The Bulletin Board

Health and Human Services officials questioned about vaccine promotion campaign

By: - August 18, 2021 5:07 pm
Cinde Warmington stands during an Executive Council meeting

Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington voted against an expanded contract for GYK Antler, a marketing firm handling the state’s vaccine campaign. (Amanda Gokee | New Hampshire Bulletin)

When asked by an executive councilor how the state is measuring the effectiveness of its $435,000 vaccine promotion campaign – and how it will evaluate a second $844,000 campaign contract passed Wednesday – a state Department of Health and Human Services spokesman gave a list of numbers.

And when asked whether future vaccine promotions would continue to include Gov. Chris Sununu, whom Democrats have accused of using the ads to promote his political campaign, the department said it was too early to tell. 

Health and Human Services spokesman Jake Leon said there have been 12,789 television and radio spots; 18.7 million digital and “connected TV” impressions, which he described as static screens in stores; and 6.8 million video views on social media and connected TV. (Connected TV is an internet-connected device that allows users to watch TV or video content online, such as Roku, Amazon FireStick, Apple TV, and smart TVs.)

Leon also said there have been 74,584 clicks to vaccines.nh.gov, the state’s COVID-19 vaccination website. “I’d say that last one tells me that we’re hitting the mark,” Leon said at the meeting in response to a question from Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, a Concord Democrat.

The Bulletin explored vaccine messaging strategies in a story on Monday and had asked the Department of Health and Human Services how it was identifying the most effective and least-damaging messages for the vaccine hesitant and how it was measuring its campaign’s success. The department declined to provide that information. GYK Antler, the Manchester marketing firm hired by the state to run the campaign, also did not return the Bulletin’s request for the content it has created or information on its campaign strategy.

Warmington asked Leon similar questions Wednesday as the council took up a second no-bid $844,000 contract with GYK Antler. (The state’s existing $435,000 contract with GYK Antler was approved in the spring.) In response to Warmington’s questions, Leon said the prior campaign promoted the safety and efficacy of the vaccine to the entire state. He said the new contract will promote the campaign to people under 40, minority groups, and others who may not have had access to the vaccine. 

The first campaign video featured Sununu, state epidemiologist Dr. Ben Chan, Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette, and Dr. Beth Daly, chief of the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control. 

Citing studies that have shown ads showcasing politicians can backfire and be counterproductive, Warmington asked the department if the next campaign will continue to include politicians. 

Leon said the ads will star “real people,” such as doctors, nurses, and residents saying why they think everyone should get the vaccine. Shibinette pointed to ads in other states that included governors and state public health officials and declined to say whether the next round of ads will include Sununu. 

“New Hampshire is not unique in that we had some of our public leaders take a stand in our (public service announcements),” Shibinette said.

The contract passed, 4-1, with Warmington opposed. 

“We need to treat this like the public health crisis that it is,” she said, following the meeting. “Gov. Sununu used the first $400,000 to run personal campaign ads to promote himself rather than to use research-proven tactics to increase vaccination rates throughout New Hampshire. I won’t let another almost $900,000 in taxpayer dollars go to waste for the governor’s political gain when we need to get more people vaccinated.”

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.

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