Walgreens’ Laurie Blair speaks on commitment to customers and communities

If it had been an in-person event, there would have been gasps throughout the room.

During the online AMA Chicago Signature Speaker Series presentation on Wednesday, September 2, Laurie Blair—Senior Director of Brand and Retail Marketing at Walgreens—kept returning to the retailer’s focus on caring for the community. And then she showed this image:

A Walgreen’s store had been looted and burned during riots following the murder of George Floyd.

How did the company respond?

We opened mobile pharmacies in many of these areas because they needed us,” Blair said. “There can be 30 years difference in life expectancy between the north and south sides of Chicago, and some of the communities hardest hit by the looting have the worst health disparities.”

Brands? That’s what true commitment looks like.

“We’re open, we’re safe, and we have what you need.”

The United States hadn’t faced a pandemic on the scale of COVID-19 in more than a century. Many retailers were forced to close, and most had time to step back and formulate re-opening plans.

Walgreens didn’t have that option.

“We were one of the few retailers deemed essential from the beginning of the pandemic,” Blair said. “Right away we had to figure out how to make sure people could get their medications, and how to keep our team members safe. Our team met every day, asking ‘What do we need to deploy today?’”

Their essential message to customers: “We’re open, we’re safe, and we have what you need.”

During those hectic early weeks, Blair said the pandemic “shone a lens” on the importance of the company’s mission to be at the intersection of health and happiness.

“We were unified on a single focus—the customer,” Blair said. “That lens was our brand purpose. We realized that is the way back—to rally around our customer focus.”

“In the last six months, we pushed ourselves ahead ten years.”

Staying open and safe was huge—but it wasn’t enough. Walgreens had to innovate new ways to serve its customers and continue its commitment to the community.

“We will never go back to shopping the way we once did,” Blair said. “In the last six months, we pushed ourselves ahead ten years. We asked ourselves, ‘What assets do we have, and how can we expand them as quickly as possible?’”

Telemedicine was one immediate answer, Blair said.

“People were scared to go to the doctor,” she said. “They had questions about symptoms and didn’t know where to go.”

Other initiatives needed accelerated development and deployment.

“We had been talking for years about Buy Online, Pickup In-Store (BOPIS),” Blair said. “We had trials underway, but that all went out the window when we had to focus on safer shopping. In three to four weeks, we went from zero products available to full-store selection with BOPIS availability.”

Most challenging of all Walgreens’ initiatives to activate? COVID-19 test sites.

“Our president was on the White House lawn, pledging to be one of the first retailers to launch test sites. But there was so much uncertainty. There was no playbook. We scoped out the right locations and tested different routes for cars. And we had to quickly develop the right marketing, including partnering with Google to get an exception to use restricted search terms.

“We started with 15 sites and scaled to more than 300, most of them in underserved communities. To date, we’ve conducted 650,000 tests.”

“How can you put on a Red Nose without touching your face?”

Red Nose Day is Walgreens’ most visible commitment to communities, raising millions each year to give kids in poverty the education, food and shelter they need.

But when COVID-19 hit, one of the first health measures people learned was to avoid touching their faces, Blair said.

“How can you put on a Red Nose without touching your face?” Blair said. “Driving people to the store to buy a red nose that you put on your face was not the path that we could go down. So we found a new path.”

The new path? A digital Red Nose Day campaign in which website visitors who donated got a link to unlock a red nose filter on Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram. The campaign earned more than a billion earned impressions and raised more than $35 million.

Reinventing a beloved campaign on the fly, under the pressure of a global pandemic? To Blair, it’s one of many examples that demonstrates “When you have a single focus, you can make magic happen.”

See the presentation for yourself

See Laurie’s full presentation with a recording of this event for just $30. You’ll gain immediate access to the recording to watch today, or any time through December 31, 2020.

Join AMA Chicago for More Online Signature Speaker Series

If you missed Walgreens’ Laurie Blair, don’t worry. You will have more opportunities to participate in AMA Chicago’s newest event – the Signature Speaker Series.

Sign up for the next Signature Speaker Series event, scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Dec. 3, and featuring Salesforce’s Matthew Sweezey, who will talk about new technological advances that marketers must be aware of in the ever-changing world of marketing.

Thanks to our Signature Speaker Series sponsors:

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