Revolutionary Measures

The PR war for AstraZeneca

Ultimately the fate of Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, under siege from US giant Pfizer, will be decided by its shareholders. But that hasn’t stopped the potential takeover from becoming a political football, with MPs, ministers, businesspeople and scientists all providing their views.

English: New York City - Pfizer World Headquar...

Some of them are justified in sharing their opinion – the MP for Cambridge Julian Huppert wants assurances to protect the high value jobs coming to the city from AstraZeneca’s proposed new research campus. University of Cambridge Chancellor, Lord Sainsbury, is concerned about the impact of a takeover on scientific research in the area and beyond.

Others however have fewer grounds for comment, but with a general election next year (and a European poll looming), it is a chance for the main political parties to try and differentiate themselves. It is a delicate balancing act, particularly for the Conservatives. On the one hand, they want to demonstrate their free trade credentials, but on the other they champion investment in scientific research as critical to moving the UK away from being a services-based economy. In many ways it is easier for Labour, as they are able to call for decisive action to stop the takeover, without having to actually implement anything.

Pfizer under attack
On the PR front, Pfizer is facing an onslaught from multiple sides:

  • The positive tax implications of buying AstraZeneca and moving its headquarters to the UK have been highlighted as a major attraction of the deal, rather than a desire to invest in research.
  • It is also hamstrung by previous behaviour – it shut its research centre in Kent (where Viagra was developed), leading to 1,500 job cuts and has slashed staff numbers following other takeovers. Indeed, the ex-CEO of AstraZeneca has said he has concerns that “they will act like a praying mantis and suck the lifeblood out of their prey.
  • A pledge to keep 20% of R&D jobs in the UK in the event of a takeover has led to worries that posts will be cut in the US.
  • Finally, its first quarter revenue fell by 9%, $730m below analyst expectations, as patent protection runs out on key drugs.

The reason for much of this ire is actually retrospective. MPs and the general public are still smarting after the hostile takeover of Cadbury by Kraft, and in particular the broken promises on factory closures given to parliamentary committees by CEO Irene Rosenfeld. There’s a public determination not to be made a fool of again driving a lot of political behaviour.

The Pfizer PR strategy
This means that Pfizer is being cautious and taking the time to get its message across, with CEO Ian Read making trips to the UK (note how his Scottish background is being played up), intense lobbying of the government and assurances being given about jobs in the short-term.

However with less than three weeks until the bid deadline of 26 May, expect the tactics to evolve, depending on what will sway stakeholders. In a way AstraZeneca wants Pfizer to turn nasty, so it can claim protection from the Big Bad American, but I think that its opponent’s PR strategy is too clever to fall for that. It will just chip away, giving what appear to be increasingly concrete reassurances in public on jobs, while lobbying investors and politicians behind the scenes, potentially raising its bid without going overboard.

Will it be enough? Time (and PR) will tell, but I fear that the combination of Pfizer’s stealth approach and the short-term focus of many investors, will take the prize.

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May 7, 2014 Posted by | Cambridge, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why aren’t more MPs Twits?

Public trust in politicians has never been amazingly high, but it seems to me that it is at an all time low. The impact of the expenses scandal, the Leveson enquiryand a general disbelief that they can do anything to get us out of the current economic mess have led to a real disconnect between politicians and their electorate. You can see this in falling turnout at the polls and a growing cynicism that our elected officials have our needs and concerns at the heart of what they do.

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Free twitter badge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The wider that this disconnect grows, the greater the danger that people will simply switch off from politics and democracy will be endangered. What is needed is a new way of building bridges between politicians and the communities they serve, and technology offers some great new channels (and new pitfalls).

As a student I remember you could just turn up at the House of Commons and ask to see your MP – if they were free they were pretty much honour bound to come down and talk to you. Of course it didn’t work if they were busy (as Prime Minister my local MP was running the country) and nowadays the security checks would take an age, but at least it advertised they were accessible in some way.

Looking at technology, you’d think email would be the perfect way of communicating with constituents. However in an era of Freedom of Information Act requests many politicians are now too scared to commit themselves to responding to emails in anything but an anodyne, inconclusive way – the fear is that their words will be dragged up to haunt them in the future. While I don’t buy this – words are deeds after all and you should have the courage of your convictions, it means we need another way of keeping track of our elected politicians.

The perfect channel to me seems to be Twitter. MPs can provide short updates on what they are doing, be accessible to constituents and actually demonstrate what they are doing all day. They will also come across as more human, though we can probably live without knowing what they had for breakfast. Obviously Twitter sits alongside other channels such as constituency surgeries, answering correspondence and face to face visits, but it provides a real-time view into the politician’s daily life.

That’s the plan, but not really the reality. Talking to Cambridge MP (and prolific tweeter) Julian Huppert, at last Friday’s Creating Cambridge BBQ, I was struck by the gulf between those that have embraced the channel and those that shy away from it. It isn’t about age or party – my local MP in Suffolk uses Twitter mostly to RT point scoring stories knocking the opposition, with nothing about what he does all day. And he’s a similar age (if not younger) than Julian Huppert.

So here’s my manifesto for making MPs (and indeed all politicians) more accessible – get them onto Twitter and make it compulsory to tweet all the meetings they attend, their voting records and the constituency visits they make. That way there’ll be a complete public record of what they’re up to, allowing their constituents to question them, increasing engagement and hopefully re-connecting politicians and the electorate.

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July 18, 2012 Posted by | Cambridge, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment