Top & Flop of the Week: Pfizer and BioNTech lifts spirits, FA chairman scores own goal

PRWeek shines a light on major brand and corporate successes and failures of the past week.

Top & Flop of the Week: Pfizer and BioNTech lifts spirits, FA chairman scores own goal

Top: Pfizer/BioNTech issues 2020's most welcome press release 

Some stories are easier to ‘sell’ to the media than others but the announcement this week by Pfizer and BioNTech of the impending development of a COVID-19 vaccine which is 90 per cent effective was the one the world had been holding its collective breath to hear.

Suffice to say, the pharma giant’s comms teams did not have to make frantic phone-calls and follow-up emails to journalists to check whether they had received the press release and enquire whether they would run a story. This is the kind of story that sells itself.

In pure PR terms, having the name of your company uttered - in positive terms - by world leaders is hard to beat.

But in addition to the obvious fillip for the first companies to offer solid hope of an eventual way out of the pandemic, the announcement also gives the entire pharma sector a solid reputational boost - something which industry body the ABPI was swift to capitalise on this week in a new campaign.

Prominent among the tidal wave of media coverage, was the focus on BioNTech’s founders, Turkish-German husband-and-wife team Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci, whose names are destined for the history books.

Victory has a hundred fathers but failure is an orphan and, in a week which followed Donald Trump being handed his marching orders by the US electorate – pending numerous legal challenges – the outgoing president tried to claim personal credit for the breakthrough.

Trump tweeted that Pfizer’s announcement was the result of a public-private partnership which he brokered, but Pfizer quickly moved to dispel the notion.

Kathrin Jansen, a senior vice president of the company, stated flatly that the company has “never taken any money from the US government, or from anyone” for development of the vaccine.

Pfizer also quashed Trump’s conspiracy theory that it had deliberately delayed the announcement of its breakthrough until after the US election, in order to prevent him from claiming credit during the race – go figure.

“What people believe is their business... we had no time to deal with politics,” Jansen told a science journal.

With a vaccine in the latter stages of development and, as Churchill put it, “the end of the beginning” in sight, one obstacle could be anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorists, but one suspects there will be a reckoning when the majority who accept the necessity of inoculation for the safety of all refuse to continue to live alongside those who do not.

Ian Griggs, PRWeek UK associate editor

Flop: FA chief departs after unacceptable language 

Football Association chairman Greg Clarke resigned this week following his use of language and comments that struck many as outdated at best, and disgraceful or plain offensive at worst.

Speaking via video to a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee hearing, Clarke used the term "coloured" to refer to black footballers. He also suggested homosexuality is a "life choice" and said the FA's IT department contained "a lot more South Asians than... Afro-Caribbeans" because "they have different career interests".

Clarke later said his "unacceptable words" were "a disservice to our game", adding that he was "deeply saddened that I have offended those diverse communities in football that I and others worked so hard to include". Clarke also resigned as FIFA vice president.

The 63 year-old's words would be a communications nightmare for almost any organisation, but they were especially damaging given the FA's very publicly stated ambition to tackle racism, homophobia and other prejudices.

Gareth Southgate emphasised this point when asked about the situation in a press conference. The England manager said Clarke's comments were "not acceptable", adding: 'I don’t think he had any alternative but to take the decision he did to resign."

John Harrington, PRWeek UK editor

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