GSK rejigs global PR as image chief quits

Pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline has axed the role of vice-president of corporate image and reputation as it revamps its global PR in the wake of a glut of senior exits from its comms hierarchy.

Duncan Burke is to leave the drugs giant next week, with current V-P of global internal comms Elaine MacFarlane poised to assume his responsibilities in a newly created and as-yet-untitled position.

Burke’s ten-strong and MacFarlane’s five-strong teams are to merge, reporting to MacFarlane, who will continue to report to senior V-P of corporate comms and community partnerships Jennie Younger – the firm’s top global communicator – who is overseeing the changes.

The redundancy of Burke – who joined in 2000 with a remit to protect and promote the firm’s corporate reputation – follows a spate of negative press over its anti-depressant Seroxat (known as Paxil in the US).

GSK last month agreed to a settlement with New York attorney-general Eliot Spitzer over allegations it suppressed data that Paxil increased harmful behaviour in kids. GSK, denying wrongdoing and charges of fraud, agreed to pay around £1.4m and publish all results of drug trials.

The Anglo-American giant has also faced flak over the pay package of CEO Jean-Pierre Garnier and fierce criticism over the cost of medicines, such as its Aids drugs, in the developing world.

Burke, who plans to work as a freelance PR consultant, said: ‘My job was to set up a strong corporate brand and look at reputation management. That has now been done.’ He added: ‘I am happy to go – this was all very amicable.’

Burke’s exit is the latest in a series of high-profile exits from GSK’s comms teams.

It emerged last week that international comms V-P Louise Sibley had quit (PRWeek, 17 September), while V-P of UK corporate media relations Martin Sutton has also left, having confirmed his planned exit earlier in the year.

Earlier this year, V-P of international external relations Kate James quit to join Standard Chartered Bank (PRWeek, 18 March).

MacFarlane will work alongside Phil Thomson, who has become V-P UK corporate media relations, replacing Sutton.

Thomson moves from his former role as GSK’s director of investor relations (PRWeek, 17 September).

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