Client: PPL Therapeutics
PR Team: Hudson Sandler, with in-house support
Campaign: 'Knock-out' pigs
Timescale: 26 December 2001 - 6 January 2002
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 -
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
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.