Pfizer's Susman: Customer-company relationship has changed


Stakeholder activists, social media and an increasingly global market are three defining issues for companies operating in the 21st century, according to Sally Susman, Pfizer's EVP of corporate affairs.


“The walls are coming down,” she said during PRWeek's annual conference in New York. (PRWeek is owned by the same company as MM&M.)


Those issues align, in some ways, with the four strategic imperatives that Pfizer put in place in 2010. These include advancing the company's pipeline, raising its share price, improving its reputation and promoting a culture of ownership, Susman said.

Pfizer, one of the world's biggest drugmakers, faced one of its most significant challenges when Lipitor lost patent protection in 2011—the drug has generated more than $131 billion in sales. It has also recently dealt with marketing settlements and a change in CEO when Ian Read took over leadership of the company in 2011.


Consumers now expect more from businesses. This includes patients who are prescribed drugs from global drugmakers like Pfizer.

 

“Customers have a deeper relationship with the company,” she said. “It's not linear anymore.”


In recent years, Pfizer has reorganized its communications function multiple times and pushed its executives to communicate directly with stakeholders. At Susman's insistence, Read now uses LinkedIn, where he has about 81,000 followers. (His most recent post, “Five Career Tips for Young Professionals,” was published in July.)


Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall, the company's chief medical officer, has her own website, www.gethealthystayhealthy.com, with information about a number of common diseases and conditions as well as health-management tools concerning medication adherence and caregiving.


“Pfizer has to be a content provider,” Susman added.

 

Despite the move toward making its executives more forward-facing, Pfizer, like other drugmakers, has struggled to use social media for brand promotion for its products. The FDA's rules about adverse-event reporting and other regulatory requirements relating to off-label promotion have made pharma companies wary to wade into new channels for drug promotion. Instead, many rely on corporate initiatives or unbranded disease-awareness efforts.


Pfizer's Get Old campaign is one such example. It seeks to promote the idea that getting older is empowering. A recent update to the campaign's creative shows images of a balding couple on a first date and a middle-aged woman in sports gear described as a “rookie.” The campaign was developed by Huge.


“We had great relationships with policymakers and advocacy groups … but what we really hadn't been doing was communicating and building relationships with consumers,” Sherry Pudloski, Pfizer's VP of communication, told MM&M in June.