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Matthias Berninger, a former German Green party politician from 1993 to 2007, is no stranger to the cut and thrust of front-line politics around controversial topics that he handles in his role at Bayer. His decision to suspend FleishmanHillard from its work with Bayer/Monsanto after the alleged data breach in 2019 – soon after his arrival – shocked many in the communications industry, in-house and in agencies, but quickly cemented Berninger’s influence within the firm.
Between 1994 and 2007, Berninger was elected four times as a member of the German Federal Parliament, focusing on agricultural reform in Germany and Europe including trade policy, food safety and renewable energy. He later led the Green Party from 2004 to 2007, running political campaigns on elections at federal and state levels.
Retiring from his Federal Parliament seat in 2007, Berninger joined Mars in Europe to build a public affairs team and globally facilitate the development of Mars Health and Nutrition Strategy. In 2008, as global head of public policy for Mars Incorporated, he led a global team to develop a cocoa sustainability strategy for the corporation. By 2011, he was leading the global public affairs organization and was instrumental in developing sustainability strategy including leadership on climate change and establishing sustainability KPIs for Mars leadership circle.
Berninger joined Bayer in 2019 as SVP for Public Affairs and Sustainability, with a promotion last year to EVP public affairs, science, sustainability and HSE. He has strengthened Bayer’s global public affairs practice and led the development its global sustainability strategy, including the introduction of an independent external Sustainability Council.
Can you share a moment in your career when you saw PR's direct impact on business performance?
There are many. Elon Musk's approach to Twitter is the most pertinent of last year.
What are the communications industry's biggest challenges and opportunities in the year ahead?
To be firm on policy without getting dragged into the politics, in an age of divisiveness.
What have you most admired about the communications industry over the past year, and what has disappointed you?
The transition out of the pandemic, yet, with disappointment about the time spent together creatively in-person.
What work from your team are you most proud of over the past year?
The Claritin Diversitree project to plant more female trees to reduce pollen levels and allergies.
How have you switched off from work and maintained wellness over the past year?
Talking walks with my dog Cooper – aka Mini Cooper S.
Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through the past year or provided inspiration?
‘High Conflict’ by Amanda Ripley, and ‘Caste’ by Isabel Wilkerson – sadly banned in some public libraries across the US.
If I wasn't working in marketing/communications, I would be...
Investing in innovations at the intersection of biology, chemistry and AI.
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