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covid vaccine, pink elephant communications

Covid communication: A story that’s 90% good news rather than 70%

Another Covid vaccine is on the way.


It’s 70 percent effective.

Oh no!

Can I have one of the others then, please?

Because Pfizer’s and Moderna’s are 90% effective or more.

That was certainly my reaction as I heard the news on Monday morning

Our presentation of facts and figures is vital in shaping our audience’s understanding.

As well as their belief in what we’re saying.

So how can you make the biggest possible impact with your figures?

Read on.

What’s the story?

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So here’s what I’ve learned about the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine.

On the first day the news broke:

  • The company is offering it without making profit, for developing countries at least;
  • It’s easier to store than the other ones;
  • When a small dose is followed by a normal dose, it’s 90% effective;
  • It’s cheaper to produce than Pfizer’s and Moderna’s;
  • The UK Government has ordered 100 million AstraZeneca vaccines;
  • Boris Johnston says mass inoculation could have taken place by Easter;
  • Flu vaccines are often only 40-60 effective.

And these facts make it a different story altogether.

The prominence of the 70% figure skewed the story as it broke on Monday morning.

Immediately tingeing it with disappointment.

So how did that happen?

Difficult to establish, but here’s my theory.

That’s the way the news was released by the scientists.

Compounded by an overcomplicated press release.

It’s amazing how we’ve all become experts this year in immunology and R numbers.

And cases reported per 100,000.

The truth is, we’re simply digesting what we’re being told.

And if the 70% figure is taken out of context, by giving it undue prominence, it will assume much greater significance than it deserves.

Using the pyramid

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At Pink Elephant Communications, we have a simple technique we use in our Working with the Media courses.

To help us get crucial information out in the right order.

And in the right context.

It’s called a Pyramid of Communication.

Our senior trainer Colin Stone demonstrates our Pyramid of Communication in our Working with the Media course.

Point number one is what’s most important to the audience.

Points two, three and four follow on in order of importance.

So my news release to the UK media would look like this.

  1. “Another major breakthrough in the fight against Covid as a third effective vaccine has been confirmed.
  2. “This time by Oxford University working with AstraZeneca
  3. “It’s easily stored and inexpensive, and the UK Government has ordered 100 million doses of it.
  4. “Research shows it to be 90% effective when a small doze is followed by a larger dose.
  5. “AstraZeneca say they’ll produce it for developing countries without making any profit.”

Our media training courses – virtually and face-to-face – offer the same advice.

Lead with the most important fact.

In this case: the impact on the widest audience.

Getting in the way of a good story

covid communication, bill mcfarlan, pink elephant

On Monday morning, the somewhat misleading figure of 70% got in the way of a really good news story.

Which made it sound less good news than it was.

If it’s 90% effective when one small dose if followed by a larger one, then that presumably is how it would be administered.

So establish that fact early on.

Now to form a Pyramid of Communication, we need to ask three questions:

  1. What do I want to say?
  2. Who’s my audience?
  3. So how will I put it?

That will determine:

  • What our key points are
  • Who is most interested
  • And where to start

And that goes for any news story we’re presenting to the media.

Any presentation we’re creating for an audience.

Any virtual meeting we’re hosting or contributing to.

As we also explain in our Presentation Skills Masterclass and Working with the Media courses, both available at the Pink Elephant Academy.

Covid communication

covid communication, oxford vaccine, analysis

I for one will join the queue for my small dose, followed by my larger dose, of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.

If it’s 90% effective.

But I wish it had been presented to me as the really good news story it is.

Before I choked on my cornflakes on Monday morning.


Bill McFarlan is co-Founder and Executive Chairman at Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can read his full profile here.


All photos in Covid communication blog courtesy of Pexels.
Covid communication blog written by Bill McFarlan.
Covid communication blog edited by Colin Stone.

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