- WPP ad agencies are leading the Health and Human Services’ vaccine education campaign.
- HHS says the next stage will be a $115 million-plus effort to encourage people to get the vaccine.
- The effort had gotten political as Democrats accused President Trump of turning the campaign into re-election “propaganda.”
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Advertising giant WPP has been leading a $250 million US Department of Health and Human Services coronavirus messaging campaign.
The biggest part of the campaign, a $115 million-plus effort to promote the vaccines, is set to launch imminently. An HHS spokeswoman said it would go live as soon as the supply begins to meet the demand.
The rest of the money went to initiatives including multilingual radio ads on social distancing and a video series where Dr. Anthony Fauci explains how vaccines are developed.
These are the companies working on the campaign, according to people familiar with the business and an internal document originally published by The New York Times.
- WPP’s VMLY&R DC: Creative agency
- WPP’s Wavemaker Chicago: Media strategy
- Reingold Inc.: Digital media planning and buying
- iHeartMedia: Radio planning and buying
- MediaSpace Solutions: Print media buying
- Creative Marketing Solutions: Black-owned media
- Hispanic Communications Network: Hispanic-owned media
- G&G Advertising: Indigenous People-owned media
- The Reis Group: PR, media relations
HHS contract is a significant source of revenue for WPP and other agencies
The one-year contract was awarded Sept. 1 to consulting firm Fors Marsh Group, which chose VMLY&R and Wavemaker based on their work for the 2020 Census campaign, one of the WPP sources said.
Ad agencies generally charge around 15% to 20% of a given campaign’s budget, so the companies involved could receive upwards of $50 million in total.
HHS said that, beyond paid digital, ads are running on more than 2,300 iHeartRadio stations and in newspapers reaching some 80 million people, including 37.3 Hispanic readers, 31.7 million Black Americans, and 3.7 million American Indian and Alaskan Natives.
HHS is targeting minority communities, where vaccination rates are lower due to skepticism and lack of access, the spokeswoman said, by working with organizations like the National Urban League and promoting social media posts tied to Black History Month.
Politics intervened in the campaigns
The campaign was initially supposed to have mostly run by the end of January, but a WPP source said HHS delayed the campaign rollout to avoid the appearance of political interference under President Donald Trump. WPP insiders said his departure has allowed WPP and HHS to avoid political crossfire as they worked on the ads like the one below, by VMLY&R, which began running in December.
“We’re talking about things that are not political; it’s health,” one of them said. “You can just focus on the message and not the politics, which is great.”
The campaign had become a political flashpoint as Trump pushed to start airing ads before last year’s election with the message “defeat despair and inspire hope … return to work and restart the economy.”
House Democrats ordered an investigation, calling the campaign “political propaganda;” Trump-appointed HHS top communications official Michael Caputo took a leave of absence after accusing CDC officials of “sedition.”
Politics also intervened in another campaign that WPP PR firm BCW worked on that sought out celebrities like Dennis Quaid and Dr. Oz based on their political orientation, according to documents obtained by the House Oversight Committee. It was cancelled by HHS after the election in favor of Fors Marsh Group’s science-based approach.
The cancelled campaign got media attention because of the celebrities attached, and one WPP insider said it was mistakenly conflated with the unrelated HHS effort.
Spokespeople for the firm and the agencies involved in the HHS campaign deferred to HHS or did not respond to requests for comment.
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