The Internal Comms Podcast

Episode 85 – Lessons from a trailblazer

We’re ending Season 9 of the Internal Comms Podcast with a bang this week, as Sally Susman takes to the hot seat for her second appearance.

Sally is Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Office at Pfizer, and on episode 55 she shared with Katie what it was like being on the company’s vaccine development task force and being in the room when the US Federal Drug Authority gave the vaccine the green light. This time, she’s back to take a deep dive into her book Breaking Through: Communicating to Open Minds, Move Hearts and Change the World.

Sally shares candid stories from the book, including a toe-curling account of a costly mistake when working for a US Senator. As Sally reflects, “it’s in these moments when we suffer embarrassment that we really stretch ourselves, learn and grow”.

Beyond these anecdotes, Katie and Sally discuss when corporations should speak up, the blurred lines between external and internal communications, and even Pfizer’s unexpected fourth corporate value. This episode is jam-packed with equal parts wisdom and humour. It’s not one to be missed.

As always, share your thoughts of this or any other episode of the Internal Comms Podcast using the hashtag #TheICPodcast. And thanks for listening.

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[00:00:00] Katie: The Internal Comms Podcast is brought to you by AB, the world’s first specialist internal comms agency. For nearly 60 years, AB has worked hand in hand with internal comms leaders around the world to inform, inspire, and empower their workforces, building great organizations from the inside out. If you’d like to discuss new, effective, exciting ways to connect with your people, please get in touch. Visit . And if you do, I look forward to meeting you, and now on with the show.

Welcome to the Internal Comms Podcast with me, Katie Macaulay. This is a show to inspire, inform, and generally energize communication professionals around the world, particularly those with responsibility for communicating within an organization’s primary audience: its employees, the people who make your business what it is.

Today, we are ending season nine of the show with the return of a very special, highly esteemed guest. Sally Susman, Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Pfizer. Now, I first interviewed Sally on this show in episode 55. Back then, she talked about what it was like being on Pfizer’s vaccine development task force being actually in the room when the US Federal Drug Authority gave the vaccine the green light.

And Sally also shared her personal journey coming out as a gay woman to her parents in the 1980s, how her sexuality has impacted her professionally. And her wisdom and candour really did make that episode one of my absolute favourites. So when Sally got in touch to say she’d written a book, I immediately bought an advanced copy and invited her back on the show to talk about it.

The book is called Breaking Through: Communicating to Open Minds, Move Hearts and Change the World. And as Sally explains in our conversation, it is part memoir and part comms manual. It’s fun of amazing stories from Sally’s long career in communication at some extraordinary organizations including Estee Lauder, American Express, and of course, during an unprecedented time at Pfizer.

It is a book, I think, for our age, a time when we need the skills, the intuition, the passion of comms professionals to help restore trust, build bridges, create connection and meaning in a noisy complex world. We talk in this conversation about how to decide which issues your organization should weigh in on, how Sally reaches the external audience through her internal one, Pfizer’s rather unusual fourth corporate value. Why we need to add company documentarian to our role profile and much, much more. So without further ado, I bring you the wonderful Sally Susman.

Sally, welcome back to the Internal Comms Podcast. It is a privilege, a pleasure to have you back on the show. Thank you for being here.

[00:04:06] Sally: Oh, it’s a joy to be with you again, Katie. Thanks.

[00:04:09] Katie: They do say, don’t they, that everyone has a book inside of them, at least one book. Is this that book, is it the book you have secretly always wanted to write?

[00:04:22] Sally: Absolutely it is. But I have to tell you, there were some false starts along the way. This is a book that had been burning inside of me for decades that I had many attempts to write before, and, things would end up as maybe a small piece published or a lengthy or something on my LinkedIn, but it was really during the crunch of the pandemic when I was both so busy with my work at Pfizer, but also quietly at home, that it came together. It crystallized in the pandemic. So after thinking about it for about 40 years, I wrote it fairly quickly because of these unique circumstances.

[00:05:12] Katie: One of the things that struck me about the book, which I really enjoyed, and it made me smile so much, so many stories, wonderful stories…

you are very open and honest in the book, and it’s my experience that people secretly are much more interested in our mistakes than they are the latest, perfect case study of success. I wanted to ask you about one mistake that you admit to very early on in your career. That subsequently influenced your behaviour going forward.

Do you mind starting with that mistake and sharing what it was and how it influenced you subsequently?

[00:05:52] Sally: Okay, for sure. I’m happy to do that. Let me just say first, Katie, that before I turned the manuscript in to my publisher, I asked one or two people to read it, and one of them was my mom, and she called me up and she says, “Sally, This isn’t a business book, it’s a memoir in which you share all of your mistakes. Even the embarrassing ones.” She was right, as you are. I’ll tell that story in just one quick second, but wanna say that I feel it is important that we have the confidence to be open and honest about our shortcomings, our mistakes, because none of us is perfect. It is in those moments when we sometimes do suffer embarrassment that we really stretch ourselves and we learn and we grow.

So the story you’ve asked about came very early in my career. It was my first job after I finished college. I was working in the mail room for a United States Senator when I overheard some more senior members of the team talking. And they were planning for and strategizing around an incredibly important announcement that the Senator wanted to make about his decision to retire.

I was young, I was naive. I had a hot bit of gossip in my pocket, and I told one person who of course told one person who of course told one person. And the next thing I knew, the whole thing had snowballed out of control. The media was calling and asking the Senator about his plans. He had to accelerate his timing in response to all of this.

And it became known in the office that I was the weak link that had, oh, broken the chain of confidentiality. Of course I was horrified, ashamed. I went into the Senator’s office and I apologized, but the dynamic between he and I was never the same. To this day, almost 40 years later I still, sweat a little bit when I tell this story, but I will also tell you that since that time, I have never broken a confidence.

I have, understood that with a job in communications comes unique accountability for discretion and confidentiality, and I learned a big lesson and I shared it with my readers along with a lot other of my mistakes. I’ll tell you that too

[00:08:34] Katie: later on in the book. If I’m right, you say that.

Any mistake that you make now is almost always the result of rushing. Is that actually how you feel? And if so, do you actually consciously tell yourself to slow down sometimes?

[00:08:53] Sally: Yes, yes and yes. Let me detail that. The story that you’re referring to here is one where I was working at the Estee Lauder Companies and it was my job to promote our wonderful products, our spokespeople, the fabulous and famous family that is at the center of this company. And I got a call from the media. Now this was unusual for me ’cause usually it was me calling them, trying to promote. They were calling me and I was taken in by that and they started asking me questions about myself.

And before I even thought twice I started answering them. My mouth was moving before my brain was engaged. Halfway along this conversation, or towards the very end, they sprung on me, what was actually the reason for their inquiry, that they had heard about something embarrassing that had happened to me.

I was giving a speech and I was on a stage and I was wearing very fashionable, narrow toed pointy shoes, and I was struck down by a cramp in my foot. I had to hobble from the stage. And it turns out that these two reporters who write for the Wall Street Journal were actually doing a story about the perils of female fashion.

Oh, and the story ran on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. I was so embarrassed. I was supposed to be the professional here, and I hadn’t even done a good job in my representing myself. I worried that my company would no longer trust me to represent them. They were very generous and kind and gracious and backed me and told me not to worry about it.

But through this mistake I learned another very profound lesson, which is to always take a pause, wait, beat, think: what is their motivation? What is their angle? I’ve expanded this notion about pausing and waiting into quite an important principle. Katie, my book Breaking Through has 10 principles and one of them is to measure up to the moment and take a pause, and if you think about it, a concert pianist before they strike the keys will pause and settle herself, or a golf pro before they drive off from the tee box will take a breath. And I really advise people in our field to be moderated in their responses. There’s nothing worse than an a communications person who’s running around like a chicken with their head cut off.

Our composure is extremely important, and the more I work in this field, the more I believe that we make our mistakes when we rush. Take a moment, settle yourself and decide your course forward.

[00:11:46] Katie: I love that. Such great advice. Early in the book you write, “communication can no longer be considered a soft skill. The ability to lead and drive the public conversation is a rock hard competency.” I couldn’t agree more.

I’m sure lots of comms pros couldn’t agree more, but I’d love your take on what’s driving this shift. Why has communication become such an important discipline at the highest level in business?

[00:12:19] Sally: The sentence that you just said is the principle argument of my book.

Leaders who consider communications a soft skill are making a grave mistake, and in fact, it’s a rock hard competency. I learned that because I’ve had the great honour to work for nine Chief Executive Officers. Members of the Cabinet here in the United States, Senators, leaders in civil society, and NGOs, and of course Katie, they’re all really smart.

They all work hard, paid their dues. People don’t rise to these positions by luck, they rise because they have great qualities. But the ones that truly break through and make inspiring change, that shift the paradigm. In my experience are the ones who know this about communications and commit to it and discipline themselves for it and rank it in their world as important as finance, legal, sales, inventory management, and those certainly, first and foremost is my current CEO, Albert Borla, who led the world through c o.

Also Ken Chennault who helped American Express revive after 9/11. If you don’t mind, I’d like to just tell that story quickly cuz I think it’s one of the great, one of the great case studies in internal communications I’ve ever seen. So these are in the dark days following 9/11 in New York City.

Ken was a new CEO, he’d been with the company for a long time, but only been CEO for a few months. He was out of New York. He made his way back to the city to find his headquarters had been damaged because they’re right next to the Twin Towers, that his company, his headquarters, had experienced loss of life, that many of the employees were of course, shattered by what had happened and losing friends and loved ones.

Ken had a basic instinct that he needed to get everyone together. He rented out Madison Square Garden, which is an enormous venue here in New York, invited all of the American Express employees from across the tri-state region. So he gathered about 5,000 people and as he took to the stage he tore up the script that had been prepared for him.

He spoke from his heart, he waded into the crowd and gave people a much needed hug. And he did the most important thing that any leader can do when speaking to their troops in a moment of crisis, he said, American Express’s best days were ahead of it. And to me, the definition of a leader is someone who is a purveyor of hope and optimism.

Yeah. I feature that story in the book. I really admire Ken. That was a conversation heard around the city, maybe around the world.

[00:15:25] Katie: You talked about internal communications there briefly, and I know that you aren’t directly responsible at the moment in this current role for internal communications, but I’m curious about how you see internal communications fit within the overall stakeholder audience structure.

I’ll be honest with you, I think for many years, and I’ve been in this profession over 30, it’s been a little bit of the poor relation, if I’m really honest. A lot of attention on the media, a lot of attention, of course, on customers. Quite a lot of attention in the investor relations department as well.

What’s your take on it? Internal comms and its position and importance?

[00:16:04] Sally: Yeah, you said a lot here, Katie, and you’re right. Like many companies we innovate on our structure and make changes that I think are good because they give new insights. And so for me right now, my primary focus is all the external stakeholders and my CEO put internal communications with our Head of People Experience, which used to be called Human Resources, but is now much more dynamic.

I sit right next door to my colleague Ani, who leads people experience, and she and I talk all the time, all day long about the, the meshing of internal and external. And she is driving some really wonderful cultural and wellness initiatives at the company. And so I truly support her taking a hand for now at doing this.

You never know what the future structure will be like. But I also still believe that the most important stakeholder is the employees, or what we at Pfizer call our colleagues. I enjoy seeing that companies have different names for them. Yes. I think Marriott maybe calls them, ladies and gentlemen, Meta calls them mites.

It’s fun. It’s fun to look at how people refer to their colleagues. And the work of inspiring colleagues is essential in communications. I think it’s job one. We are fortunate to have 85,000 people working at Pfizer, and I want all of those people to feel like passionate advocates for the company and for our values and for our work.

And I’m sure you’ve seen the research, Katie, that no voice is more valid in the world than the voice of a colleague for trust, for authenticity. People, you know, may or may not believe what they read in the press. But they believe what they hear from someone who says, oh yeah, I work at Pfizer and let me tell you…

I am, yeah, as passionate as ever about internal comms.

[00:18:03] Katie: It’s interesting, isn’t it? I think that came out also of the Edelman Trust Barometer, that now people are actually trusting employer media, information from their employer more highly than other news sources. So actually, I always say to comms pros around the world, IC folk anyway, “this is your, license to operate. Put your foot down on the gas. People are actually quite interested to hear what their employer thinks and feels about things.”

there are a lot of pressing issues in the world. We only have to open a newspaper, turn on the TV to see yet another pressing issue. But how do organizations decide which ones to weigh in on and which ones not to? And I thought it might be in a very practical way, nice for listeners to hear your five question framework.

[00:18:50] Sally: This is such a debated point. Should my company weigh in on such and such an issue? Should my company comment on something that’s happening in the larger world?

Because, you’ve cited the Edelman Trust Barometer. I could talk a lot about some of the real wisdom that comes out of that trust barometer and how much respect I have for it. And they do show that corporate leaders have a lot of credibility these days, sometimes more than the press or more than government.

And so people are looking to executives for leadership here. And if I may, I will take a minute to go through my five questions. They’re also available in my book Breaking Through. They’re on my LinkedIn, which I love, my LinkedIn. Please visit me there. I read everything, respond to as much as I can.

So the five questions are this.

First, how does it relate to our purpose? At Pfizer, our purpose is breakthroughs that change patients’ lives. So we have a wide birth on things that relate to healthcare wellness. But I don’t think we should speak out on every issue. Deforestation in the Amazon is an important issue, but probably not one where Pfizer’s voice is the most important, and I feel that if you speak too often, you lose your agency.

Yes. Second question. How does this impact our most important stakeholders? And every company, every institution, big or small, has a set of stakeholders. For us at Pfizer, that’s first and foremost our employees and our patients. At another company it will be different. So we think deeply about that.

The third question is, how does this relate to our values? So at Pfizer we have four values, courage, excellence, equity, and joy. These are not just something that’s on a poster in the company elevator. We live these values very much, and in particular, equity is often one that will lead us to speak out.

And I wanna note for your listeners, I’m talking about values, not politics. In my mind, a company should have no politics there. There’s no place for politics in business, but there’s a lot of place for values.

The fourth question is, what are our choices here? Because too often people in our field are reactive. They are responding because a reporter is calling on deadline and they only have 10 minutes in which to respond. Remember, we make our mistakes when rushing. The other thing that happens a lot is someone will call from maybe a trade association or a business group and say please sign my petition. I have to get this out tonight. I don’t respond well to that kind of pressure, and I encourage people to step back, consider your options, and speak in your own voice with your own pen. And one of my favourite techniques is to draft for the CEO A letter that they send to colleagues and then put it on your website.

It shows great respect for the internal audience and lets you speak in your own voice.

And final question is, what is the price of our silence? Because there are just some issues and for me, that tends to be racism or violence in our schools, where I believe that as a good member of society and a good neighbour in the community, we can’t sit silent at certain moments.

So there’s a little bit of subjectivity in that last one I admit. But overall, this is a framework that the company knows, that we use, that has disciplined our thinking and given us, I feel a very smart way to approach this issue.

[00:22:44] Katie: Thank you very much, Sally, for laying that out for us. I was gonna say the eagle eared people amongst us, I dunno if you could be eagle eyed, but not eagle eared. But anyway, those listening carefully will have heard that you talk about Pfizer’s four values. One, I think may have surprised people. You mentioned joy. I’m just wondering how joy became a value?

[00:23:08] Sally: In 2019 when Albert became our CEO Albert Borla, as is common with new CEOs, we took a fresh look at everything and in an, in a desire to simplify we put our whole blueprint on a single page.

Again, that purpose, ambition, some of our big ideas and these four values. Previously we’d had about 13 values, and I promise you nobody remembers 13 values. No. But we know we knew we wanted to bring the number down and it was a great exercise with the executive committee. We first came up with courage because courage is really fundamental to drug discovery.

We’re risking billions of dollars. We’re dealing in human health. This is not for the faint of heart. You really have to have courage, and you also must have excellence. Because we’re operating in over 150 countries, we are producing in our manufacturing plants, vaccines and medicines that are gonna go into people’s bodies.

There’s just no room for error. Fourth was equity, which I mentioned and there was a robust discussion around equity because it’s a bold move, especially for healthcare, where questions of equity are so relevant. Yes. And we thought maybe we were done, maybe that was it. We’d stick with those three.

And then my CEO said, I think we’re missing something. And he said, what about happiness? Could happiness be one of our values? And we said no, we’re not always happy, but we can always be seeking joy. And the moment we said joy in that room it was like a light bulb went off, that we were immediately enamoured with this word.

And, I think we just cheered and, yet we said we’re gonna need to explain what this means, okay? Because we’re not sitting here dancing on the tabletops every day. But our pursuit of joy has to do with things like taking our work very seriously, but not ourselves so seriously. Oh, and to believe that laughter is good medicine too.

And even though this is highly pressured work. We really strive to keep a light atmosphere, to find joy in the simple moments. It can be boisterous around our offices as we really try to live this value and we all spend a ton of time at work. And so I think it was crucially important to have joy, but yes, it is original.

I challenge your listeners, eagle eared that I know them to be, if you can find another Fortune 50 company that has joy as a value, I’d love to know about it.

[00:26:01] Katie: Yeah. Fantastic. Thank you for sharing that. I was asked on a panel recently what communication excellence was, and I was the last one of four people to answer this question.

And everyone had said the usual things and I thought to myself, so influenced by your book that I couldn’t help referencing you, and that was because in the middle of everything you were doing at Pfizer responding to a global pandemic, you had this big mission, I think you dubbed it, Project Lightspeed, to develop a vaccine in record time.

You challenged yourself, you had a sort of personal challenge to your yourself to do you something pretty bold, pretty brave. Alongside that, and to me, that felt like communications excellence. Seeing what you had to do as standard, but then going, but how could we knock this out of the park? How could we turn this into a total home run?

I dunno what you feel about whether you feel that is an example of communication excellence, but can you share that wider challenge that you gave yourself?

[00:27:04] Sally: Absolutely. But I first really must thank you, Katie, for paying such close attention. For the kind support that you have given me and my book, it is a very vulnerable thing to pour your heart into the pages, and you never know how you’re going to be received or responded to. And your embrace has meant a great deal to me, and I would like to tell this story.

So if we can all go back in our minds to March of 2020, it was a really scary time, and the pandemic was just, Settling in across the globe. My CEO Albert went to Greece to give a speech, and by the time he landed, the conference had shut down because things were just locking down one after another.

So he had to get back on a plane and return to New York. And he wrote a small note on, a note on a little piece of paper that said we would do three things at Pfizer.

One, take care of our 85,000 colleagues around the world. Two. To make sure the steady stream of medicine continued to flow because, cancer and other terrible things didn’t go on break during the pandemic.

And proud to say that the medical supply chain pretty much held up during the pandemic. And third, that we would make a vaccine by the end of the year. And this was a wild ambition. This, something like this had never happened before. It was a 12 year process prior to the pandemic. I then saw Albert do something that I’ve never seen any CEO I’ve worked for do.

He looked around the room and chose a project manager. He chose himself. Wow. And that’s when I thought, okay, I think we are gonna try to do this thing. And we said about working in a very different way. As you said, project Lightspeed, we crushed bureaucracy, we took a linear process and did it everything simultaneously to be ready.

If we were going to get approved and in fact started producing vaccines before we knew they would be authorized or that we could use them, what a bold risk. So I’m a part of this team and I’m thinking I need a bold intention. I need to be as thoughtful and as brave as Albert. And so I decided this was my chance to try to change the view, the reputation of the company.

Which is actually why I came to Pfizer 16 years ago, because I had worked at two wonderful companies with marvellous reputations, and I couldn’t believe that Pfizer, a company that made lifesaving medicine like most of big pharma, was not well regarded. Candidly, I spent the first 10, 12 years banging my head against the wall.

I learned more about the problem. I researched it. I sat in focus groups. I really sought to understand. But it wasn’t until the pandemic came that I had my real opportunity. So for example, I took some of our treasured intellectual property, like our clinical trial protocols, put it right up on the website.

This was a crazy thing to do. These were secrets that we used to hold dear, but we had to fill these clinical trials fast, not in years or months, but weeks. To do that. I knew that being more transparent would be helpful. The other thing I did was embed media with us along the journey. Yeah. I found a wonderful documentary crew from National Geographic who took a journalistic approach and became embedded with us.

I had many sleepless nights when I thought I’m filming the greatest failure in corporate history. But I went for it. And also with these two very seasoned, sophisticated reporters from the Wall Street Journal, let them in. And I’ll tell you that we found out on a Sunday in December that the vaccine worked. The next Monday morning, we announced it to the world, and the Wall Street Journal dropped five full pages with the whole story. I couldn’t have retrofitted that after the fact. I needed to be documenting the story as I go. And one thing I really want to say to your listeners is add to your job description, company historian, company documentarian, archivist in chief, because you are the shaper of a narrative and I knew if we were successful that this would be a story that 85,000 people would be proud of for the rest of their life.

Now today, Pfizer, for the last two years has been a top 10 global brand sitting alongside Apple and Disney and all the other wonderful companies. It’s something that gives me just enormous pride, and I’m grateful to my wonderful team and to my colleagues for traveling that journey together, and we are all equally responsible for this success.

[00:32:06] Katie: There is one pressing question I’ve got for you and I was gonna leave this to the end and I want to be super respectful of your time. I am guessing over the course of your career, you’ve had countless communication professionals report to you over those years. I’m curious, are there any common traits or characteristics that the most successful have embodied, do you think?

[00:32:35] Sally: Wow. That is such a great question. And as, Katie, I’ve been out on the book trail, which has been a lot of fun for me and getting so many questions, and this is a unique question that I really like very much. I would say two things. And I have to be forthcoming to say I know these are two things that have been cited by Amazon as important to their culture, and I recently listened to an executive from Amazon speak, and these two qualities struck home for me.

One is curiosity. To be good at this work, you have to be curious about people, about products, about how things are made, how money is made. How ideas are formed, how ideas are changed, and so someone must be curious and someone must be restless. When I heard someone from Amazon tell me this, it was really about innovation, what it takes to innovate, a curiosity and a restlessness.

But I would say the same is true of communications. You need to be restless. You need not to say “that’s not how we did it before.” Believe me, Katie, that’s hard for me cuz you know, I’ve been in this game for a while and I have my tried and true ways of working, but I want myself to be restless and to seek new highs, to find new ways of working.

I’m deeply exploring artificial intelligence right now and generative AI, and asking how can this help me and my team be more efficient? And what pitfalls does it carry that we need to be mindful of and ready for? And we live in a restless world and to be good at this work, I think we need to be restless alongside curious.

[00:34:26] Katie: One of the other things that struck me about your book, it is full of fantastic stories of people you have met along the way in your career and your journey that have become friends, and there is this phrase isn’t there? Your tribe is your vibe, which I love. Are there any things you’ve done deliberately to build that network of friends and influencers and colleagues and people that share a common bond?

Is it intentional on your part or is it just happenstance and luck?

[00:34:59] Sally: I have a chapter in the book about reflection. And how sometimes you can find the answers in the rear view mirror. And you’re asking me now to look in the rear view mirror. And I will be candid to say I do have an incredibly strong network of friends and allies who have helped me to clarify my thoughts and build my career.

It wasn’t entirely intentional. I think I started as a young person to make strong friendships. These are more than friendships. There’s a group, I call ’em my posse. It’s like what you say about the tribe. And my posse will be tough on each other. We say, “Hey, you sounding a bit arrogant these days.”

Or, “Hey, I think you need to try harder over here.” This group started when I was very young. I’ve maintained them as friends and advisors through the years. And I still build it out to this day. A lot of times people earlier in their career say to me, oh, will you be my mentor or can you help me find a mentor?

And sure, a mentor is great, but you don’t necessarily need someone who’s four or five levels away from you. May not be the person who can best advise you. And so I’m a strong proponent of peer mentoring. I reach out to people I know in roles like mine, at other companies, in senior roles, at some of the big firms and say, “Hey can you and I meet for coffee? I have something I would like to bounce off you.” And you know what? Nine times outta 10, they then have something they wanna bounce off me. I feel that the power of building a peer network, not when you need it, but before you need it. Ah, yes. It’s really been a source of great strength to me. Yeah.

[00:36:53] Katie: My final question is, I’d just love to hear what this has been like for you, this journey. Writing the book. In my experience of only writing one, but that’s quite a solitary experience. I wrote it on a commute for over a year, up and down on a train. Yeah. Yeah. And then all of a sudden you are thrown into the spotlight to have to talk about it. I’d just be curious to hear, have you learned something new about yourself after all this time?

[00:37:17] Sally: I have learned so much in the few months that my book has come out. I love to write. And, again, as we said, first question in this discussion, this book was burning a hole in me for a long time. I mistakenly thought that writing the book was the big job. And I now know it’s only half the job.

The other half is getting out and advocating for the things that you believe in. And again, I’m very grateful to you, Katie and others like you who have given me these wonderfully valuable platforms on which to speak. I have found that first and foremost, it hasn’t been hard for me. My publisher tells me that sometimes there are authors who are reluctant or shy to, to get out and talk.

I’m not doing this for any reason other than to help people. To give them the benefit of my experience and to share fun stories. So I found it not hard. I found it joyful, but the biggest part is I spent my entire career behind the scenes, until now I was the one, behind the curtain, giving advice or writing speeches, drafting things, crafting messages.

I’m surprised by how much I enjoy stepping out. And it’s been a great honor for me to do this. I feel I’m a cheerleader for our profession, that I’m representing all of us when I’m out there, and it’s been utterly joyful.

[00:38:48] Katie: Sally, thank you. Thank you again for appearing on the show, but much more importantly, thank you for contributing so much to the advancement of our profession, through your candour, through your bravery, through speaking up.

It’s wonderful. To have learned so much and to have spent some time with you. So thank you so much.

[00:39:08] Sally: My pleasure. All the best, Katie.

[00:39:13] Katie: So that is a wrap for this episode of The Internal Comms Podcast. If you enjoyed it, please follow or subscribe on your podcast app because we have some special Moments coming up every week from our most popular shows. These are bite-sized nuggets of wisdom that I think you’ll enjoy.

For the transcript and show notes of this episode, head over to AB’s website. That’s And while you’re there, I recommend checking out episode 55 called Mission Possible, my first interview with Sally.

So my thanks to Sally, our producer, John Phillips, sound engineer Stuart Rolls, and my fabulous colleagues in AB’s creative team who keep this show on the road. And of course, my heartfelt thanks to you for choosing The Internal Comms Podcast. Stay safe and my lovely listeners, and until we meet again, remember, it’s what’s inside that counts.

This episode of the Internal Comms Podcast was brought to you by my very own Friday Update. Which you’d like to get a short email from me, never more than five bullet points long, giving you my take on the week’s news from across the world of communication? This might be the latest reports, books, podcasts, conferences, and campaigns that have caught my eye during the week.

I always limit myself to just five nuggets of news, so you can read it in record time, but still feel a little bit more informed, hopefully a little bit more uplifted as you end your week. Now, this is a subscriber only email, which was initially intended just for colleagues and clients. I don’t post this content anywhere else, so you do need to sign up, but that is super easy.

Simply go to, and you just need to pop in your email address. It is equally easy to unsubscribe at any time. So give it a whirl, that sign up page again: And if you do choose to be a subscriber, I look forward to being in touch.

Jump to

The book that Sally always wanted to write [04:09]

A memoir of mistakes [05:12]

Any mistake is (almost) always the result of rushing [08:34]

Communication is no longer a soft skill [12:01]

The position and importance of internal communication [15:40]

What issues should organisations weigh in on? [18:30]

Pfizer’s fourth value [23:23]

Common traits of successful communicators [32:55]

“Your tribe is your vibe” [35:18]

What it’s like writing a book [37:47]

Links from this episode

Get your copy of Breaking Through, by Sally Susman

Listen to Mission Possible, Episode 55 of the Internal Comms Podcast, with Sally Susman

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Episode 08 – The Joy of Work

April 23, 2019

Katie’s guest this week is an extremely versatile communicator. In his day job as European Vice President of Twitter, Bruce Daisley has overseen the development of one of the wor...

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Episode 07 – What social purpose (really) means

April 9, 2019

Running the UK’s largest retail and financial services network with more branches than all of the UK’s banks and building societies put together, the Post Office is at the hear...

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Episode 06 – The craft of communication

March 27, 2019

In episode six, Katie travels beyond the boundaries of internal comms to find out how to write more engagingly, tell better stories and use humour to deliver your message. And who ...

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Episode 05 – Learning comms lessons from PR

March 13, 2019

In episode five, Katie aims to find out what internal communications can learn from external communications. So she sits down with ‘mister public relations’, Stephen Waddington...

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Episode 04 – What it means to be the voice of IC

February 27, 2019

The Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC) is the voice of the IC profession – dedicated to strengthening confidence, credibility and community. And on 12 March, the IoIC cel...

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Episode 03 – What the State of the Sector report means for IC

February 13, 2019

Episode three lands as Gatehouse’s latest State of the Sector report is published. Katie invites Jenni Field, a tireless, high-profile personality of the IC landscape, to discus...

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Episode 02 – What it takes to be an IC leader

January 30, 2019

Even if you’re only vaguely familiar with internal communications, Katie’s guest in episode two will no doubt be a name you recognise. In a career spanning 30 years, Russell G...

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Episode 01 – How to thrive in IC

January 16, 2019

In the first episode of The Internal Comms Podcast, Katie meets Rachel Miller – a prolific blogger, educator, keynote speaker and one of the most respected voices in internal com...

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January 11, 2019

An introduction to the new Internal Comms Podcast.

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