Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Tag Archives: Walgreens

2 Years Back At Walgreens And It’s All Still New

Walgreens Logo

Last Monday, February 3rd, I celebrated 2 years back at Walgreens. As I start my 3rd year, I find it remarkable how much things still feel new. And, I say that, in a good way. In the last 2 years, I’ve seen 3 areas of change that have kept me on my toes:


  1. We’re now a global company, following the completion of our merger with Alliance Boots
  2. A new CEO and virtually a brand new C-suite
  3. Sona, our CMO and one of the main reasons I came back, departed for a COO role at Kohl’s
  4. Coming out of 1 – 3, we have a brand new org structure and report through completely different leadership
  5. While not officially completed, we did announce our intent to acquire Rite Aid

Scope And Focus

  1. As I wrote about in January, I learned a lot in 2015. In particular I’ve started to learn how to manage team members that are heads and shoulders above me in their level of subject matter expertise.
  2. When I first joined Walgreens in 2011, it was to lead Social Media. When I rejoined in 2014 it was to lead Social Media and Content. These days, I oversee our efforts in Social Media, Content, Mobile Marketing, SEO, SEM, Affiliate and Digital Strategy. It’s been fun, interesting and at the same time, daunting.
  3. One of the things I’ve consistently been asked to do, throughout my career, is build organizations. Building an organization is very different than growing an organization. The decisions you make, the people you hire and the partners you choose, all change. For example, in a growth model, where the organization is mature, I’m more concerned about disruption than in a startup/build model. You start to favor continuity, but have to always be cautious in letting continuity lead to complacency. If you only focus on 2% growth, eventually you get lapped by something shooting for 20% growth.

Personal Growth

  1. A few months back at Walgreens, a colleague I’ve worked with for years, said to me, “who is this kinder, gentler Adam Kmiec?” – Good question. I think a lot of my change is philosophy and approach comes directly from the shift to growing an org, instead of building one. Maybe I have softened. It’s possible. I think the biggest thing I’ve figured out how to do is to care about and think about the intent behind what people say and the decisions they make. Maybe they were up all night, with a sick kid. Maybe, they’re getting unrealistic pressure from their manager. Maybe, it’s just a bad day. When you start thinking about the intent, your perception and subsequent actions change dramatically.
  2. “What focus means is saying no to something that with every bone in your body think is a phenomenal idea, and you wake up thinking about it, but you end up saying no to it because you’re focusing on something else.” Said differently, saying no, may not win you friends and it’s more difficult to say than, “yes.” However, saying no is what keeps you focused on the things that matter most. That level of discipline is something I’ve never really had to have. It’s work in progress, but that’s a big change.
  3. Toyota helped pioneer and make famous, the power of asking, “why.” In particular, it’s asking, “why” 5 times. A major element of the Walgreens Leadership model is to seek to understand. It’s hard, when presented with a problem, not to jump immediately to a solve. With all the experience we have and the number of situations we’ve encountered, it’s easy to want to start answering the problem, before truly understanding what the root issue really is. Much like a child, I’ve learned to embrace the upside in being the annoying person who asks, “why?”

You have to get accustomed to change. Nothing stays the same. Being back at Walgreens the past 2 years has been invigorating. The pace of change is side-splitting. Learning to keep adapting, while staying focused is equal parts challenging and exciting. I’m glad I came back home, to Walgreens and I’m still thankful for the opportunity, 2 years later. It’s been a heck of a ride and I can’t wait to see where we’re headed next!

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.

I’m Rejoining Walgreens

I’m thrilled to announce I’m rejoining Walgreens in the newly created role of Sr. Director, Social Media and Content. When I left Walgreens nearly 2 years ago, it wasn’t an easy decision. Walgreens was and remains a tremendous organization with a leadership and culture, few can rival. During my first tenure, they enabled and empowered us to create an award winning, best in class Social Media organization, that I’m proud to rejoin and lead.

During my time away, Walgreens has continued to be one of the most digitally fit organizations in the world, with a leadership that’s truly invested in succeeding in an increasingly digital and omni-channel world. It’s rare that you get to join such a tremendous company, let alone rejoin it. I’m humbled.

I'm Back

Thomas Wolfe, wrote, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” With all due respect to the brilliant award winning author, in this case, you can. The expectations the organization has for me and that I have for us are lofty. The bar was high when I first joined; I know it’s much higher now. But, that’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about rejoining Walgreens. The other reason is the people. I’m looking forward to collaborating with exceptionally talented forward looking leaders.

Change, especially in this space, is a given. The Campbell Soup Company is a great organization, filled with talent and lead by a phenomenal CEO. I’m thankful they gave me the opportunity to build their digital organization. The friendships created will be long lasting and the mentors I found will play an ongoing role in making me better. I’ll continue rooting for my many friends there. Watching their collective continued success, will bring a smile to my face.

More to come soon. Be Well.

Are You Hiring The Same Person Over and Over?

We are a habitual people. We love routine and clear parameters. Most organizations have some type of model or playbook they use for hiring. These models ensure they are hiring people who will drive the organization to success. The models are based on years of historical company performance.

For example, at one organization I was apart of, they preferred brand marketers that came from one of about a dozen undergraduate programs, 8 business schools and who’d worked at a handful of specific companies. That was their recruiting model. If you didn’t come from one of those institutions, it was much harder to break in.

In my own interview with this company, I was told, one of their biggest concerns about me was that I didn’t “look” anything like their profile for a marketing leader. I went to a Big 10 school, not named Northwestern, had no MBA and never worked for Kraft, Johnson & Johnson, P&G or any of their other approved organizations. In short, I was a walking red flag. But, the woman running the division wanted to change the culture. She wanted people who didn’t look like the rest of the organization. She didn’t want another proverbial “Ken Doll” where we all have the same thinking, the same problem solving approach and the experiences to leverage. In this company’s culture, this was a risky bet.

Assembly Line

There are 2 inherent problems with this approach to talent building:

  1. As the great General George S. Paton, once remarked, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” When everyone you’ve hired as been taught to do things the same way, you’ll always solve problems using the same approach. While this creates some level of operational efficiency, because people don’t need to learn the company’s problem solving methodology, it also leads to a dramatic slow down in breakthrough thinking. In a digital world that changes exponentially faster every day, you can’t afford to copy and paste your solutions.
  2. The rationale for why you should keep hiring roughly the same person over and over is predicated on how your company has performed and what it’s looked like in the past. If the Apple / Microsoft and Google / Microsoft battles have shown us anything, it’s that a strategy of doubling down on today at the expense of tomorrow, is a quick path to mediocrity and stagnation.

I’ve always loved this quote from Scott Anthony’s Fast Company article, “How Do You Create A Culture Of Innovation?”

If you are trying to transform your company or your industry you likely need to bring in at least a handful of outsiders who will look at the world in new ways.

Getting the right talent in place is paramount to achieving and hopefully, exceeding your goals. There are two areas of talent you need:

  1. Core Team: Those under your direct supervision. These are the people you are hiring, you are managing, you are leading and you are enabling.
  2. Enablers: Those who are part of other teams, but in roles that are critical to enabling your team to succeed. I’ve often found this to be the more important of the two areas. For every 1 of these, you need 5 less people in your core team. It this reason, that I’ve always felt you need a horizontal approach to building a digitally fit organization.

In my last 3 roles, I’ve had the charge of building and transforming organizations. As I wrote about in December, this usually takes 5 years for things to fully gel.

The teams I built were high performing teams, but we were definitely “aliens” and looked nothing like the traditional mold for what a great hire looked like. At Campbell we hired people who had never worked in “Corporate America”, were bloggers by trade or who grew up in ad agencies. At Walgreens, there wasn’t a single person I hired who had traditional “pharmacy” or “retail” experience. I did however hire one of the smartest social analytics people in the business. He had worked at All-State, which at first you might say, seems the exact opposite of Walgreens. But, from a customer loyalty and retention standpoint, they’re very similar business models. Even at MARC USA, we brought in aliens from corporations like PNC Bank or those who were right out of school and didn’t have habits that needed to be unlearned.

As you build your organization, here’s 3 things to think about:

  1. Understand the tolerance of your organization for aliens. Some companies will tell you they want to change, but in fact, they really don’t want to change the important aspects. The changes they want are surface level or cosmetic. This is crucial. If your organization isn’t ready significant change, quickly, you’ll be setting your new hire up for failure, if they don’t fit the desired mold for max assimilation.
  2. Focus less on what they’ve done in their previous experience and more on what they’ll do (and how) to be successful in your organization. You’ll learn how they plan to leverage their own experiences and how they’re mind works. This will also force you to not look for a cookie cutter hire that fits an arbitrary predetermined set of requirements.
  3. Look for the 5 key skills that make up a Digital Unicorn. Yes, I’m serious. Digital Unicorns are a rare breed. If you can find someone that has 3 of the 5, you’re lucky. If you find 4 out of 5, go play the lottery. And if you find someone with 5 out of 5, send them to me ☺

There’s no guarantee when it comes to talent. Hiring the “best” doesn’t always mean you’ll be successful. Have you seen the performance of the Yankees lately?

But, what is a guarantee is that you’ll always get what you got, if you always do what you always did. Keep hiring the same person over and over and at best, you’ll keep pace with historical performance. However, a more likely scenario is that you’ll see a small drop off every year.

Look for the aliens. They’re out there. They’ll make you feel uncomfortable. But, ultimately they’ll make sure your organization thrives and doesn’t just tread water.

Printworthy Inspires You To Print Your Photos

We take a photo. We share it. We collect it. We upload it. We email it. We put on Facebook. Yeap, we do a lot of things with our photos. But, one thing we don’t do a lot of, is printing those photos. My hats off to the team at Walgreens for bringing Printworthy to market.

There are two projects, when I look back on my career, that I was present to see kick-off…there to see it take shape, but wasn’t around to see it launch. BMW Films was one. The other is Printworthy. I was in the meetings with the Facebook and Photo Teams when this went from a whiteboard to a deck to a sales pitch and to a statement of work. Since leaving Walgreens, I’ve been dying to see Printworthy launch. Well, it launched and it’s freaking killer.


For the first time ever, you can print a photo from Facebook that includes the comments left by your Facebook friends. That’s amazing. Think about it, when you post a photo to Facebook, there’s nothing better than seeing the globe in the header light-up with notifications telling you that people “liked,” commented or shared the photo. There’s a sense of pride that swells. With Printworthy, you get to turn those social and virtual kudos into an element that makes the photo a keepsake.


Well done Zach West, who drove this project from day 1. He pushed, he pulled, he fought for the right idea and he lead a comprehensive team of wicked smart people to create Printworthy. There’s no better feeling in the business world than seeing those who worked with you, reach and exceed their potential.

I think Printworthy is killer and can’t wait to see how my friends, family and colleagues use the platform. It sets a high bar for those in the photo printing space and also reminds us that photo printing isn’t dead…we just needed a reason to print.

Does Pinning Equal Winning?

So have you heard of Pinterest 🙂 Everywhere you look, someone is talking about pinning or actually pinning. Yes, pinning has become part of our lexicon, just as tweeting, liking and checking in have. And this isn’t just anecdotal. Check out the hockey stick traffic growth from Compete.com:

Scary. But, it also means significant opportunity. When you see something like that in terms of growth, you have to pay attention, even when you’re not sure how successful the site/platform will be, long term. But, just because something is big, doesn’t mean that it’s the best for your business.

There’s no shortage of social signals to listen to. From tweets to check-ins and everything in between, we’re constantly looking to find a strong signal amid the noise.

While looking and listening for signals is one part of the equation, providing reasons for people/customers to interact with you is another part. Pinterest is unique in that it provides a solve to nearly the entire formula.

When we evaluate which networks and platforms to invest our time in and focus on, we look to see where are customers are, where they may eventually be and are there signals being created that help drive our business. We also need to carefully consider which part of our business will benefit from that investment and which parts of our business are a natural fit to how people will be using the platform.

With that in mind, we’ve launched two different presences on Pinterest.

One for our Photo Business  and one for our Beauty.com business. Photo and beauty content are a natural fit for a platform like Pinterest that’s designed to provide rich visual stimuli and deliver inspiration. While both of those are key parts of our Pinterest framework, how we act on them is quite different for each presence.

For example, in our Beauty.com account, not only do we showcase products, but also the hot looks and how to recreate them using the products we sell. All of a sudden, we’ve evolved from just showing you product photos in hopes you’ll buy, to giving you a real reason to want the brands we carry. The easy thing to do for Walgreens photo would have been to simply pin every photo product we sell. Instead, we took time to understand our customer and how they were using Pinterest. That lead us to a content strategy that focuses on creative inspiration that’s served up in a fun and interesting way. We showcase not only what you can create with Walgreens photo, but also inspiration to help our customers become more creative in the photos they’re taking. With photo, it’s an end to end way to generate inspiration and creativity.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, being first is fun, exciting and often rewarding. But, it’s also hard being the company that’s leading the way. In this case, exploring Pinterest for Walgreens is not only aligned with our social strategy, but it also requires minimal cost and time investment to participate. That’s a definite win-win…low risk, low financial investment, but high upside.

John Bell, from Ogilvy has stated, “A lot of brands are running too quickly to Pinterest.” This was a similar rhetoric in 1997 when Yahoo, AOL and Google were just becoming household names and again a rhetoric in 2007 with respect to Facebook. Steve Ballmer, famously remarked with respect to Facebook, “I think these things [social networks] are going to have some legs, and yet there’s a faddishness, a faddish nature about anything that basically appeals to younger people.” I think we can safely say, Ballmer was wrong about his POV on Facebook and brands who headed his warning ended up spending significantly to play catch-up to brands that bet on Facebook early.

It’s too early to say, if Pinterest is here to stay or if it will become a Quora, Loopt or Oink! It’s also too early to say if it’ll become the next Facebook, twitter or foursquare. But, one thing that history has proven is getting in late to a social platform sets you back significantly. First mover advantage has exponential acceleration in social media. That’s a big part of why we’re investing our time into Pinterest right now.

Walgreens And foursquare Make It Simple To Check In And Save

Check In, Scan and Save…Amazing!

In keeping with our concept of Return On Amazing, I’m excited and proud that today for the first time EVER when you check in at a Walgreens on foursquare, you’ll receive a scannable coupon for Arizona Iced Tea, directly in the check in. That’s right. 1 step. 1 click. No text to get a coupon. No print out an offer. No show the check in deal to the cashier. Nope, just check in, scan and pay. In the past a “coupon” or monetary value associated with a check-in involved a few extra steps. Not anymore.

So, what does the first time ever mean? Well, for starters, never before have you been able to do this in foursquare. As of today, we are the first and only retailer that foursquare is working with to bring instant coupons to check ins. It also goes without saying that this is the first time Walgreens has ever delivered an instant coupon via check ins.

Walgreens Arizona Iced Tea foursquare Coupon Deal

This is just another way Walgreens is making it rewarding to check in. From flu shot donations to free movies from redbox to Arizona Iced Tea Coupons, we’re looking to make check ins more meaningful.

This is also yet another example of how we’re innovating and investing in mobile. If you’re keeping track, these are all the things we’ve done in the past 6 months

  1. Offers included directly in our award winning Walgreens app
  2. Offers available through SMS
  3. Traditional foursquare check in offers/deals
  4. Tap and pay with Google wallet

Being first is hard. It’s also incredibly fun and insanely rewarding. At Walgreens a big part of our social media strategy is the concept of Return on Amazing. Don’t laugh. Yes, we made it up. But, we needed a way to articulate the concept that big, audacious, bold and amazing ideas are how you win.

Return on Amazing is a way to set the bar for our thinking. It means you need to think beyond the “like.” You need to think beyond the click stream of a “wall post.” Why? Because thinking in such a micro way, is a recipe for short term success…at best. But, ideas that qualify as amazing are often legitimate game changers. And game changers are long term business drivers.

I can’t take all the credit for this major initiative. We pitched this concept to foursquare several months ago. They loved the idea, but at the time it wasn’t on their immediate road map. But, our Return on Amazing philosophy and commitment to speed and innovation were key factors in having them re-prioritize this idea. Over the past 11 months we’ve proven to them that we are committed to innovation and are a partner they could rely on. The same could be said about how we feel about foursquare. Together we’ve brought some truly amazing programs to market.

Once this idea became a real concept, our social and Emerging Media team made sure the experience was simple, safe and secure. All we needed at that point was the right partner and that’s where Arizona came in. They moved as quick as we were and as quick as foursquare was. And in retail, that’s VERY fast. Kudos to the Arizona team for being able to move that quickly and investing in an idea that had never been done before.

As an old mentor of mine coached me, speed wins. In this case, that maxim was a major reason why we were able to be the first and only company to offer real time seamless check in deals. Give it a try. I’d love your thoughts on this initiative and how it compliments everything else we’re doing at the intersection of local, mobile and social.

Needless to say, this is going to be the first of potentially many future initiatives where we’re looking to find that perfect intersection of Social, Mobile and Local marketing to provide value and a fantastic user experience.

Walgreens Launches Social Care

One of the most gratifying parts of my role at Walgreens as head of social media is getting to see other people throughout the organization get excited about the value social media can bring to them, their team, our customers and our patients. When I first started at Walgreens there were so many ideas and so many areas we could prioritize. We needed a strong strategy; something we could rally around; something we could use as a litmus test to evaluate ideas.

As I’ve mentioned many times, for Walgreens, we believe that with social there’s a way to connect our 6 Million Customers with our 250,000 employees every day. Think about that. We have 6 Million customers every single day and we have 250,000 team members that wake up every day ready to help them.

“Connect” was a word we chose carefully. The beauty of the word is that it can enable a multitude of teams to deliver a wide variety of initiatives to keep Walgreens at the forefront of healthcare.

Well, in January, we launched Walgreens Social Care, a cross-team effort to bring even better customer care to our patients. Using the enterprise platforms we chose to manage and evaluate social AND the smarts of our most important asset; our team members we are scaling social across our organization.

We’ve been actively helping our customers in social for years. Even before I joined, our team was proactively reaching out to customers who had a question, wanted to provide feedback or needed help. But, this is a formalization of that dedication to customer care. Walgreens Social Care is just another example of how we’re helping customers by humanizing social media. With more of our customers choosing social media as the first place to turn for connecting with a brand, we felt it was important to launch a more formal destination for them to connect with our team.

Right now, Walgreens Social Care is only available on twitter. This isn’t because we don’t believe care can be provided on other social networks. It’s because we have a belief that insights are important. We leveraged insights from our social media monitoring tools and direct customer feedback. Those insights and feedback helped us understand that when we launched Walgreens Social Care, twitter was the first place to focus. Beyond insights, we also took into account that the twitter eco system is designed for real time personal communication.

Every day we learn something new, this program will impact future decisions about how we provide the best care to our customers. I’m excited to see how we continue evolving Walgreens Social Care and how we can continue to evolve social, as a whole, across our great company. I can’t say enough about our leadership. They continue to support initiatives like this…that we launch as a “pilot,” but a pilot that has a very clear visions for our end state.

Last June, just after I started at Walgreens, I wrote:

From the top to the bottom and across the organization, there’s a belief that social isn’t just an external initiative. We need to make sure we’re setup as an organization to embrace and leverage social. The scope of the role will include leadership across internal, external and supplier initiatives.

Walgreens Social Care is a very clear and honest demonstration of that sentiment. It makes me feel good to know that what I felt then is what I still feel.

We have a long road to go; we all do…any organization that continues to break new ground and boldly enter into social in an enterprise-wide way, has a long road. We can improve. We can get better. We make Walgreens Social Care something bigger, bolder, better and even more valuable. If you have ideas, thoughts or recommendations for how we can become the standard for customer care in social, email me directly. I’d love to get your thoughts.

Fortune Favors The Brave

Audaces fortuna iuvat – that’s latin for “Fortune Favors The Brave” or sometimes depending on the use and interpretation “Fortune Favors The Bold.” Over the years it’s been the rallying cry of several organizations and it’s something I adopted as a mindset years ago. Too often, we shirk from being bold, brave and taking risks. And why not? When a risk goes wrong, everyone looks for someone to point the finger at. I’ve always been ok with that approach. I like being accountable for my decisions. And often, they are bold, they are brave and they are risky. But, they are never ill-informed or not grounded in insights. See, that’s the key to being bold. Don’t be bold to be bold – be bold because your gut and your insights are supporting your decisions.

As I was writing this post, I came across this great post from Kathi Kruse, titled, “The Awesome Power of Bravery in Social Media.” It’s a great read, and not just because she leads with a timely quote from Richard Branson:

The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all!

Yesterday, we launched a very innovative, first of its kind social media program. It was a risky program that some have referred to as a war. It’s often easy to play armchair strategist without knowing the goal, the objectives, the strategy or the final campaign metrics.  I knew when I recommended this program and when we launched it, that the social pseudo-experts would jump all over it.  I knew we’d hear that you shouldn’t “sling mud.” I knew social meda “purists” would argue you shouldn’t pay for “social media.”  There were definitely potential downsides and less than 10% of all the conversation came from those dissenters.  That 10% number isn’t made up. You can do a quick pull of the hashtag #ILoveWalgreens certainly demonstrates a more than 10 to 1 ratio of positive to negative opinions. That ratio was also validated by 2 of our social media monitoring tools. Some of my favorite tweets can be found here.

Certainly, the program wasn’t perfect. No campaign is. We learned a lot.  We learned how to improve. We learned what worked. I also learned, what we’ve always known in this business…everyone thinks they know more than you do!  That’s ok. It comes with the territory. As Richard Branson said, “The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all!” So long as empowered to do so, I’ll keep blazing new paths, new trails, rocking boats and leveraging real insights to drive smart risky decisions.