Paul Holmes 17 Apr 2022 // 3:44PM GMT
Long before the Covid-19 pandemic, Sally Susman was one of the most widely respected public relations practitioners in the country, having led corporate affairs for global pharmaceutical giant Pfizer since 2007 and played a leadership role in the profession and beyond. That alone would be enough for her to deserve one of our SABRE Awards for outstanding Individual Achievement.
But over the past two years, Susman has been responsible for helping her company face one of the most critical and complex public relations challenges in history, defending not only Pfizer but also the safety of vaccines and medicine—and even the credibility of science itself.
Having spearheaded Pfizer’s outreach to stakeholders—employees and consumers, regulators and activists on both sides of the political divide—throughout the record-setting development of the Covid vaccine, she dealt with both high expectations and profound skepticism—even outright hostility.
Throughout it all, as she told the PRovoke Global Summit in late 2020, she was guided by a single principle: “As communicators, our job is not politics; our job is policies. We were focusing on policies that are pro-patient and we were standing on principles, not on politics.”
But she also understood that public relations would play a massive role in the acceptance of Pfizer’s vaccine, reminding the audience: “All of us in this field, we need to think of ourselves not as behind the scenes players, but to think of ourselves as active participants. There are moments you need to raise you voice and lead the conversation and this is one of those times.”
And rise she did, to the extent that when Pfizer chairman and CEO Albert Bourla was touring Pfizer’s Kalamazoo plant with President Joe Biden, he referred to her as his “secretary of state”—a description he repeated in his book, “Moonshot: Inside Pfizer’s Nine-Month Race to Make the Impossible Possible.”
As executive vice president and chief corporate affairs officer, Susman leads engagement with all of the company’s external stakeholders overseeing communications, corporate responsibility, global policy, government relations, investor relations and patient advocacy. She also serves as vice chair of The Pfizer Foundation.
Before joining Pfizer in 2007, Susman held senior communications and government relations roles at Estée Lauder and American Express. Earlier in her career, she spent eight years on Capitol Hill focused on international trade issues and was Deputy Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs in the Clinton Administration.
Beyond the public relations realm, Susman was an early and vocal advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. She currently serves as co-chair of The International Rescue Committee, one of the world's largest humanitarian aid organizations, and on the board of WPP, the UK-based global advertising and marketing company.
Susman will receive her outstanding Individual Achievement Award during the SABRE Awards ceremony at Cipriani 42nd Street, New York, on May 4. Tickets and tables for the event are available here.