Public Relations

In early March I read — with horror — a number of news stories sporting headlines like "Hot Tubs Full of Germs," ( The Saint Paul Pioneer Press) and "Hot Tubs a Haven for Bacteria," (The Washington Post). Perhaps you saw these stories, too. They were distributed by Reuters wire service, but the story originated as a news release from the Texas A&M University news office. Although a researcher at Texas A&M did the study — of whirlpool baths, not hot tubs — in December of 2000, the news office apparently just got around to releasing the results.

The news release clearly states that whirlpool bathtubs were the subject of the study; the headline is "Study shows whirlpool water can breed many types of pathogenic bacteria." But somewhere along the line, editors who ran the story inserted hot tubs into the copy. Here's one more indication that the industry needs to do a better job of getting its message out there; people honestly don't know the difference between a whirlpool and a hot tub.

Lucky for us, the Hot Tub Council has the P.R. firm Gibbs & Soell on the job. They have already contacted the sources of the stories and many papers have issued corrections. They have also sent out an information sheet explaining the difference between whirlpools and hot tubs.

Lest we feel that hot tubs are being unfairly picked-on, I found it ironic that about the same time, researchers at the University of Michigan published a study of medical reporting on local television news programs, which found that much of the coverage was wanting at best and misleading or just wrong at worst. In fact, the study concludes, "Local television news devotes significant airtime to health stories, yet few newscasts provide useful information, and some stories with factually incorrect information and potentially dangerous advice were aired."

The silver lining to this dark cloud is that it provides the opportunity to educate the media on our industry's products. Reporters don't want to be wrong, so when you are able to correct an inaccuracy, you're building good will. Did you call your local paper when you saw this story? If you handled it with tact, you probably opened a dialog with someone whom you can call back when we have the results of the NSPF studies on the health effects of hot tub immersion.

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