In an interview, Mehra notes that Walgreens has been undergoing a “massive digital transformation of the business” across touchpoints including pharmacy, retail and omnichannel; it’s also been expanding its loyalty programs and forming technology partnerships with giants such as Microsoft.
“It’s now time to bring that same digital transformation, that drive and desire, into our marketing and communications partner,” he says, adding that the work will include media, programmatic, creative and internal and external communications.
Walgreens Boots Alliance spends roughly $280 million on measured media in the U.S., according to Comvergence, which estimates that $182 million is spent solely on the Walgreens brand.
Aaron Radelet, senior VP, global chief communications officer, says Walgreens is a global company doing work in 25 countries. “We’ve got great brands that people know and trust,” he says. “We want to continue to build on them and have an agency partner that can help.”
In 2017, Walgreens selected a bespoke team at WPP, called Team WBA, to handle its global account following a review that lasted a year. WPP declined to comment regarding the company’s participation in Walgreens’ new review. On background, a person close to the business said that the new RFP is "a statutory review" and WPP is defending.
Mehra says the company is again looking for a bespoke team to reflect Walgreens’ modern marketing and mass personalization strategies and notes WPP is a strong contender. “The kind of agency structure required to do that will need to be pretty unique.” He says Walgreens is looking to wrap up the review by the end of the year.
Walgreens is the first major marketer to issue a substantially large RFP since COVID-19 began. WPP CEO Mark Read recently told Ad Age that pitches have been moving more slowly than usual and that most large pitches have been put on hold. The ones that are continuing were generally launched before the pandemic hit full swing.
For the quarter that ended Feb. 29, Walgreens reported a 3.7 percent sales rise to $35.8 billion, and net earnings of $952 million. However, as the pandemic took hold in March, Walgreens executives reported a sales uptick in the first part of the month followed by a decline in same-store sales after lockdowns took effect. Yet in March, while some formerly key categories like beauty were down, others, such as food grocery, were up substantially. The health and wellness category was up 30 percent in March, Kehoe said.
Contributing: Lindsay Rittenhouse