Breaking Through

FGS employees recently had the opportunity to sit down with Pfizer Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Sally Susman and hear about some of the advice in her new book “Breaking Through: Communicating to Open Minds, Move Hearts, and Change the World.”

Here’s what we learned:

  • Nobody has more potential to influence public perception of your company than the people who work there. They are your most important stakeholders.
  • The decision to weigh in on social issues should be tightly tied to your company’s identity. Susman came up with a framework of five questions to determine whether a company should weigh in on specific social issues:
    • How does it relate to our purpose? 
    • How does it impact our most important stakeholders? 
    • How does it relate to our values? 
    • What are our choices here? 
    • What is the cost of staying silent?
  • Break through with storytelling. Susman describes thinking she could convince people opposed to getting the COVID vaccine through data and expertise—but it didn’t really make a difference. What did? Personal and emotional stories—”I got to see my grandkids because I took the vaccine” or “I got to go back to campus” from influential community messengers such as neighbors, barbers, family members, preachers and teachers.
  • Candor matters. “If you’re on the cusp of a breakthrough,” said Susman, “there’s usually a moment of candor you need to get there. ‘I’m sorry,’ ‘I love you,’ etc. if you don’t say it you may lose your chance at a breakthrough.”
  • Stay creative and curious. An idea Susman got while watching a movie on a plane became a successful program for Pfizer and a big publicity win.
  • Never underestimate the importance of thank you notes. Susman described how Leonard Lauder (of Estée Lauder) would send thank you notes to buyers before the company could afford ads.

Purchase the book here.