Sarah Alspach, senior vice president of external affairs at bluebird bio, has been named one of Ragan’s 2023 Game Changers, sponsored by Omnicom, an honor that recognizes trailblazing leaders in the communications and PR industries.
As the SVP, Alspach is the driving force propelling bluebird’s mission to create more “bluebird days” for patients and their families through groundbreaking gene therapies.
Alspach’s leadership has played a pivotal role in securing FDA approval and launching two revolutionary gene therapies in 2022. With over a decade of experience in research and development, bluebird bio is now on the cusp of gaining approval for a third gene therapy in 2023, aimed at transforming the landscape of sickle cell disease. Alspach is the driving force behind making these transformative visions a reality – a true game changer in every sense of the definition.
When Alspach isn’t doing revolutionary work, she enjoys spending time outdoors with her family, checking out national parks like Yellowstone and Zion, or cheering on her three kids as they play in various sports. Friday night’s calendar is blocked off for “pizza Fridays”, a sacred time for family connection and enjoying a clam and bacon masterpiece from Lena’s. On a daily basis, you can catch Alspach juggling being a part of three different book clubs. She’s currently reading: The Heaven and Earth Grocery Story by James McBride.
To set the stage for her recognition at Ragan’s Future of Communications Conference, Nov. 6–8 in Austin, we recently caught up with Alspach to learn more about her thoughts on the industry’s future and more.
What is one challenge communicators should be prepared to face in the next year, and what is one opportunity they may be able to embrace?
We are living in such a challenging and divisive time. In our communities and society, politically and for communicators, finding opportunities to bring people together, finding opportunities to cut through the noise, and finding ways to maintain your authenticity, is going to be critically important. That is both our greatest opportunity and greatest challenge.
What do you do for fun to end your week?
We love pizza Fridays, it’s our family tradition. [It entails] ordering pizza, being at home and clearing Fridays for just time to connect with my kids, our close friends. It’s time to put away the phones, put away the computer and really just be with one another.
What do you think will be the most important skills for communicators to master in the next five years?
The biggest thing for communicators in general is always keeping up with technology and not falling victim at different levels or as your career progresses. You don’t have to be an expert in technology, but I think it’s thinking about how you build the right team to bring the right people around you. I think you always have to be an enthusiast and curious consumer of what is new and next in the way that people are consuming information and how your message can land in the best possible way. Also, always maintaining the ability to be agile and being willing to reflect on what worked and what didn’t and not being embarrassed to try something different, is really critical to success.
What’s your best tip or piece of advice for communicators looking to pursue leadership roles?
Always have a “put me in, coach” mentality. For a communicator, there are things on the job description and so much of what we do falls into other duties. Having that awareness of seeing where there’s a need and being willing to fill it and step in and being a real observer willing to connect the dots and then step up is critically important. Sometimes leadership is listening and not speaking.
What’s the best and most difficult part of your job?
Every day, I work alongside a team of more than 350 bluebirds (bluebird bio speak for employees) who are focused on a shared mission, to bring gene therapy to patients and families affected by genetic diseases. Teaming up with some of the smartest scientists or clinicians, technical experts, and advocates in the field of rare diseases – and ultimately understanding who your work will hopefully benefit at the end of every day – is a privilege.
Boundaries between work and home that were blurred before the pandemic can feel non-existent, and inputs and flow of information have not slowed down. Working in a job where you’re “always on” can be hard to resist the pull to try to always keep one step ahead. I have to remind myself regularly that there’s a real benefit when you ‘slow down to speed up.’
Don’t miss your chance to celebrate Alspach and more Ragan’s 2023 Game Changers at our Future of Communications Conference, Nov. 6–8 in Austin, as well as our satellite Comms Week events in cities across the U.S. and U.K.