Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

The Incredible Difficulty Of Focusing

Steve Jobs Quote, Credit Tribal Rain Makers Club

Think about this for a second. In a given year, you have 1800 hours to allocate, at work. 1800 hours? Do the math. A “traditional” work week is 40 hours, with 1 hour of lunch each day, which means 35 hours a week. A traditional vacation time, is 2 weeks, which means, you’re working 50 weeks a year. 50 weeks a year X 35 hours is 1750 hours, rounded up, is 1800 hours.

Now, yes, I realize, the typical person doesn’t work 1800 hours. Many of us work north of 2000 hours. But, for all intents and purposes for this blog post, let’s call it 1800 hours. Each one of those hours is precious. An hour chasing down a really “cool” idea, while invigorating and exciting, might be time poorly spent, if it takes you away from your core focus.

This is something that sales staff members on LinkedIn, who spam your inbox, don’t comprehend. If I have an extra hour (which never happens) and my choices are to listen to a random cold call pitch or spend an hour reviewing progress against goals, meeting with my team, etc. – I can tell you the cold call pitch, won’t be at the top of the list.

Additionally, it’s why, over the years, I’ve pared back the number of conferences I attend. There’s no shortage of great conferences to attend, but with each one you eat into those 1800 hours. That 3 hour flight is expensive; maybe not in actually dollars, but in time. The 3 days at the conference, while beneficial, needs to be weighed against, what else you could be doing.

Focusing is hard, because it requires you to say no to the wrong thing, so that you can say yes to the right thing. And often times, saying no, can make you come across as difficult or not a team player. Saying no, also means, you may not pursue something that excites you. It requires discipline.

5 years ago, my point of view, on focus, would have been much different. As it would have been, 10 years ago. A decade back, all I wanted to work on was the interesting, sexy, cool and of course, potentially award winning, projects. I raised my hand for every would be, could be, might be, fun project.

Today, that’s just not possible. There are so many cool, fun and interesting initiatives, that I’d love to participate in. Even if only to listen to how my team is going to tackle the challenge. But, realistically, it’s just not possible. To get something, you often have to give up something. To stay focused on the objectives I have, unfortunately, I miss out on many things that stoke the flames of my interest. That, however, is a conscious choice.

I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but there are 3 things I do to keep me focused:

  1. Have a clear understanding of my objectives and how they ladder back to the division and company objectives. But, equally important, is understanding how you’ll translate them into something meaningful, tangible and measurable for your team members. Every week I chart the progress towards those objectives and every month I manage up by asking if they’re still relevant and if there are any new objectives, that we haven’t accounted for. You can’t set and forget your objectives. They aren’t written once at the beginning to the year and then evaluated at the end.
  2. I create filters to manage requests. I’m sure your inbox is filled with meeting invites, “quick questions”, so-called “emergencies” and 1-off projects. If you say yes to all of them, you’re doomed. But, you can’t say no to them all, either. When I get a request, I ask myself 2 basic questions: 1, will this help drive my core objectives? 2, will this make the organization better. Ideally, the answer to both, is yes. If, however, you have something that, isn’t part of your core objectives, but could improve the organization, that’s a conversation worth having.
  3. I find an hour every day to do two things. I make sure to “walk the floor” and check-in with my team and my colleagues. Sometimes just stopping by, opens up a dialogue, where I can be helpful. Walking the floor, also gets me out of my office, provides a well needed break in the day and provides accessibility to my team. Additionally, I make time to work on pet projects. This could be something I’m pursuing on my own, or something I’m helping someone else with. Either way, I make sure to plan for these types of initiatives in my 1800 hours.

That’s it. Simple as they seem, it’s incredible challenging to stay to the plan. There’s always something vying for your attention. But, remember, you can’t get something, without giving up something. It’s all about choices. No one is busy, they simply have a priority that’s more important than your priority.

Live Like You Were Dying

Fear, it’s a powerful motivator. We’re all afraid of something. Snakes, spiders, heights, etc.; take your pick, there’s emoting out there we fear. Mine, is getting old. When I say, getting old, I don’t mean aging. I don’t fear a slower metabolism, grey hair or wrinkles. If anything, I welcome those changes. I mean, I have you seen Clooney these days? He’s 54, with salt and pepper hair, wrinkles and the guy looks great. Nah, aging is something I embrace, But, getting old? Yeah, that scares the pants off me.

You don’t have to be “old” to be, well, old. Some of the oldest people I know are young in age. When I think about getting old, it’s in the way, that Danny Glover’s character in Lethal Weapon, famously said, “I’m too old for this shit.”

That statement, is the pure embodiment of what I fear. It’s the idea, that you can no longer do something, because of your age. Too often, after time has slipped passed us, we turn the idea of a bucket list. As I’ve written before, I have no interest in a bucket list. I don’t want to wait til the end to try and capture some semblance of what was acceptable in my youth and make it something that I cross off the list.

I would prefer to take the approach outlined in Tim McGraw’s hit, “Live Like You Were Dying.” Instead of waiting til the proverbial end to capture the energy of your youth, I’d rather, have that energy, every day. Bud Light’s 2015 Super Bowl campaign, “Up For Whatever”, absolutely nails this concept.

Call me to go sky diving? I’m in. Text me at 2 am to grab tacos? I’m in. Delta has a killer deal on tickets to Beirut? Yep, I’m in. I genuinely believe, what makes aging so challenging, is that we forget to keep living. We manage things. We keep things in perspective. We’re more measured. We play it safe. Thanks, but no thanks.

My fear is to grow old. Every day, I work to make that fear, an irrational thought, by choosing to live every day, like was dying.

The Great Bourbon Hunt

Pappy Van Winkle 10, 12, 13, 15, 20 an 23.

Pappy Van Winkle. Easily, one of the most fabled, talked about, hyped and sought after bourbons, in the world. It’s taken me a few years, but I finally have a complete set. Technically speaking, the 10 year Old Rip Van Winkle, the 12 year Van Winkle Lot B and the Van Winkle 13 year Rye, are not Pappy Van Winkle. It’s only the 15 year, 20 year and 23 year, that have earned the right to be called Pappy Van Winkle.

When I first got into bourbon, I had no idea, it would lead me down the path of becoming a collector, so to speak. While I firmly believe in drinking what you buy, there are a few bourbons, that for me, there’s just as much enjoyment in the hunt of procuring one, as there is in drinking it (neat of course). For example, the legendary A.H. Hirsch 16 year reserve or Michter’s 20 year, are two that pass the test of being white whales, where, so much of the allure, is the scarcity and therefore, it’s the hunt that drives the interest.

I think I’m done hunting bourbon. Although, maybe, as Josh Brolin’s character in ‘Wall Street Money Never Sleeps’ said, when asked what his “number” is, by Sheia LaBeouf, I’ll never be done, because, the answer is “more.”

Bring Digital DNA. All Others, Need Not Apply.

Yesterday, we learned that Sona Chawla, our CMO and President of Digital would be leaving Walgreens. It’s safe to say, without Sona, Walgreens wouldn’t be the Omni-Channel leader, it is today. She will be missed.

Sona Chawla - Photo Credit, Chicagobusiness.com

But, what an amazing opportunity for her to join Kohl’s, in the newly created role of COO. As said in the article:

We are looking to make the connection for customers between our stores and our online experience in a way that is seamless and unique,” Mansell told Fortune. “In order to do that properly, you absolutely have to have someone who is responsible for all of those different functions.

Amen. Today, it’s a digital DNA that companies want in their Sr. leaders. Well, in Sona, they certainly picked a great one

In a world, where we talk about glass ceilings, far too often, this announcement makes me smile. There is no person, more deserving of this opportunity than Sona. To be clear, I don’t mean, there’s no woman, more deserving. I mean, there’s no person. She is, simply put, exceptional.

For me personally, I’m equal parts sad and thrilled. Sona brought me into this organization in 2011, as the company’s first head of social media. She’s also a big reason why I rejoined Walgreens, in an expanded role, in February of 2014.

It’s nearly 2016 and in so many organizations, digital, is still an afterthought. Digital talent is still swimming upstream, pushing for a seat at the table. Not at Walgreens. In the 7 years Sona was here, she took us from virtually nothing to a worldwide, recognized leader in digital and omni-channel. We’re a destination for great talent and a place that companies want to partner with.

She will be missed. But, we have such an incredible team and unwavering support for digital across the company. Frankly, that’s the hallmark of a great leader…to build a team, that’s bigger than any one person. She’s leaving us much better off than we were, when she joined, nearly 7 years ago. I’m excited for what’s next for her and us.

Do Awards Matter?

Cannes Lions

A great friend and colleague asked me:

From a “client” perspective would it be safe to say you give zero f**ks about awards that agencies win? I’m getting tired of people asking me to submit for awards and would rather do something more creative with the $10,000 we’re going to spend on applications. Either a charitable donation, or some kind of bounty that brand managers would care about and think is interesting.

It’s a great question. My perspective on this topic has definitely changed, over the years. But, I think it’s a question, just about every agency asks/considers at some point, especially when you consider the costs for award entries. Those costs become important, when you consider, they’re part of the overhead for an agency and that means, ultimately a client ends up paying for them in the hourly rate. More on that topic here.

Getting back to the question at hand, here’s my perspective on the value of awards.

  1. Ultimately the awards an agency, who isn’t my partner, wins, have 0 bearing on me. I suspect, this is the case with more “clients” who are satisfied with their existing partners. Now, keep in mind, satisfied, doesn’t mean you’re thrilled with your partner, it simply means they’re good enough that the juice isn’t worth the squeeze to entertain switching.
  2. Now, if you’re my agency and I’m your client, I of course want you to win awards, but I care more about awards that are won for initiatives done on my business, than for another client. I’m glad when my partners (agency or otherwise) win an award. I want them to be successful. Why do I care? Because, they’re both a motivator for my partner and a sometimes powerful reminder, that we’re doing some amazing things together. However, no award compensates for poor business objective performance, unless it’s so transformational that you can convince yourself it’s meaningful beyond pure dollars and cents. For many, I’m sure the Oreo Super Bowl tweet is a great example.

Awards, at the core, are like a Michelin rating for a restaurant. When you make a reservation, you don’t intentionally, go out to pick a Michelin rated restaurant. Well, unless you’re a special kind of person. Those people aside, you pick a restaurant on a wide set of criteria: location, price, cuisine type and of course availability. But, should all those things lead to a place that was Michelin rated, 3 things happen:

  1. You instantly feel validated. After all, your choice is brilliant, if the Michelin people rated it. Who can question that seal of approval.
  2. The people you bring to the dinner, can’t hate it. “Wait, you mean, you completely disliked the place with 3, yes 3, Michelin stars? Are you crazy?” Now, that said, they don’t have to love it, but they can’t hate it. In agency terms, rarely does an executive get fired for picking the AdAge agency of the year or the agency who won 6 lions for X, Y and Z campaign. Granted,  they may not get promoted for it, but they don’t get fired either. When I worked with a commercial banking client, back in my old agency days, the client remarked, “our problem is, no one gets fired for hiring Bank of America.”
  3. You invoke some amount of jealousy, which feels good, from people who know you went to that restaurant. Here’s the key…that jealousy is only generated from people who actually know what a Michelin rating means. Net-net, some awards matter and some don’t. For example, just about everyone knows what a Lion is. Not everyone knows what a Shorty Award is.

That said, here’s the 2 reasons, I do think awards can matter for an agency:

  1. When I was at Fallon, David Lubars would say something to the effect of, “awards help make sure, we get an unfair share of creative talent, from a small pool.” His point being, creative people want to do award winning work. If you’re the place getting all the awards, you get the people, you might not normally get. I can tell you, when we did EDS Cat Herders, Buddy Lee and BMW Films, you got people to move to Minneapolis, who wouldn’t normally have considered it as a place to live and work. Be it creative, strategy, tech or some other function, people want to work with the best. Awards are one yardstick.
  2. In a startup capacity, as validation and a door opener. When XYZ company launches, companies don’t just take their call, in the same way they would if a well established and known company, called. This hurdle is no different than the one that exists in buying a new car/tv/dishwasher/etc. from a company you’ve heard nothing about. But, all of a sudden, if your company is the most awarded or earned the highest/best award, you’ve got a heck of a door opener. SaaS companies have been relying on Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for, what seems like forever, for this very reason. That validation, puts them on the map and makes getting someone to take your call, a hell of a lot easier.

I can tell you that I don’t have an objective, for # of awards to win, but I can also tell you, we want to win them, just as badly as the next company. That said, if you had a choice between spending $100K in award submissions or investing that $100K into your employees, choose the investment option. Your employees will thank you.

Improve The Customer Experience, By Asking, What Is The Intent?

There’s a lot to look at when evaluating the “creative” that will reach a customer. From logos to the colors and from the photo to the call to action, there’s no shortage of things to review, critique and optimize. When you think about all the creative elements needed to support an integrated marketing campaign, this can really add up. You have the TV, print and radio elements. Then, there’s the video, banner and social components. Don’t forget about the email, paid search and in-store signage. It’s a lot to absorb.

With so many campaign assets to keep track of, it’s no wonder that we get a bit myopic when we review an individual piece of creative. “Checking” an individual piece, often means we lose sight of the overall campaign. We miss out on how this campaign is supposed to feel. We lose the ability to see how consistent all the touch points are.

This has nothing to do with this post. I just liked it.

Several years back, in an effort to fix this narrow approach to creative reviews, marketers created, “table” or “wall” reviews to regain the ability to see the forrest and not just the individual tree. Each and every piece of creative would be laid out, at the same time in a “war room” of sorts. The amount of paper that was killed in the name of “taking it all in, like the consumer will” was tragic. This approach, created great excitement in an organization, but was ultimately more sizzle, than steak.

Of late, our team is being asked, “what is the intent” of “this” element of the campaign. For example, if we have a holiday email set to deliver on 12/7 and another on 12/23, it’s not good enough that they:

  1. Have the right subject line, right offers, a proofread headline and all the necessary legal/compliance information.
  2. Look like they’re in-step with our branding standards, from the colors to the photography and from the logo to the font.

Please, don’t misunderstand. Those are important areas of focus. Indeed, we have to see the forrest (big picture) and the trees (each detail). But, increasingly, it’s becoming more imperative to first ask, “what is the intent?” That question is designed to help us understand what we’re trying to accomplish with a specific piece of creative and then link it to both the big picture and nitty gritty details. For example, if the 12/23 email is all about last minute gift ideas, would it make sense to include an offer for something that takes 7 days to get delivered? Probably not, even though, that offer is probably 100% factual and visually, in line with the overall look and feel of the campaign.

“What is the intent” is making us more accountable for the overall customer experience. When we have to think about the intent of something, we improve on how we’re evaluating what’s placed before us. We begin to see the connection between what we want the customer to do and how well we’re designing an experience that will elicit that action.

There’s no silver bullet for how to review something. But, starting with the question, “what is the intent” is a simple way to improve the effectiveness of your review process.

A Peak Into How Walgreens Creates Great Content

I’m truly fortunate to have an incredible culture, amazing team members and clear support from leadership, at Walgreens. I’ve often remarked, to be successful at a large organization, you have to be equal parts the blue sky thinker, capable of providing strategic direction, and the blue collar worker, interested in rolling up your sleeves to make things happen. You can’t be successful, doing only one.

Recently, I had the privilege to sit down with News 360, to talk about our approach, at Walgreens, for creating great content. While the nature of the discussion was focused on our efforts with tumblr, we definitely discuss, at a broader level, how we think about content.

Being Healthy Can Make You Smile

Walgreens is at the corner of “Happy” and “Healthy.” Too often we see these at mutually exclusive. Health is something we talk seriously about. It’s a topic we aren’t supposed to have fun with. But, with the growth of companies like SoulCycle, it’s clear you can enjoy and dare I say, become happy, in your quest to be healthy.

Our internal social, creative and content team is fantastic. This is a great example how we can reinforce how easy it is to be healthy at Walgreens, while delivering it in a way that makes you happy.

Also, if you haven’t already, download the award winning Walgreens app, sign up for Digital Health Advisor and check out Pharmacist Chat. Let me know what you think via email. Thanks.

Bringing Back The Joy Of Driving

The open road. The growl of an engine. The feel of the steering wheel. The swoosh of the wind, as the window’s down. Driving, can be, such a joy. Once you get out of the city, leave the stop lights behind, get past the highway traffic and find that stretch of road that’s smooth, with subtle curves and a gradual climb, driving becomes enjoyable.

What I’ve always loved about cars, is that there’s a car for every person and personality. Some like a smooth and quiet ride. Some like a loud and stiff ride. And some like something in between. Cars are quite personal.

My first car was a 1987, white, Toyota MR2. It was fun. So much fun. It looked like a dust buster, with angled lines and it was so light that you always wondered at which point you’d float off the ground, fly through the air and end up in the atmosphere. I drove that car hard, fast and often. Despite the limited amount of metal around me, I always felt invincible driving it. I sought opportunities to drive. You can bet, I was the first one to raise their hand to pick up milk, Chinese food takeout or to drop someone off. Driving was fun. It was a joy.

Following that first car, I’ve owned American Cars (Chevy), Japanese (Infiniti, Toyota, Suzuki), British (Jaguar) and German (BMW, Audi). They all drive differently. From their acceleration to the sound they make, a cars “birth place” instills inherent characteristics.

Despite owning some fun cars (the BMW 328i comes to mind) I never felt that sense of joy. That is until a few weeks ago. I had my 2013 Audi A4 in for service. While in service, I received an email from the dealership that inquired about my interest in trading in my car. I hadn’t really thought about it. The car was only 3 years old. It was in perfect condition (if you know me, you know how meticulous and OCD I am about cleanliness). And it was paid off.

After making the wise switch from BMW to Audi, I’ve lusted for an Audi R8, but at $120K+, it’s not in my reality. The Audi TT, though, was in the price range, but I’ve never been able to convince Nichole that it was a smart purchase (apparently 2 seats doesn’t make sense when you have 2 kids). But, the Audi A3 sedan recently came over from across the pond. It’s only been stateside for 2 model years. The A3 is a tad smaller than the A4 I had, but with a beefier engine and better weight balance. In other words, it was going to be a fun ride.

Audi A3

So, on my birthday, though I hadn’t thought about the idea of a new car, I traded in the A4 for a 2016 A3. Gray, obviously. Monsoon Gray Metallic, to be specific. The first drive was from Chicago to Deerfield. It was awkward. Getting accustomed to a new car always takes some time. Later that week, Nichole and I drove from Chicago to Minneapolis. While you don’t get the subtle curves and gradual climbs, you do get an open smooth road. What a drive. Every time, I drive the car, I enjoy the ride, more and more. There’s something about the way the A3 handles turns, accelerates and darts in and out of lanes that make it fun. No, it brings joy.

Joy. Joy in driving, means you look for opportunities to drive. You look past the potential for traffic. You seek reasons to drive places. I had forgotten how much I missed that joy. Gosh, I feel like I’m 17 again. It’s a great feeling. When you consider that the average US driver, spends nearly 40 hours a year, in traffic, shouldn’t you at least enjoy the ride?

I can’t tell you if an A3 is right for you. But, I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to at least test drive it. Perhaps you’ll then find the joy, I’ve regained.

“This Is Disney, Anything Is Possible”

A few weeks ago, Nichole and I took the kids to Florida for a well earned vacation. We stayed in the Clearwater area, on the Gulf side and had a fantastic experience. One morning, we woke the kids up at the crack of dawn and drove 90 minutes to Orlando. As the kids awoke, they remarked, “wait, this isn’t the aquarium, this is DISNEY WORLD!!!”

I’ve never had a bad experience at Disney. Much has been written about their relentless pursuit of creating an amazing experience. From the fact they aren’t “employees”, but “cast members” to the fact no cast member can ever say “I don’t know”, Disney creates an immersive experience that makes you forget that you just paid $100 for a single day ticket to one park. If there’s one story that’s always stuck with me, it’s the $100,000 Salt and Pepper Shaker passage from Randy Pausch’s tremendous book, “The Last Lecture.” Read it, then come back to this post. Yes, I’m serious.

Ok, back? Great! It was a hot day at Disney. Mid-90s, sun beating down on us, but thankfully it wasn’t overly packed. In the afternoon, following lunch, we ducked into one of the many air conditioned souvenir stores. The kids opted for “mouse ears.” And, by mouse ears, I mean, Cora got a Yoda version and John got an R2D2 version. You have to love how the Star Wars acquisition is fueling merchandising. As we were checking out, Cora noticed another park guest’s button. For those, not in the know, Disney will give anyone (yes, even adults) a free button to commemorate something they’re celebrating. This can range from 1st Visit to Just Married, and a host of other celebrations in between.

We were at Disney on June 17th and John’s birthday was 2 days earlier. Cora said, “John, you should get a Birthday Button.” John, being the honest kid he is, said, “But, today’s not birthday. It was Monday.” Well, the cast member, wouldn’t have any of that. He grabbed a birthday button, motioned for John and Cora to approach the counter and said:

This Is Disney, Anything Is Possible

He then, asked for John’s name, wrote it on the button, then placed tape over the ink, so it wouldn’t run or smudge, and then said, “Happy Birthday.”

Look, this isn’t a $100K experience, as outlined in “The Last Lecture.” I don’t know what it’s valued at to be honest with you. What I do know, is that, little things matter. They add up over time. And, a moment like this is pretty memorable. It’s certainly memorable enough that I’m telling all of you about it.

On the plane ride back, I thought about that moment and what it did for me, was, make me ask myself the question, “what would happen if everyone’s job at a store, was to give the customer a great and memorable experience?” In some corporate cultures, margin structures and store formats, that might not be 100% possible, but it’s worth shooting for.

When creating a memorable experience is everyone’s job, you end up with a photo like this, to share.

Me. Tink. A perfect match. She just doesn’t realize it yet. Damn Peter Pan!

A photo posted by Adam Kmiec (@adamkmiec) on

Sure, the kids got to meet Belle, but I got to hang out with Tinkerbell.