Sometimes a Cigar is Not a Cigar.

Once upon a time (in the early 1980s) I was an account executive with Burson-Marsteller/Chicago. One of my accounts was the National LP Gas Association and gas prices were soaring, which was good for the propane industry. So good in fact that Ford Motor Co. was retrofitting some of its vehicles with propane tanks and we (NLPGA and B-M) were holding a press conference on the south side of Chicago to watch the vehicles come off the assembly line. It was a big story for us, but the media was only mildly interested in attending… until a fire broke out at some factory along S. Torrence Avenue, just down the road from the Ford facility.

Suddenly there were media everywhere. And after they covered the fire, they came to watch our retrofitted vehicles roll off the assembly line. The resulting coverage was phenomenal, but you won’t find any evidence of it in my professional portfolio. After all, if it were not for the fire, the media would not have come.

Anyway, this morning I read that Walgreens is pretty stoked that its focus on core consumer needs is paying off, with both sales and profits for the first quarter of its fiscal year hitting record levels. According to the story, “Some of the company’s record results are directly linked to flu-fretting consumers: It [Walgreens] says it jabbed 5.4 million flu shots into consumers’ arms in the quarter, up from 1.2 million last year.”

The smoke made me think about the fire on South Torrence.

president and CEO Greg Wasson says the success of its flu shot campaign proves that “consumers across the country value the services of community pharmacists. Our center of gravity continues to be the community pharmacy.” Wasson says it was the largest flu shot campaign in its history, and calls it “one of the best-executed initiatives in my 30 years at Walgreens.”

Maybe. Or perhaps the endless barrage of media coverage warning consumers of the worst flu epidemic the world has experienced in a century had something to do with it. Maybe the five million people who came to Walgreens would have gone to Starbucks or even Macy’s if they were giving out the shots.

In the words of Cindy Wang, “I’m just saying… give the fire a little credit.”

Jim Sweeney


Jim is a veteran of the agency industry and the founder of Sweeney. He is uncommonly passionate about the idea of creating and implementing insanely great marketing campaigns that achieve insanely great results. He pioneered the full-service, full-circle agency model and continues to forge new ideas in an ever-changing industry. And he is accessible to everyone about anything, seemingly all the time, serving as a mentor to all agency personnel and clients.