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Employers are 'the spearhead’ to get people vaccinated: PR executive

·Senior Writer
·4-min read
FILE - In this Dec. 2, 2020, file photo, a customer walks past a sign indicating that a COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available at Walgreens in Long Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 2, 2020, file photo, a customer walks past a sign indicating that a COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available at Walgreens in Long Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)

Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama will all be getting their coronavirus vaccines on camera in an effort to show the vaccine is safe and promote the necessary herd immunity to crush the pandemic.

But in an interview with Yahoo Finance, Richard Edelman, the CEO of Edelman, the world’s biggest PR firm, said celebrities and politicians are not the key to convincing Americans to get vaccinated. That job, according to Edelman’s research, falls to employers.

“Employers are believed most readily,” said Edelman, whose company regularly conducts extensive research about trust and reputation. “We see employers as the spearhead because you’ve seen governments aren’t a particularly trusted source of information at the moment. Too much dissonance. Too many tweets. We need consistency and frequency and calm.”

At the same time, as a consistent stream of falsehoods from President Trump comes a lack of trust in the media. That puts a huge responsibility on employers to step in.

Edelman CEO Richard Edelman participates in the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit at Union West on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Edelman CEO Richard Edelman participates in the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit at Union West on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Many Americans are ready to take the vaccine, but some express wariness and may need convincing. According to a Yahoo Finance The Harris Poll survey conducted in October, 63% of Americans have concerns and 77% said they would comparison shop.

Clearly, the category of “employer” spans the gamut and each entity is in its own boat. This means each employer must figure out what to do itself.

“If you're an employer do you just give info? Do you say, ‘we would like you to do this’? Do you say I insist?” said Edelman. “It depends on the kind of employer. if you're a hospital you better insist. It's on a spectrum.”

Though companies could legally implement vaccine mandates, many are unlikely to do so.

Edelman said his company, which has around 7,000 employees, won’t require vaccination, but the company would have to find a way to deal with that.

“Are we going to let you come to work [if you don’t get a vaccine]? I don’t know about that,” he said. “But you can work remote, no problem.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, listens during a Senate Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Hearing on the federal government response to COVID-19 on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Washington. (Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP)
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, listens during a Senate Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Hearing on the federal government response to COVID-19 on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Washington. (Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP)

Experts matter in messaging

Edelman said his company is working with Merck (MRK) on a program of recommendations for employers. One of the ideas is the suggestion that companies hire a chief public health officer to ensure that messaging doesn’t come from the CEO but rather a more trusted medical source. This is similar to how Dr. Anthony Fauci has traditionally been a conduit for information instead of presidents over the years during public health crises. Having “someone who actually knows public health” is important, Edelman said.

“Experts really matter,” he added. And for that trust to work, it has to come at a local level, meaning that there has to be buy-in from all business, not just a few CEOs at large corporations.

“Trust,” Edelman stressed, “is local. That is a really important headline. I trust my doctor and then I guess scientists, but I don’t trust the WHO because they’re far away.”

The same thing is true for the government. According to Edelman’s trust barometer research, there’s a “huge cliff” between the levels of trust between national and local governments. There’s far less confidence in the information from Washington than from states — something that the other major countries Edelman studied did not see.

The source of the information is important, as is the way it’s conveyed: vaccine information needs to come in the right forms with the right tone and using the right language, said Edelman, since certain words with similar meaning can have better and worse results.

“We should talk to people that's not down to them but with them,” Edelman said.

In terms of availability, the CDC recently released the vaccine guidance about access, noting that health care workers will get first access, then essential workers, and so on until the general public in less-risky demographics are covered.

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Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, personal finance, retail, airlines, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

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