Follow the example of Walgreen World to create a publication that's engaging, readable—and compelling enough for employees to hang on their wall
Many corporate editors talk about competing with the likes of People
and Sports Illustrated
for employees’ attention—but at Walgreens
, most workers pass by the competition dozens of times a day, on the retailer’s own sales racks.
Those workers—the 150,000 or so of the company’s 226,000 employees—are editors’ primary audience because, says editor Brodie Bertrand, “The people who work in our stores have the most direct impact on the bottom line.”
Only about 10 percent of these employees have access to computers on a daily basis, making a printed piece a must.
But that printed piece also must be immensely engaging and readable—not only because of the competition, but because of a diverse readership (everyone from “the teenage cashier to the baby boomer pharmacist who fills your prescriptions,” Bertrand says) and time constraints.
Previous reader surveys showed 64 percent of the audience, read the magazine in the store’s break room during 15-minute breaks or over a half-hour lunch, the editor says.
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That the company’s internal magazine, Walgreen World, has neatly triumphed over all of these challenges for nearly 75 years (its anniversary is next December) is a credit to an editorial team that has constantly looked for ways to evolve.
Evolution of a magazine and its leadership
Liz Muhler was editor of Walgreen World
from 2000 to 2006 and managing editor before that.
“My background was in magazine journalism, and I brought a lot of consumer magazine experience with me when I came to Walgreens,” she says. “Knowing what sells on the newsstand helped me tweak Walgreen World
so it would be more like a consumer magazine than an internal publication.”
When Muhler joined the company, the magazine was packed with human interest stories; the next editor favored a heavier business focus.
“I like to think I blended the best of both by focusing on human interest stories that relate to the business—or, put another way, always finding people who could illustrate the point I was trying to make in a business story,” she says.
|Company: Walgreen Co.
First issue published: December 1933
Circulation: About 100,000
Format: Bimonthly four-color, 24 page, magazine on 80-pound Opus Satin
Budget: About 65 cents per copy
Size of editorial staff: 5 full-time (editor, managing editor, two writers, administrative assistant/translator)
Editor: Brodie Bertrand
Along the way, Muhler kept her readership in mind.
“I’m a big believer in [communication consultant] Ann Wylie’s concept of 30-3-30—one third of readers will spend 30 seconds with the mag, one third will spend three minutes with it, one third will spend 30 minutes with it—and tried to plan and design a magazine that would have something in each issue for each of those readers,” she says.
Design-wise, Muhler was lucky to be the managing editor when the magazine moved to four-color in 1999. “Ever since then,” she says, “we’ve always been working to create a lively, engaging design that offers a balance of consistency between stories and issues with a fresh look for each piece.”
Current editor Bertrand was the first intern to work in Walgreens’ corporate communications department. Later he was hired as a writer and became managing editor.
In the editor role since July, Bertrand has built on the efforts of Muhler (who moved to a freelance role in the company’s communication department) to mimic the best of consumer journalism and design. Most notably, he’s cut back on longer features and added more digestible news briefs.
“We just continue to try and outdo our previous issues thereby raising the bar a little with each issue,” he says.
Support from the top
Luckily, company leaders also tend to be happy with what communicators are publishing in Walgreen World.
“They never cut WW
during tight budget years, they always gave us tons of story ideas and provided us with access we needed to people and stores for interviews and photo shoots,” Muhler says.
Both Bertrand and Muhler tip their hats to Division Vice President Laurie Meyer.
“Laurie Meyer built up a lot of respect for the pub in her days as editor,” Muhler says. “I always said she made it easy for me because whenever I called and said I was with Walgreen World, people always made time for me and got me what I needed.”
In many cases, time is not what editors need more of; indeed, they’d like to shorten the magazine’s lead time.
“We have to print about a month before the employee sees it in their store,” Bertrand says. “This makes it hard to respond to last-minute headlines that are fresh in employees’ minds.”
But the magazine’s lack of set sections and departments helps.
“When our second chairman, Charles Walgreen Jr., died in February 2007, I was already proofing the March/April issue,” the editor says. “But we worked fast to add an obituary page in that issue, so we didn’t have to wait until May to publish something.”
This thinking-on-their toes mentality combined with constantly evolving fresh content and design is part of what secured the Walgreen World team the grand prize in last year's Ragan Recognition Awards.
But the more important recognition comes from the people who look forward to reading the magazine six times a year.
“I had a district manager stop by my office a few months ago to thank us for our work,” Bertrand recalls. “He also said that he frames and hangs every issue on his wall in his office.
“I figure if Walgreen World is something that people appreciate enough to hang on their wall, then I think we’re doing an OK job.”
Why Walgreen World works
- A concise but conversational tone keeps readers informed and interested.
- Bring readers into the pub through multiple feedback channels and by featuring their editorial talents occassionally.
- Achievement-oriented stories boost support from the front line and the C-suite.