An orange televeision and a first aid kit

The power of broadcast in telling the vaccine story

By Rachel Royall, Director, Healthcare, Wellbeing and Life Sciences, Markettiers.

Vaccines look set to dominate the news cycle into 2021 as all countries look for ways to get back on their feet after COVID‐19. What role can broadcast media play in supporting a successful adoption of this much‐needed response to a pandemic and the post‐pandemic recovery?

In the run up to the lockdown earlier this year, it had been argued that traditional media was experiencing something of a decline in influence as younger users in particular looked to non‐traditional platforms to seek out news.

Yet lockdown has seen a marked resurgence in the public’s connection with broadcast. An example of this is Global, Europe’s largest radio company, who have reported that radio listening in particular has benefitted significantly from the COVID‐19 outbreak.

Partly this is down to technological advances, with smart‐speaker listening up 11 per cent. Yet it does seem to run deeper than just the availability of new tech. It’s perhaps telling that talk radio station LBC experienced Global’s most pronounced gain in listenership – with daily reach up 43 per cent and listening hours up 17 per cent year on year at the start of the lockdown.

These findings are backed by polling commissioned from DRG by Radiocentre, revealing 38 per cent of commercial radio listeners have been tuning in for an extra 12 hours a week.

Those who were newly working from home in lockdown were the group driving increased radio listening the most – 45 per cent now listen to more radio, for an average of two additional hours each day. Nine out of ten respondents in that survey agreed that commercial radio kept them in touch with the outside world while social distancing, 89 per cent agreed that it kept them informed, and 84 per cent said that radio keeps them company.

Radio stations have shifted their breakfast programming in response to the trends.

The research also found that listeners see radio as a “trusted” news source, with 68 per cent agreeing that it delivers trusted news, and more than half (51 per cent) claiming to trust news on the radio more than other sources.

Fittingly, then‐Director General of the BBC Tony Hall referred to local radio as “a lifeline at this time [that] has never been more important as a source of trusted local news and information, and also as a companion for people who are isolating”.

This move toward trusted media was also noted in the Havas Media Group study of media consumption during COVID‐19 earlier this year. With data from 1,478 UK respondents, it showed that the BBC has become the most trusted news channel during the outbreak, with 64 per cent citing it as a factually correct source of information about COVID‐19, followed by Sky News (29 per cent) and The Guardian (15 per cent).

So, what does this mean for communicators, aside from a welcome swing towards news sources grounded in formal, investigative journalism?

Broadcast media isn’t just convenient – increased adoption of it as a medium is about trust.

Trust is essential to the narrative and delivery of communication related to vaccination.

Right now the public need trusted messaging on progress with vaccination development and efficacy and when a vaccine is publicly available they will need considered and thoughtful communication of what to do when and help to understand how the vaccine will be delivered and prioritised.

Broadcast media will be critical to the Government and the healthcare system in conveying operational messaging to the public and patients about how to access the vaccine and how it will be distributed.

For many sectors affected by lockdown their very survival will depend on a successful vaccination programme being rolled out. And it’s clear that broadcast media, which in the past has been pivotal in so many historic behaviour change initiatives by Government, can play a huge part in this.

These sectors – entertainment, tourism, health and fitness to name a few, have a role to play in the vaccine narrative and should have a share of the broadcast voice. History will I’m sure demonstrate that vaccination will be a critical part of their story, helping to get them back on their feet.

Given what we know now about media consumption during the pandemic, broadcast can and should be front and centre of communication and PR strategies across all industries. Done effectively it will help reassure the public about vaccine development, impact on vaccine uptake once available, help the health and social care system manage expectations (and demand), build confidence, combat fake news and even improve the mood of the nation.

And that could be just the shot in the arm that we all need right now.

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