Pfizer's Sally Susman: 'There should be no fortress around science'

Pfizer's corporate affairs chief talks about the complicated regulatory environment faced by pharma companies and changes in the comms landscape at the PRWeek Conference.

NEW YORK: Sally Susman, EVP of corporate affairs at Pfizer, said her company knows it has to be vocal with stakeholders in three categories: scientific innovation, public health impact, and partnerships.

"There should be no fortress around science," she said on Wednesday at the PRWeek Conference in New York.

Susman noted that she has seen significant change across the communications and healthcare landscapes over the course of her career, including changes in positions such as her own.

"When I graduated from college, the job I have today did not exist," she noted. "There weren’t these large, powerful departments intended to help businesses move forward."

Susman, who has reported to eight CEOs in her roles at American Express, Estee Lauder, and Pfizer, said the dynamic between the top boss and the head of communications is integral.

"At the end of the day, we’re in the judgment business, and if they come to you for your judgment, that’s great," she said. "I think there aren't that many CEOs — or certainly not successful ones — who don’t really know the true value of PR."

Susman joined Pfizer in 2007 after serving as EVP of global communications at Estee Lauder, overseeing corporate affairs for the company and its 28 brands. She was also a member of its executive committee. Susman also held numerous executive roles at American Express and was an aide on Capitol Hill.

Pfizer has developed its own methods of reaching stakeholders. One is the four-years-running Get Old campaign, which Susman said is helping people jumpstart conversations on topics ranging from sex — the most talked about topic — to menopause and bladder control.

She added that it can be tricky to navigate communications in an industry like pharma due to the regulatory roadblocks, but there are ways to keep the company actively customer-facing.

"The safest place for a regulated company to play in the digital world is with your corporate brand and your overall corporate messaging," she explained. 

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