Johnson & Johnson Turns Search for Coronavirus Vaccine Into Online Show

The series is hosted by CNN's Lisa Ling

the road to a vaccine
180,000 people tuned in for the first episode. Johnson & Johnson
Headshot of Paul Hiebert

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Johnson & Johnson has been busy working on a vaccine for COVID-19, and now the company is producing a show that sheds light on its efforts.

The Road to a Vaccine is a live weekly web series hosted by journalist and CNN anchor Lisa Ling. The program focuses on how vaccines are made and features conversations with scientists, researchers and those fighting on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Vaccines are certainly well known in the world, but maybe not understood in terms of what it takes to develop one,” said Michael Sneed, Johnson & Johnson’s chief communication officer. “So we thought there’s an opportunity to provide people with some good information, insights and a kind of behind-the-scenes look at what that all entails.”

As for selecting Ling as host, Sneed said they sought her out because of her credibility, relatability and ability to turn complicated matters into something more simple. “All those things made her made her a really good fit for this,” he said.

Episode one, which debuted on Tuesday and was watched live by 180,000 people, featured interviews with Paul Stoffels, J&J’s chief scientific officer; Rinke Bos, a principal vaccine scientist at J&J; and Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Each episode ends with guests answering viewer-submitted questions, and the premiere episode received about 2,500 inquiries, according to the company.

Like most marketing efforts in the time of COVID-19, The Road to a Vaccine was produced on an accelerated timeline. The space between initial conversations about the project and the first episode’s broadcast was less than a month. Taking a nimble approach, the episodes are not planned far in advance; rather, the series aims to tackle various topics and questions as they develop from week to week. Due to this approach, future episode subjects are yet to be determined.

“What’s great about doing a series like this is you get immediate feedback in terms of what people like and don’t like, and where we can punch things up,” Sneed said. “But I will say that feedback overall is very positive. I think people love hearing directly from our scientists. Whether it’s a company like J&J or others, they actually want to see what we’re doing. What are the actions we’re taking?”

J&J’s eight-part educational series, produced by brand agency Vimby, airs on Tuesdays at noon ET on the company’s various social media channels, as well as its website.

In late March, J&J, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced progress in its mission to develop a vaccine, which it began working on in January, and that it planned to start clinical trials on humans no later than September. The company said a vaccine could be ready for emergency use by early 2021, and would be available on a not-for-profit basis.

On Tuesday, the health product manufacturer reported first-quarter sales of $20.7 billion, up 3.3% compared to the same period last year. The company also increased its quarterly dividend rate by 6.3%.

Still, citing long-term impacts from the coronavirus, J&J lowered its 2020 revenue forecast to between $77.5 billion and $80.5 billion, down from an earlier estimate between $85.4 billion and $86.2 billion.

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@hiebertpaul Paul Hiebert is a CPG reporter at Adweek, where he focuses on data-driven stories that help illustrate changes in consumer behavior and sentiment.