A Primer on How to Handle the Media
Rodney Phelps, JD, DC, a 1986 graduate of Parker College of
Chiropractic (where he was the first president of the Student
American Chiropractic Association, and initiated the Student
International Chiropractors Association) is founder of a Nashville
law firm with affiliate offices in Austin, Texas and London,
Having represented a number of members of the print, radio, and
television media over the years, I have come to respect them for
their tenacious nature, and their ability to ferret out information
from the most unsuspecting of the general population.
By and large, I believe, their efforts are not tinged with
viciousness, although it may sometimes seem so. Rather, they are
attempting to service their consumers who look to them for news and
information about a variety of topics.
How many times have you see doctors being interviewed about health
care concerns? From my reading, listening, and watching of the
media, I'd say virtually every day. When it comes to health care
issues, especially chiropractic, the media is often dealing from a
position of ignorance. It is up to the chiropractic physician to
assist in the education of the reporter, with the result of
educating the general population.
By stepping forward and making you and your staff available to
members of the media, you will have a powerful marketing tool,
provided it is done with a solid foundation in your profession, and
is done with careful forethought.
If you are a sole practitioner, as are a large majority of the
profession, have the most articulate member of your staff determine
in a friendly manner what the reporter is seeking. The general
areas of information sought by the media include: background
information on the profession; a particular incident or a
particular person to which the doctor may be privy; or about you,
Also determine exactly what kind of interview the reporter wants.
Will a telephone interview suffice, or a camera interview in your
office? Or would it be more advantageous to you to insist that the
interview be done in the studio.
Where possible, it is most advantageous to have a professional
relations consultant to assist in your preparation. In many
instances, since the PR person "speaks the same language" as the
reporter, it may well be that the reporter will be satisfied with
whatever information the consultant provides.
Once the determination has been made that you are in a position to
provide information of use to the media, respond promptly and
accurately. This will help create a good impression and likely
will provide further access to reporters, since they are more
likely to go back to someone who gives them what they want in a
timely manner and makes their job easier.
David Margolies, of Margolies Communications in Dallas, Texas, a
former investigative reporter with the Dallas ABC affiliate
WFAA-TV, is quick to tell those facing a media inquisition that how
you communicate can be even more important that what you verbalize.
Truly effective spoken communication is a combination of voice,
body language, and the words themselves. The Drs. Capp, husband
and wife professors in the communication department of Baylor
University, theorized that less that 10 percent of effective
communication are the words themselves; that the vocal qualities of
the speaker amount to 40 percent of effective communication; and
that body language contributes at least 50 percent to the success
Each of these factors however will come up short if the
spokesperson is not enthusiastic about what is being said. How
many times have you heard speakers at seminars or in the classroom
who know every scintilla of information about a subject, but who
deliver it in such a monotonous, "dead fish" delivery style that no
one retains or cares to retain the important information? All the
correct information in the world will fall upon deaf ears if it is
not delivered in an animated, enthusiastic manner.
The following is a "baker's dozen" formulated to help the doctor
when facing the press:
Following these steps may be a little time consuming but when done
correctly will make the chiropractic profession as a whole and you
as the doctor look knowledgeable, consumer friendly: a doctor that
the public looks up to as a portal-of-entry health care provider.
- Don't use medical terms when being interviewed. Those who do
are probably the ones who object most strenuously when lawyers use
legal language. Use concise terms which the public will easily
understand and, where possible, use examples to make certain that
what is being said is more readily understandable.
- Speculation can cause more trouble than you ever imagined. Be
blunt: Tell the interviewer that you don't know the answer; where
possible, volunteer to find the correct information to assist the
reporter. If you do not know the answer to a particular question
or topic, just say so. You'll be saving your time and, more
importantly, that of the reporter.
- If you really want to create a bucket of worms, lie to the
press, but don't call me when you're up to your neck in alligators.
- Understand that nothing is "off the record." As with the Miranda
rights that police are required to read to an arrested suspect,
anything that you say can, and probably will, be used against you.
Thinking that what you say is off the record can create animosity
between you and the press once you have been quoted. Don't say
that which you can't afford to see in the early edition of USA
- Remember when you took the oral portion of your state boards,
and you were instructed to ask for clarification if you didn't
understand the question? Well, just think of that interview as
state boards, and feel free to ask the interviewer for
clarification of something difficult to understand as phrased.
- Be sure that the press knows that you are on your "home court"
by participating in the agenda setting, including asking for the
reason for the interview, and what questions are to be anticipated.
- If asked a question which you are not prepared to answer,
respectfully and cordially decline to answer or, if possible,
deflect the question by either deferring it, or offering to provide
the answer after you have had the chance to do further research.
During my years of teaching risk management and jurisprudence at
Parker College, each class started off with an essay exam. I would
tell the student that if they didn't know the correct answer, give
me a funny or original answer, and I would give them partial credit
for their answer. The sole purpose for this exercise was to help
the future doctor of chiropractic be nimble in response when faced
with a question which the doctor needs time to think of a decent
- An interview is just like taking finals, so you should be
prepared to provide a list of key points or articles of interest
that you wish to convey. You'll be surprised how easy it is to
work these points of interest into the interview.
- Often, rather than a complete response to a question which may
be slanted against you, give a partial response, then offer to move
the questioning along by using some of the material that you
prepared for in #8.
- Also tied in with #8 is the situation where an important
question is left unasked, or an important point needs to be made.
Simply raise the issue yourself, along with the important point
that you need to make.
- Leave your negative feelings at the door. Even if the
interviewer is consistently asking questions or trying to make
points in a negative manner, do not repeat the negative attitude
used in the phrasing of the question. Rather, come back in a
positive, relaxed manner, which will help disarm the negative
intent of the question.
- There is virtually nothing that will enhance your credibility
as much as maintaining eye contact with the interviewer, while
keeping an eye on alert posture (as a chiropractor, that ought to
be a given!), and even, calm and appropriate hand and body
movement. If a TV interview is what you are facing, do not try
looking at the camera. Invariably you'll come off looking like a
scared rabbit or, worse yet, like a nervous junkie whose stash is
about to be discovered.
- In real estate, the three most important words are location,
location, location. In the media arena, the three most important
words are practice, practice, practice. Failure to practice out
loud and in detail on the topics that you anticipate will be asked
is looking for disaster. Again, think back to your boards and the
time spent working with your fellow students on the oral parts of
the exam. Need I say more?
Rodney Phelps, JD, DC