Salt & Shein at CommsCon 2019

Thank you for (not) smoking!

The 2005 satire film Thank You for Smoking follows the travails of a fictitious big tobacco chief spokesman: a cult classic among die-hard corporate affairs people of a certain vintage.

This morning at CommsCon, Philip Morris International’s Senior Vice President of Global Communications Marian Salzman took to the stage to outline the “next phase of communications” for the global cigarette brand.

Salzman, formerly the CEO of Havas North America, has a challenging job at PMI wrangling the reputation of a major player in an industry associated with millions of illnesses and deaths. A job she seems to relish.

Recognising that a widely condemned industry like tobacco had to transform its whole communications, Salzman is a champion of direct engagement, facing into difficult discussions with media, advertising platforms, and regulators as well as taking a presence at global marketing events like Cannes to “create an ongoing dialogue”.

For someone with an international media profile and a successful career, we asked Marian what it took to make the step from Havas to PMI.

“People have asked me ‘how could you do this to your career’?” she told the audience, revealing she was in discussion with PMI for months before accepting the role and had her fair share of “deep, nightmarish fears” about taking the job.

Salzman cited her age (57 years) as a key factor, that she was comfortable transitioning at this stage of her work career to do something where she could “make a change”.

But she acknowledges that it’s not something for everyone – particularly practitioners at the beginning or middle of their career.

For this reason, Salzman gives younger practitioner three weeks after making an offer for them to accept. Her parting advice: anyone thinking of joining PMI needs to think carefully as to whether “you have a tough enough skin to do it.”

Wise advice from someone who has walked the path.