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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, dealt with both high expectations and profound skepticism—even outright hostility. The feat earned her a PRovoke Media 2022 SABRE award for individual achievement.
Susman is a staunch advocate of the view that only earned media can deliver the authenticity and credibility that companies need to build reputation, particularly critical amid such challenges. “If we pay, it’s immediately tainted,” she said, addressing the loss of public trust in big pharmaceutical companies. Susman has invested in efforts such as the “Maintain” program, which offered free prescriptions to patients laid off during the economic crisis, or the company’s award-winning push into social media—which many pharma companies continue to regard with suspicion.
As EVP of corporate affairs for the world’s largest biopharmaceutical company, Susman is a member of Pfizer’s executive leadership team, chairs Pfizer’s political action committee — she was a prominent fundraiser for former President Obama — and is vice chair of The Pfizer Foundation. She directs Pfizer’s global communications, its interactions with external and internal audiences, its public affairs activities, and its corporate responsibility group.
Before joining Pfizer in 2007, Susman was EVP of global communications at The Estée Lauder Companies. She also held several senior communications and government relations posts at American Express Company and earlier spent eight years in government service focused on international trade issues.
Can you share a moment in your career when you saw PR's direct impact on business performance?
Communications was never more essential than during the pandemic and Pfizer’s race for the vaccine, when we had to build trust in science and a new vaccine.
What are the communications industry's biggest challenges and opportunities in the year ahead?
In the year ahead, the communications industry will need to overcome pervasive skepticism. The industry’s greatest opportunity is to connect people during these difficult and anxious time.
What have you most admired about this industry over the past year?
I greatly admire the quality, diversity and mix of experiences by individuals in the field.
What has most disappointed you about this industry over the past year?
The communications industry has seen a lot of success over the past year, but we’ve had some missteps too. I’m always disappointed when we don’t think big enough.
How have you switched off from work and maintained wellness over the past year?Whenever I can fit it in, I go outside for a walk. It’s a sure-fire way to clear my mind and boost my energy.
Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through the past year or provided inspiration?
Maid on Netflix. Inspired by a true story, it is the story of a young woman in tough circumstances who finds her true path forward and writes as a way to understand herself and her world.
If I wasn't working in marketing/communications, I would be...
Sum up 2022 in one word.
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