Promoting the science behind a highly anticipated publication
The American Psychiatric Association retained our team to provide issues management during the development and release of DSM-5, a five-year period marked by extraordinary outside scrutiny and public interest in the manual and behavior and brain health. Our team was charged with developing, implementing and executing a communications strategy around a host of complex issues: industry relationships and conflict-of-interest disclosures, scientific data, brain and behavior research and specific mental disorders. With the ultimate goal of maintaining DSM-5’s use and utility as the gold standard for diagnosing mental disorders, We worked to shape balanced, informed media coverage of the manual, explained through an accurate scientific lens.
Our approach and recommendations were both proactive and reactive, including choosing when to counter critics or directly confront them. It was a strategy that succeeded in elevating the manual – as well as APA leadership – in media, public discourse and academic circles. Key to our effort was rigorous tracking of media coverage, blogs and other online postings and comments about proposed DSM changes. This comprehensive monitoring enabled us to anticipate controversies and immediately address problems. Conversations and separate interviews we conducted with association leaders were often the basis of detailed position statements, talking points and commentaries that framed the revision process.
To bolster support of the manual, we worked to regularly update and engage various stakeholder groups in the process. We also created a separate website to highlight accurately reported stories and correct misstatements or errors in others.
The two years leading up to the manual’s release were marked by intense media attention, not just in the United States but internationally. Outreach ranged from individual reporters to editorial board meetings. Major press briefings coincided with milestones in the development process, including proposals around diagnostic criteria, results of field trials and publication.
Media results from the announcement of the initial proposed criteria were extensive and positive. The manual landed on the New York Times and Amazon’s best-sellers’ lists.