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Massage Today
September 3, 2004

State Licensure May Boost Public Relations

By John Fred Spack, LMT

Chances are, if your massage clients are receiving bad news about massage from local media, you live in a state which does not license massage therapy.

A three-month study of news items from across the United States suggests dramatically why money spent on lobbying for state licensure is money well spent on improving the image of massage therapy.

From March 1 - May 31, 2004, weekly Google news searches turned up 58 "bad news" items from 21 states.

Using the search term "massage parlor," news items were counted that involved negative associations with massage parlors, such as arrests, forced closings, or expressions of condemnation. Problems associated with massage parlors included immigration violations, money laundering, and bribery. About 75 percent of reported events occurred in 13 non-licensing states. The other 25 percent occurred in eight licensing states.

Another way of seeing this: 60 percent of non-licensing states generated bad news, while only 28 percent of licensing states did so. The impact might better be judged based on population: 38 percent of the U.S. population lives in those 13 "bad news," non-licensing states; 18 percent in the eight "bad news," licensing states. For reference, the U.S. population is now evenly split (50/50) between the non-licensing and licensing states.

The five leading bad news states are all non-licensing states. New Jersey led with 11 events, accounting for 19 percent of the bad news. California (16 percent), Georgia (10 perent), Pennsylvania (9 percent), and Massachusetts (5 percent) followed. Those last three states are similar in that they are nearly surrounded by licensing states, where very few bad news stories occurred, illustrating the "dumping ground" effect.

In several cases, customers or practitioners were noted to be residents of licensing states who had crossed statelines seeking the climate of non-licensing states. Most of the eight licensing states generated only one or two bad news items and none exceeded Massachusetts' three stories.

A story was counted in this study only once, regardless of the number of media outlets, syndications, or follow-up reports. While some stories appeared only as brief notices in low circulation newspapers, other stories were carried by both print and television in a region, and others involved follow-up stories as further developments occurred. A few stories were syndicated and appeared across a state or even throughout the United States.

Widespread stories from non-licensing states can have an adverse effect on consumers even in licensing states.

Stories were counted if they appeared in print or broadcast between March 1 - May 31, including a few stories which were based on events occurring in late February. An event was not counted if it occurred in late May but was not reported until June. This study of bad news excluded positive accounts of massage therapy.

This study only included hits using the news search engine, Google. It did not include news stories available through other search engines. Some hits were filtered out. For example, if a story merely used the term "massage parlor" as a euphemism for brothel and gave no indication that massage services were offered, it was not counted.

Had all hits been counted, the reputation of non-licensing states would have suffered even more. Weekly spot checks after the close of the three-month period show a continuation of the trend: Bad news about massage comes most often from non-licensing states.

For massage practitioners bothered by attitudes and behaviors that associate massage therapy with unethical practice, state licensure may be a logical antecedent to better public relations. For educators who wish to bring the benefits of touch to more people, state licensure may be the most effective means of opening the public's mind.

For theorists interested in expanding the market for massage therapy, advocating state licensure may be more efficient than public-service advertising, which unfortunately has to counter the ever-springing bad news that non-licensing states generate.

Interested persons may contact the author for details regarding the 58 news events counted in this study.


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