In partnership with Ragan’s PR Daily, “How We Did It” is a series featuring IPR Trustees discussing a success in their public relations career.

As a global pharmaceutical company headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, we saw first-hand the gradual shut down of business as the COVID-19 pandemic began to evolve from China, to Japan, then Italy, and the United States. I work as the communications, events and CSR lead for our company in the U.S., and early on realized that our lives were about to change radically.

Some of the challenges we faced were:

  • Keeping employees and stakeholders engaged and informed
  • Supporting communities in need
  • Continuing to serve patients during a time of radical disruption

Early on, Astellas’ U.S. corporate communications/events teams led COVID-19 decision-making regarding travel, event attendance and work-from-home measures, maintaining an employee-first focus. We also quickly repositioned and created new vehicles for executive communications, awards, employee engagement and information-sharing to adapt to the new environment.

Then, we convened a cross-regional, cross-functional core team and proposed new ideas to help employees stay connected to each other and to their communities. Many of these ideas came from many years of demonstrating solidarity during times of crisis. Instead of backing away from the challenge, as a company, we pushed ourselves to think differently and open up new avenues for engagement.

Here is what we did:

Communicating to stakeholders
We created a pre-produced talk show called “Astellas ONE FUTURE Today” showcasing multiple leaders and employees. Ninety-eight percent of attendees reported feeling very informed.

We developed weekly news digest emails and posted 170 articles, memos and guidance documents to the COVID-19 internal hub to keep employees constantly informed.

Supporting communities
We temporarily extended volunteerism benefits up to four weeks to specifically support the pandemic and numerous “at home” volunteerism options were deployed.

We expanded benefit offerings for employees including crisis, student and childcare options, mental health offerings, financial resources, home office equipment reimbursement and more.

We launched a new job search assistance program to support immediate family members of the company’s U.S. employees adversely impacted professionally as a result of COVID-19.

We doubled paid military leave from two weeks to four weeks to support our service member employees’ military training obligations and remain committed to making up any difference in compensation between their military pay and regular pay for up to two years.
Emphasizing purpose

Astellas Pharma US and the Astellas Global Health Foundation committed to expand support for global and local communities fighting COVID-19 by providing up to $2 million of new financial assistance, in aggregate, to meet the urgent demand for resources to help patients, healthcare workers and first responders.

We implemented changes to Astellas’ patient assistance programs and provided ongoing supply chain management to help ensure patients have access to Astellas medicines.

As communicators, we have a rare responsibility to bring ideas forward and encourage inclusive thinking during times of crisis. I encourage all of us to be bold in our thinking – if not now, when?

Moyra Knight is vice president for corporate communications, Astellas U.S. and president of the Astellas Global Health Foundation. Moyra is also a Trustee for the Institute for Public Relations.

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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