Minnesota to spend $9M on COVID-19 ad push

Person reflected in a car sideview mirror as another person stands nearby.
Lynn Goerdt (left) talks to Angie Ramirez (right, reflected in mirror) Wednesday, May 20 during a free face mask distribution event organized by the Duluth NAACP and held in the parking lot of the Holy Family Catholic Church in Duluth, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Updated: 3:34 p.m.

Minnesota will commit nearly $9 million toward an all-platform, statewide ad campaign around minimizing risks, accessing testing options and taking other measures to contain COVID-19.

The public awareness effort and the money for it were approved over the objections of Republican lawmakers on a six-member legislative panel. Gov. Tim Walz’s administration intends to use part of a federal relief allocation to pay for the expense. 

According to a summary provided to the Legislative Advisory Commission, the goal is to “help all Minnesotans understand their role in the recovery from COVID-19 and how they can protect themselves, their families and their communities.”

The summary said the campaign will “promote personal responsibility — wear a mask, get tested, and answer the call, will be for all Minnesotans and will evolve as the pandemic does.”

The messages will include media buys of up to $3.3 million through Aug. 31 and almost $5.5 million in the fall and winter when another wave of coronavirus could hit. There will be “toolkits for community partners to use and adapt materials for use within specific communities,” the plan’s outline says.

The direction of the campaign will depend somewhat on what the virus does, said Deputy Health Commissioner Margaret Kelly.

"We know that people are tired of the way COVID is affecting their lives and they are ready to move on and we know they are not seeking out information on COVID the way they were when COVID started,” Kelly said.

The first ads should begin appearing later in July and a reassessment is planned at the end of summer to decide where to go next.

Even though the public has been inundated with information about COVID-19, Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans said people are still sorting through confusing or contradictory information.

“This ad campaign has got to be very smart. It has to be across the state — to rural areas to affected communities, and in a way that everybody understands the role that they can play,” Frans said Tuesday.

He expects the messages to be widespread.

“Television, radio, billboards, bus stops, print media, social media, streaming media, everything you can think of,” Frans said.

Minneapolis-based ad agency Clarity Coverdale Fury was selected to prepare the campaign.

Rob Rankin, president of the ad agency, was traveling and couldn’t immediately return a phone message. The agency founded in 1979 has previously done work for the Minnesota Department of Health, the Mayo Clinic and well-known brands such as Dairy Queen and Pillsbury.

The ad push was presented earlier this month to the Legislative Advisory Commission, a panel of top lawmakers who review federal aid dispersal.  

In this case, the three House DFLers were on board and the Senate Republicans opposed it. Their recommendation was deemed advisory only and after 10 days the money could be spent.

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said she wasn’t convinced the messages will effectively target places at the highest risk of virus spread. 

“There’s only so much money that is available and a spray-and-pray campaign I didn’t think met the most pressing needs of Minnesotans,” she said. 

She urged officials to focus on places where cases have developed at higher rates, including meat processing plants, nursing homes and concentrated neighborhoods where language barriers might exist.

“Is the money focused on hotspots and changing in reaction to something that actually happens and not just a broad lecturing of Minnesotans,” Benson said. “I think Minnesotans for the most part have done a pretty good job about being responsible around COVID.”

Frans acknowledged there had been concerns raised, and he said the administration would guard against messages that take on a political tone.   

“The goal is to make sure that people can identify with the ad campaign and see themselves in the ads and their relatives,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure we do this as smartly as we can.”

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