Astellas Pharma’s strong employee culture an antidote to the current crisis

The company’s vice president of U.S. Communications Moyra Knight says, “We have an opportunity to set the tone for how our companies will emerge.”


As the coronavirus continues to sweep the nation, there are companies hard at work ensuring that their customers and patients are still getting the resources and care they need for a host of medical issues not related to Covid-19. Astellas Pharma is one of those companies, providing patients with medicines for cancer, overactive bladder, organ transplants, cardiovascular issues, and more.

As vice president of communications for Astellas US, Moyra Knight’s team is helping to get the word out to employees, plus the patients, partners and other stakeholders, that Astellas is committed to their health and safety. It’s a formidable responsibility that brings its own rewards and unique challenges amid this crisis.

In this Q&A, Knight shares how Astellas is navigating the ever-changing health care landscape and how she and her team are crafting a productive and compassionate work-from-home strategy.

In addition to her five years with Astellas, which includes her current role as president of the Astellas Global Health Foundation, Knight has served as director of global community relations at Baxter and has held leadership roles at Ogilvy and Kraft Foods. From her home in the suburbs of Chicago, IL, she takes us through a week in the life of the Astellas communications team:


PR Daily: What’s a typical day like for you during this crisis?

Knight: My day consists of taking care of my family, navigating through multiple matrixed communications across several geographies, and leading our response to COVID-19 community funding needs in the U.S. We have a very talented and hardworking team of 24 communications, events and CSR professionals, and I am so amazed to see all the creative ideas they develop every week.  I’ve always believed in a “fully integrated” work life—meaning work and home life are very much intertwined and connected to each other.


PR Daily: What are some ways you and your team are adjusting to this new normal, aside from virtual meetings? Anything new you’ve learned about remote working or about your colleagues?

Knight: A positive aspect of this unprecedented time has been the tremendous amount of knowledge-sharing happening currently.  Agencies, industry organizations, think tanks and universities are studying communications’ impact, consumer and customer behaviors and attitudes, new technologies and best practices.  I have never participated in so many webinars and forum discussions where people are opening up about how they are communicating. It’s helpful and makes us stronger as a communications community.


PR Daily: How has the coronavirus impacted Astellas?

Knight: Astellas’ mission is to turn innovative science into new solutions for patients with high unmet medical needs. This remains our core focus amidst the unprecedented public health challenge posed by COVID-19. We also take great pride at Astellas in our commitment to be a responsible and active partner in the communities where we work and live. Importantly, our commitment to the health and well-being of our employees is first and foremost to Astellas and is at the heart of our strong culture.

In times such as these, this mindset is never more important.

Astellas and its employees also are engaged in many ways to support patients, healthcare workers and first responders. This includes financial assistance to support local and global communities; policies focused on the well-being of our employees, health care professionals, and partners; and employee mobilizations and company-matched donations to humanitarian organizations.


PR Daily: Has Astellas had to make any changes that impacted patient care?

Knight: We remain focused manufacturing and supplying safe and effective medicines for patients who need them. As of [late April] the supply, manufacturing and distribution of Astellas products in the U.S. are not impacted, and patients will continue to be able to receive all approved US medicines, including our oncology and transplantation therapies, without interruption related to COVID-19.  To help ensure patient safety and alleviate strain on health care resources, Astellas suspended the start-up of new interventional clinical trials and enrollment in ongoing trials in countries with rapid growth of new COVID-19 cases.  Additionally, we have weighed in on provisions of stimulus bills that are focused on helping patients gain and maintain access to needed care


PR Daily: How are your employees holding up and what are you doing to keep them engaged and motivated?

Knight: We are working hard to ensure employees stay informed and engaged on all fronts. From a communications standpoint, we debuted two digital firsts for us. We hosted a company-wide digital group viewing of a pre-produced talk show called Astellas One Future TODAY where multiple leaders and employees spoke on topics regarding patients, products, performance and community support.  Ninety-eight percent of attendees felt very or extremely informed on how employees are supporting our culture.

On the same day, we hosted a virtual awards show that recognized outstanding achievements for the year across the organization. Attendance was high, and the kudos that came over chat and in the presentation were extremely motivating.


PR Daily: What advice do you have for communications professionals navigating this crisis?  

Knight: Communicators have an unprecedented time to express company identity through individual, authentic storytelling.  Additionally, we have an opportunity to set the tone for how our companies will emerge as a business after the crisis. There’s more and more data that show how we treat employees, customers and our community now will be the basis by which our key stakeholders make decisions about working with us, and employees will make decisions about working for companies in the future.


PR Daily: On the other side of this, what new roles (if any) will communicators play within their organization?

Knight: Communicators will have an even greater opportunity to help company leadership reveal their authentic selves in the future as we’re seeing new and unconventional methods emerge, like an earnings call from the living room. I also believe communicators will continue to be a trusted source for information across the enterprise. That’s a unique position that is generally only reserved for the senior-most business leaders in an organization.





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