The Wall of Resistance: A partnership between Science and Industry
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The Wall of Resistance: A partnership between Science and Industry

The market place for potent antibiotics used to treat serious hospital infections is worth $44 billion USD, according to analysts’ estimates. AstraZeneca, makers of Merrem (meropenem), perhaps the most potent antibiotic to treat multi-resistant, life thr

Paul Holmes

The market place for potent antibiotics used to treat serious hospital infections is worth $44 billion USD, according to analysts’ estimates.  AstraZeneca, makers of Merrem (meropenem), perhaps the most potent antibiotic to treat multi-resistant, life threatening infections is well placed to seize a considerable share of this niche market, given the efficacy and safety advantages over its competitors.  Anti-infectives, which include antibiotics and antifungal products, make up one of AstraZeneca’s smaller therapeutic areas.  The AZ Infection Team wanted to make infection a serious part of their business and raise the corporate profile of the therapy area.


The ‘Wall of Resistance’ represented originality, innovation and measurable success.  It not only proved to be a main focal point, which added colour and creativity to an international medical congress, but more importantly achieved the objectives set by the client.  It was a landmark concept for both AstraZeneca Infection and CPR Worldwide, and was the first time either company had used either tool to convert a subject that is usually staid and academic in to something creative and innovative.




AstraZeneca came to CPR with a brief of ‘how to raise awareness of the company’, Merrem and MYSTIC in the highly competitive and generally media fatigued world of infection at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID), Istanbul, April 2001.  ECCMID is a major European Infection Congress and as major sponsors it was essential for AstraZeneca to leverage its corporate profile above that of its competitors.


In the absence of any new clinical data, AstraZeneca was looking for a way to leverage the profile of the company and generate quality media coverage to highlight the results of the MYSTIC Programme (Meropenem Yearly Susceptability Test Information Collection) – the AstraZeneca sponsored global antibiotic surveillance programme. AstraZeneca also wanted to find a way to drive delegates to their congress exhibit to enable the sales representatives the opportunity to talk about Merrem and MYSTIC.

Added to the challenge was the fact that it is often difficult to secure media coverage about infection, particularly the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.  The area is often thought of as too scientific, and journalists are generally fatigued with antibiotic resistance stories unless it is ground breaking news.


Strategic Approach:


CPR needed to ‘create’ news.  CPR’s proposal was for AstraZeneca and the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESCMID) – the organisers of the congress - to join forces to create a $50,000 USD research fund.  The fund would then be donated to an infection / bacterial resistance research programme of ESCMID’s choice.  The research fund was symbolised by the ‘Wall of Resistance’; a giant scale puzzle attached to the AstraZeneca congress exhibit.  The title ‘Wall of Resistance’ was developed as a play on the words antibiotic resistance and represent AstraZeneca and ESCMID’s commitment to fighting bacterial resistance and improving infection management for the good of patients around the world. 


This tactic would enable AstraZeneca to be perceived as dedicated to infection management, generate media coverage and drive delegates the AZ exhibition stand. In addition, it would provide AZ with a database of ECCMID / customer contact details, and provide ongoing public relations opportunities with the research fund recipient well after the congress had finished.


Campaign Execution:


The Wall of Resistance:

The ‘Wall of Resistance’ was a huge puzzle that looked like a bona fide brick wall covered in graffiti messages that highlighted the problem of antibiotic resistance i.e. ‘Antibiotic Armageddon’.  The wall image was divided in to thousands of tiny magnetic square (approximately 2000) each worth a dollar amount and removed by the delegates piece by piece.  Delegates were invited to ‘help the research fund grow by breaking down the ‘Wall of Resistance’.  Essentially, each delegate visited the exhibit, chose a piece of the wall to be removed and AstraZeneca pledged a dollar amount to the research fund.  As the more of the wall was taken down it revealed an image that symbolised the fight against global infection and the research fund grew.  An invite was developed and distributed to delegates and journalists prior to and during the congress encouraging them to visit the wall to help the research fund grow.  The growing fund was highlighted by a computerised totaliser at the side of the congress exhibit, which helped to build momentum throughout the week.


Delegates were asked for their name and address in order to make the contribution so that they could receive a copy of the research once it was completed.


The media campaign:

CPR conducted a comprehensive media relations campaign before, during and after ECCMID, to highlight the ‘Wall of Resistance’. The campaign was closely coordinated with the ECCMID press office to ensure that they mentioned the initiative in any of their outputs during the congress.  And, through skilled and careful negotiation, CPR managed to get the initiative featured on the official congress press briefing.

CPR developed and distributed an eye catching media alert that doubled up as a delegate invite (attached) and a press release (attached) both endorsed by ESCMID to communicate the Wall campaign to all target audiences prior to and during the event.  CPR conducted on–site media relations to support the high exposure of the Wall and AstraZeneca.  The Wall initiative provided an easy and natural platform to talk about Merrem and the MYSTIC programme.


AstraZeneca, ESCMID and other key infection opinion formers were approached, briefed and placed on standby to act as media spokespeople and participate in journalist interviews throughout the campaign.


Summary of Results:


The ‘Wall of Resistance’ was a huge success and ensured that AstraZeneca had the highest profile of all the Pharmaceutical companies at ECCMID 2001.  Anecdotal evidence suggested that Merck and Pharmacia felt that AstraZeneca had the most popular exhibit at the congress with the ‘Wall of Resistance’ partnership clearly ‘stealing the show’.  The initiative generated a great deal of interest throughout the congress from delegates and journalists.


The Wall of Resistance at the 11th ECCMID provided AstraZeneca with unique media relations opportunities.  By pledging to donate $50,000 to ESCMID research fund, AstraZeneca had brought together science and industry to show their combined dedication to fighting global antibiotic resistance.

AstraZeneca were thrilled that the ‘Wall of Resistance’ provided a successful backdrop for the congress.  Anecdotal evidence suggested that the AstraZeneca congress exhibit was the most popular throughout the week, and that the Wall was used as a meeting place for delegates.


The Research Partnership featured in the official congress press briefing.  This was a huge achievement for AstraZeneca as it is usually very difficult to get an industry-sponsored initiative featured on an official congress press briefing.


The Wall of Resistance featured in the congress opening ceremony.  CPR organised a journalist photo opportunity, which involved Per Wesslau, President of AstraZeneca Turkey and Professor Karl Eric Nord, President of ESCMID, jointly taking the first piece of the wall down and kick starting the campaign.  International and Turkish journalists including a local film crew attended the opening of the ‘Wall’.


The UK based cable and satellite broadcaster Sky News featured the campaign on their website during the congress.  The web site is viewed by in excess of 1,000,000 people.


The campaign created 18 pieces of Turkish media coverage (despite the economic crisis causing many publications to fold) and 51 pieces of coverage internationally including Dow Jones, generating a total of 10 million impressions. (Coverage poster and Turkish coverage report attached)


ESCMID and AstraZeneca are currently working on a continuation of the ‘Wall’ campaign for ECCMID 2002 in Milan, Italy.
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