President's Column

Communicating what psychology is and who we are is not merely a matter of disseminating information, but rather a complex set of activities of APA's Public and Member Communications arm. The challenges are legion.

First, branding our field is difficult in light of the scope of topics. One cannot even get through the A's (e.g., abuse, acculturation, adoption, agency, aggression, aging, alcohol dependence, altruism, amnesia, animal learning, artificial intelligence, attachment, attitudes, attraction, autism...) of psychology without seeing the challenge. Second, we communicate with many audiences (e.g., the public, policy-makers, students, other professionals nationally and internationally), each with varied interests. Third, we communicate with the media, which includes the challenge of being available in response to crises and disasters. APA has to be on call, and we are. Fourth, what we communicate is a challenge as well. We release findings from a fascinating study here or there but also larger reports, brochures and pamphlets on critical issues such as aging, hate crimes and child sexual abuse. Finally, communication requires multiple media and venues: YouTube, meTube, Facebook, podcasts, iTunes, uTunes, we all scream for blogs and RSS feeds such as www.psycport.com and tha APA RSS Web site. There is talk of Web 3.0, while I have not completely recovered from Y2K.

Here is a sample of our communication portfolio that addresses key challenges:

  • Building public appreciation for psychology: Based on our polling and focus-group research in three cities this year, we know the public values the work of psychologists in health service delivery and traditional counseling roles, but has a limited understanding of what else psychology is and psychologists do. APA's branding campaign, which began in 2006 on National Public Radio, has laid the groundwork for the larger public education campaign now being planned. The NPR spots, featuring the tagline, "The American Psychological Association and its 150,000 members: Bringing the science and practice of psychology to daily living," has been well-received by both members and the public.

  • Providing psychology's voice on key issues: After decades of work, APA now is recognized as a national voice on psychology as well as mental health. Now in this position, almost daily we are asked to respond to diverse issues (e.g., health-care best practices, discrimination, testing and IQ) that have implications for policy, funding and quality of life.

  • Making use of cost-effective communications strategies: We rely on communication tools that have credibility and reach but are not expensive to maintain after an initial investment. Two examples are news media relations and the Web as a public education tool. There is a rather amazing set of press releases spanning a decade readily available and an online APA Help Center to provide the public with materials in English y en EspaƱol that relate to physical and emotional well-being.

  • Working with news reporters, editors and producers: We write and distribute press releases on research and provide members as experts on diverse topics to help reporters understand, and report on, breaking news and ongoing trends. The typical volume of calls to APA for news sources is 250 per month. Breaking news can greatly increase that number. For example, in April 2007 after the Virginia Tech shootings, APA staff responded to approximately 200 media calls in two days, which resulted in over 1,000 news stories that drew on the expertise of many of you, our members.

  • Creating a strong APA online presence and brand: The Web is replacing print publications and television as most people's source of information, particularly health information. The rebuild of our APA Web site (target completion in January) will greatly enhance the site's functionally with a state-of-the-art search engine, search refinement tools and a psychology-topics approach based on data showing what brings consumers to the APA site.

Our success in the coming years will continue to depend heavily on what we have to say, how accessible we make our field and how responsive we are to different constituents and a changing media environment. If crucial psychological findings or advances fall in a forest and no one hears them, did they occur? APA's Public and Member Communications arm is our messenger to the world and, perhaps as in the forest, there is no message without a messenger. Please peruse the Web sites I have mentioned; there is much here of which we can be proud that contributes to public life and the profession.