CAMPAIGNS: Corporate Comms - Cloned pigs enthral City and medics

Client: PPL Therapeutics

PR Team: Hudson Sandler, with in-house support

Campaign: 'Knock-out' pigs

Timescale: 26 December 2001 - 6 January 2002

Budget: Undisclosed

The birth of PPL Therapeutics' five cloned 'knock-out' piglets was a big

enough story in its own right to guarantee front- page stories across

the world's media when news of the animals' arrival - on Christmas Day -

was released.

For the first time, pigs had been born without an active alpha 1,3 GT

gene (hence 'knock-out') - the factor that had previously ruled out the

transplanting of pig organs to humans. As there was no longer any reason

for the human immune system to reject transplanted organs from the

genetically modified pigs, a new world of medical possibilities had been

opened up.

But it then emerged that US firm Immerge BioTherapeutics had celebrated

the birth of five miniature knock-out swine three months earlier, but

were waiting for scientific peers to evaluate their findings before

making an announcement. The story gained legs.

A day later the Roslin Institute in Scotland chose to reveal that its

famous cloned sheep, Dolly, was suffering from arthritis, leading to

questions about whether Dolly had aged prematurely and if cloned animals

might be vulnerable to unsuspected illnesses.

Although PPL had helped produce Dolly, the company says it was not

informed of the impending announcement.

Suddenly the task facing Hudson Sandler - PPL's retained public

relations agency - became substantially more complex.

Client and agency were forced to defend the timing of their announcement

and address the issues surrounding Dolly's arthritis.


Hudson Sandler was well aware that the announcement of five knock-out

piglets would lead to criticisms from some quarters that PPL's

scientists had been 'playing God'.

An objective therefore was to ensure the medical benefits of the

discovery were not obscured by the inevitable debates over animal rights

and ethics and that the science was not misunderstood.

To make the birth of the five knock-out piglets and awareness of the

likely medical benefits for humanity known globally. To inform the

scientific community. And crucially, to make existing and potential

investors aware of the commercial potential of the project - estimated

by Hudson Sandler to run to a possible £7.5bn.

Strategy and Plan

Scientists, the worldwide media and investors were informed of the birth

of the knock-out piglets via a press release.

The bulk of preparations for the announcement centred around making the

complicated science that made the piglets' birth so significant

simultaneously accessible to all audiences.

The specific scientific and investor relations ramifications of the

development were then explained to specific audiences in follow-up


Meanwhile extra staff were made available to act as a back-up to deal

with the huge volume of calls that descended on the first points of

contact named in the releases - Hudson Sandler staff.

PPL's scientists, executives and in-house PR team had been briefed to

ensure that a unified message was put out by all parties likely to

communicate with the media.

Key messages to be communicated included the potential life-saving

benefits of transplant organs from pigs, and emphasising that 80 per

cent of PPL's work was in the cellular therapy field, involving nothing

more painful or stressful to the animals than milking.

When Immerge queried the timing of PPL's announcement, it was made clear

that as a listed company, PPL was bound by London Stock Exchange rules

to make any announcement that would affect its share-price as soon as

possible, regardless of scientific convention.

Claims that Dolly the sheep's arthritis threw doubt on cloning were

rebuffed by pointing out that as a single animal, Dolly hardly

represented a significant scientific control group.

Measurement and Evaluation

According to Hudson Sandler, PPL was more concerned with qualitative

than quantative evaluation of the campaign.

While no specific evaluation process was used, PPL expected the story to

make a splash in newspapers across the world, and based upon the nature

of the story, took the dubious view that evaluation would be


Most important of all was the effect the announcement would have on

investors and PPL's share-price.


The celebrity piglets made the front-pages of newspapers throughout the

UK and much of the world.

Several publications, including The Sun, wrote leader columns pointing

out that the potential benefits of cloned piglets should not be


Meanwhile, a debate raged about whether PPL had been right to release

details of the birth before scientific peers had been able to review its


The Financial Times pointed out: 'The company's spin doctors may have

raised hackles in the scientific community but they undoubtedly caught

the attention of financiers.'

PPL's share-price rose 50 per cent on news of the announcement.

However, fears surrounding the whole issue of cloning as a result of the

curiously timed message from the Roslin Institute on Dolly's arthritis

were harder to dispel.

Press coverage was mixed - although several broadsheets continued to

point out the potential benefits of knock-out biotechnology should not

be forgotten. The City was more nervous and the share-price fell back by

16 per cent amid investor concerns.

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