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#87—Sally Susman: Insights from Pfizer's Chief Corporate Affairs Officer in Crafting Public Discourse

#87—Sally Susman: Insights from Pfizer's Chief Corporate Affairs Officer in Crafting Public Discourse

Sally Susman is Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Pfizer. She is also Vice Chair of the Pfizer Foundation. Sally leads engagement with all of Pfizer’s external stakeholders, overseeing communications, corporate responsibility, global policy, government relations, investor relations, and patient advocacy. Before joining Pfizer in 2007, she held several senior communications and government relations roles at Estée Lauder Companies and the American Express Company.

Through these extensive career experiences, Sally has honed an acute sense of how to navigate the delicate conversation that an organization must perpetually engage in with their stakeholders.

And her work and expertise are more needed now than ever. With the growing interest among consumers, investors, and the community in the companies they support doing the right thing, your corporations’ success depends, more so than perhaps any time in history, on your ability to strategically approach the complex challenges of when to take stand, what stand to take, and how to authentically community your corporate stance to the world.

In this episode, she shares:

  • The 5 questions leaders can ask to determine what discourses they will engage in with the public, especially in this modern era where that channel is never “off’

  • How an organization can work in a collaborative way with their leadership and corporate affairs team to craft a united message that reflects company values

  • The principles to mastering “informal influence”—getting others to be willing to adopt your ideas, as discussed in her most recent book, BREAKING THROUGH: Communicating to Open Minds, Move Hearts, and Change the World

  • Why communications is not a nice-to-have soft skill, but an essential capability that any leader or company must master


Episode Timeline:

00:00—Highlight from today's episode

00:52—Introducing Sally + The topic of today’s episode

3:00—If you really know me, you know that...

4:14—What is your definition of strategy?

4:37—Can you tell us about a document Pfizer has developed called a "purpose blueprint"?

6:00—What made you make the career shift from a government to corporate role?

7:27—It seems that there is now a more pronounced expectation for corporations to channel their impact in the world, why do you think this is taking place, and why now?

9:47—What are some suggestions you can share from the experience of navigating really high-stakes, fast moving moments?

12:20—Could you tell us about how Pfizer navigated the Russian/Ukraine crisis?

13:45—How does a leadership team approach creating a communication plan so that it's coming from authority?

15:07—Could you talk about the personal story in chapter two of your book regarding approaching difficult moments with courage and candor?

17:48—Is there something you've changed your mind about?

18:45—Any advice for being effective at using communication for informal influence?

22:21—How can people follow you and keep learning from you?


Additional Resources:

Personal Page:

Pfizer Profile Page:


Breaking Through book:

The 4th Option Junto
The Outthinkers podcast is a growth strategy podcast hosted by Kaihan Krippendorff. Each week, Kaihan talks with forward-looking strategists and innovators that are challenging the status quo, leading the future of business, and shaping our world.