quickly.
I am confident we can change the view of the media about our profession. I hope to share my concepts with those who have the organizational potential to implement them. I am equally aware that we have limited resources and some of what I am proposing will require a reallocation of resources.
Truly we are all in this battle together. I fully recognize there is not “one” right answer or “one” way to accomplish our goals, but I do know that we need to continue to try different avenues and evaluate the benefits and the failures of each of our strategies.
Most of all, we need courageous and knowledgeable speakers who have the backbone to tell our story to the public. Indeed, are you prepared to debate a Stephen Barrett because the next wave of medical trolls is already active in the media, such as Harriett Hall, Jann Bellamy, Edzard Ernst, and the so-called Science Based Medicine group of demagogues who continue to denigrate our profession at every turn?
Our story is a fascinating yet untold epic struggle that everyone I’ve spoken with is completely stunned to hear of the days when 12,000 chiropractors were arrested, totally unaware of the Wilk v. AMA antitrust trial, clueless about the scientific evidence-based guidelines, or the fact that medical spine care is now considered a “poster child for inefficient care” for the majority of spine-related disorders.
Such historical data put into modern terms will bring about an invaluable understanding if a spokesperson shows the relevance to the high costs of medical spine care today.
It is a good story the media has not yet realized—the paradigm shift in spine care to our brand of conservative care and away from opioid drugs, epidural shots, and spine fusion.
As I wrote in Climbing the Ladder of Opportunity, we must lay claim as the POE as PSPs for spine-related disorders, but this cannot happen in a vacuum. This must be the message we take to the public and press—the battles have been fought and won, we’ve climbed the rungs of this ladder, and it’s now time to claim this hard-fought golden ring.
All that remains is the PR program of speakers to tell this story. I may appear overly zealous at times to change the way our profession approaches the news media, and my ideas may appear too aggressive, but that’s my Berkeley style. This appeal is to enlist your consideration for another avenue of approach—the PR Boot Camp—and I would be happy to discuss this in greater detail if there is any interest.