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Case study: Leading by example

Putting patients at the heart of Brexit communications strategy

Published: 13 Jan 2020

CNN Sanofi Brexit

Client: Sanofi

Agency: N/A

Campaign: Leading by example – putting patients at the heart of our Brexit communications strategy

Timescale: N/A

A quick look

When the UK voted to leave the EU, the UK pharmaceutical sector was thrown into a period of instability and uncertainty. This opened up new challenges and at the heart of Sanofi’s approach was a need to reassure patients, the public and the Government that industry was doing everything possible to ensure the continued supply of medicines.

Recognising these challenges and its own responsibility to address them, Sanofi put in place an ambitious communications strategy that would see it lead by example, supporting industry and the Government to work together in the best interest of patients and the public.

This involved a far more proactive and responsive approach, integrating communications into operational planning and streamlining internal communication channels. As a result, there has been improved transparency and collaboration across industry, government and the media to ensure that the public is reassured.


The vote to leave the European Union triggered a period of instability and extreme uncertainty for the UK pharmaceutical industry. The situation was compounded by a series of communications challenges. Media and political commentary highlighted the potential threats to the supply of life-saving medicines to the UK.

This sparked concerns among the general public, as well as patients and the NHS itself. Despite the Government seeking to reassure the public and Parliament that it had taken the necessary steps to address any potential disruption to supply, there was little consensus across industry on how the sector should respond publicly to the threat of a ‘no deal’ scenario.

Manufacturers were unwilling to share details on how they were preparing to mitigate disruption in case this contributed towards growing public concern or revealed confidential commercial information.


Sanofi set out to strengthen its ways of engaging with three core stakeholder groups: the media, the Government and industry. To do this, the company had to change the way it worked internally. It established a UK-EU Sanofi Brexit Steering Group, with global and UK stakeholders from different affected functions across the business, to strengthen and streamline its decision-making process.

The company also invested in its team’s internal development, both upskilling the team through clear internal messaging and improving cross-functional communication channels. This allowed Sanofi to take a proactive approach to engage with its core stakeholders and actively seek opportunities to work with media partners to rebalance headlines.

Alongside the Government, Sanofi was able to establish a transparent dialogue and, along with industry, was able to lead by example in speaking publicly on its extensive contingency plans.


This approach was extremely successful in positioning Sanofi as an industry leader. The company increased its incoming media requests by positioning itself as a first mover, securing 48 pieces of coverage across local, national and international news outlets.

From the BBC to CNN, Sanofi was the company leading the industry messaging. Sanofi has been invited to participate in key government briefings and it has established a constructive partnership to explore opportunities to improve the approval pathway for new vaccines in the NHS post-Brexit.

Finally, the company has supported industry’s moves to reassure patients and the public that manufacturers are taking the necessary steps to ensure continued access to life-saving medicines and vaccines after the UK leaves the EU, regardless of the outcome of negotiations.

This work has strengthened Sanofi’s internal teams through enhanced collaboration and streamlined communications channels. It has also demonstrated the positive impact the company can have on the public’s perception of industry, setting a precedent for future areas of work.

Client verdict

“I first called Sanofi about a Brexit story and immediately found the team open to the idea. The company was keen to reassure patients about the steps it has taken to keep a continuity of medical supplies in a ‘no deal’ scenario. Since then, I have found the team quick to respond to every request. The press office was excellent. I always got the sense that the team was working as hard as it possibly could to make it happen. I am genuinely impressed.” Cath Burns, Health Correspondent, UK Specialists, BBC News

“In establishing a clear direction for our preparations, our UK Public Affairs & Advocacy and Communications team helped position Sanofi as an industry leader in tackling the many challenging issues posed by Brexit. The team ensured collaboration across the business, which was critical in understanding and simplifying complex problems, allowing the company to engage proactively in the media and increase its share of voice externally. Ultimately, the company’s proactive approach helped position Sanofi as a responsible, ethical business that clearly puts the welfare of patients at the centre of everything it does.” Kathleen Tregoning, Executive Vice President – External Affairs, Sanofi

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