Authenticity and earned media trump slick corporate ads when it comes to bolstering corporate reputation, said Pfizer’s Sally Susman.

Speaking at a PR summit at Pfizer HQ yesterday, Susman, SVP and chief communications officer for Pfizer, emphasized the importance of “return on reputation” and said corporate ads don’t work.

“If we pay, it’s immediately tainted,” said Susman, describing the reputational challenges Big Pharma must contend with in terms of public reception. “I don’t want my logo on things.” She noted that Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer found public trust of healthcare providers plunged this year.

As an alternative, Susman pointed to Pfizer’s “Maintain” program, which offers free prescriptions to customers that were laid off prior to January 1, 2009. The program was initiated by George Puente, a doctor and regional president of worldwide pharmaceuticals at Pfizer, who conceived of the idea and served as a spokesman for its launch. “George is not a slick spokesman,” said Susman, emphasizing the importance of authentic storytelling as a communication strategy.

Addressing the sour reputation of pharma, which the public views as “greedy, arrogant and deceitful people who care only about money,” Susman countered that Pfizer “does care about profits, but we spend a lot more time talking about science, health and prevention.”

Instead of focusing solely on ROI as a metric for successful PR, Susman suggested the addition of an ROR metric: return on reputation.

Susman was speaking at a conference hosted by ExL Pharma on July 27 – 28.