Nearly five years ago Anthony Farina took the helm as the first-ever Chief Communications Officer & Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Australia-headquartered CSL Limited.
In just a few years, Farina has built a global communications team from the ground up, developed a strong corporate brand positioning and articulated a compelling CSL story.
This week in London he was honored as a top five Global In-House Public Relations Professional by PR Week, a leading publication for the growing public relations industry.
In the following interview, Anthony explains how his team has evolved into a valued business partner and enabled a greater connectivity with the patients CSL serves.
Tell us about your early days with CSL.
The story starts in 2014 when I was approached to be the first-ever Chief Communications Officer with the company. My knowledge of the company was – how can I put this politely? Absolutely ZERO. And, as I discovered, I wasn’t alone.
While CSL is well-recognized as a biotechnology leader today, five years ago that wasn’t the case. Not because CSL wasn’t developing and delivering innovations that save lives – it was – but because the company was still searching for its global identity.
I knew that CSL needed a compelling and consistent answer to the question, “How do we want to be known by our stakeholders?”
How did you tackle this challenge?
One of the first things I did was to listen, which as my wife would remind me, is an important and often-neglected component of good communication!
My team and I conducted more than 200 stakeholder interviews both inside and outside the company, which led us to a unifying global brand positioning that captures both the positive elements of our century-old reputation and the reasons to believe in our exciting future.
It starts with the brand essence, “Driven by our Promise.”
- Driven by -- speaks to our passion, the fact that we are motivated to honor our commitments to patients and other strategic stakeholders.
- Our -- reminds us that we are a community of real people working as if “lives depend on it, because they do.”
- Promise -- refers to the promises we make to our stakeholders — especially those who rely on us to develop and reliably deliver safe, effective medicines.
Instead of a flashy launch of the new positioning, we brought it to life through new brand standards, an employee value proposition, our first-ever content strategy and formation of a robust content ecosystem. We revamped more than 40 global websites and launched our crown jewel Vita, the innovative story-telling hub that you’re reading from right now!
Fast forward to today: What is your team focused on?
CSL has grown to become the world’s fifth largest biotechnology company with more than 22,000 employees bringing lifesaving medicines to people in more than 60 countries.
So my team is focused on helping the company maintain connectivity with the patients who rely on us. We are especially proud of Vita, which we launched early in 2018 to engage with key audiences – with patients at the top of the list -- in a way that goes well beyond providing product. Through Vita, we are increasing “share of life” with the patients and their families who rely on us.
Vita is differentiating CSL in the increasingly crowded rare disease space, while providing patients with information they want. Since the launch of Vita, traffic to our global web site has increased by 40% and our Twitter followers have doubled. Advocacy organizations frequently share our content with their followers, and I like to say that we are influencing the influencers – all underpinned by the unwavering support of our own employees and leaders.
You’re passionate about storytelling and creating content that is from CSL, but not necessarily about CSL. What is the difference?
There is a big difference! As I tell my team, emotionally compelling storytelling will win the day every time.
Feedback from a variety of stakeholders has told us that the degree of passion and emotion that our people bring to their jobs is more compelling for our stakeholders than just the science or the commercial strategies alone, which is why we are so focused on telling personal stories through Vita.
We also know that people with rare diseases often search for years before they are accurately diagnosed. Patients consistently requested content that helps them feel less isolated and more empowered about their health.
So my team prioritizes content that is about patients, for patients or about a CSL employee who is dedicated to improving the lives of patients.
We publish fresh content daily and amplify each piece through our content ecosystem – ensuring the right content is distributed in the right format at the right time from the right internal and external channels. This includes social media channels; a daily newsfeed; podcast(s); employee magazine and our new employee news app, CSL NOW, which is outperforming the industry average in engagements, sign ups and session length.
Q: Tell us about the global Corporate Affairs & Communications team you’ve built over the past five years.
My team is viewed as a critically imperative function to the overall success of the company’s global business. But to get to this point, we had to reinvent ourselves.
We built from the ground up, putting the right people focused on the right things in the right roles. All team members who were with CSL Behring in 2014 today are in different roles today and we’re asking them to do things differently. In the last five years, only one person from our global team of 50-plus people decided to leave the company – only to ask for her job one month later. This is a testament of the commitment and drive our team has to our communications strategy and deliver on our promise to patients in more than 60 countries.
We tore down silos (functionally and geographically) to create one global communications team with a culture of strong crossover collaboration, patient focus and superior performance. We provided training as well as hiring in people with value-adding skill sets to achieve our strategic objectives. For example, the team went through 18 months of storytelling training to execute our content strategy. We also hired former journalists to fill the writing gap.
Since launching our global brand positioning (including Vita), we have helped CSL receive increased recognition as a great place to work. For example, in 2019, Forbes named us one of its top companies for Diversity and in 2017 Forbes named CSL among the Top 50 employers in the world – the first time CSL was included on either list. Another first -- in 2018, Thomson Reuters ranked CSL as one of the top 100 companies in its global Diversity and Inclusion Index.
So while we continue to set new standards for how a global biotechnology leader communicates with key stakeholders, I’m most proud of our positive culture and environment – working together across functions and geographies to help patients lead full lives.