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As a flood of frustrated residents struggle to book limited appointments on Orange County’s glitch-ridden vaccine app, top county officials have been planning to roll out a $2 million PR campaign that seems largely aimed at boosting the reputation of county supervisors and the Health Care Agency.
An internal work plan obtained by Voice of OC shows the county and its PR contractor are planning a taxpayer-funded advertising campaign to build a “love affair” between the public and top county officials, and to promote the vaccine.
“There is a distrust of local govt. agencies and elected officials,” the plan says in describing the “challenges” it seeks to address.
The campaign’s goals include to “Increase trust in the OC [Health Care Agency], the County of Orange and its leaders,” and personalizing county leaders to “recreate America’s love affair with Dr. Fauci.”
The overall budget for the campaign is $2 million and seeks to reach all 3.2 million residents of Orange County with online ads and other messaging, according to the internal planning document.
County CEO Frank Kim, who is overseeing the campaign, didn’t return phone messages seeking comment about the plans.
The PR contractor, Idea Hall, also has been in charge of promoting the county’s new mental health campus, Be Well OC, whose opening video last week prominently featured county supervisors speaking for 7 minutes.
The county’s secretive vaccine PR contract with Idea Hall – whose terms have been kept secret by county officials – has prompted questions inside and outside the county about why the county would need to spend money promoting a vaccine that’s already in high demand.
The county’s vaccine appointments website has been loaded over 100 million times in recent days as people scramble to try to get appointments.
Last Tuesday, a narrow majority of county supervisors moved forward with the vaccine PR campaign – including authorization to sign the contract – before a work plan or budget is developed.
The vote was 3-1, with supervisors Andrew Do, Doug Chaffee and Lisa Bartlett in favor, and Supervisor Don Wagner opposing.
At the time, there were few details about what the PR firm would be doing.
The single-sentence motion approved by supervisors directed county staff “to enter into a contract with Idea Hall for the County of Orange’s COVID-19 response and vaccine public health communications.”
But the internal document obtained by Voice of OC outlines the campaign’s goals.
Among them is promoting a “narrative” that the county is achieving its plan to vaccinate 70 percent of all residents by July 4 – something the county currently is behind schedule on amid a slow rollout of vaccines.
“Create a positive narrative that shows that the County and OC [Health Care Agency] has a plan and are achieving ‘Victory Moments’ at milestones showing that we are regularly making progress to the goal of Project Independence on July 4, 2021,” states the PR campaign’s secret goals.
Like much of the county’s coronavirus spending, the final contract is set to be approved in secret, with no public disclosure of its terms or specific goals before the agreement is signed.
Last week, a narrow majority of supervisors delegated their contracting authority to Kim, the county CEO, to finish and sign the contract outside of any public meetings.
Kim didn’t respond to messages this week asking if the PR contract has been signed.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.