Annual Report

Walgreens annual report brings its strategy to life with compelling customer and employee stories

The drugstore chain knows how to personify its ethics, business plan, and goals in its publications better than almost any other American corporation.

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Walgreens has done it again. 

From beginning to end, its 2012 annual report is a model of interesting, crystal clear, jargon-free writing. The whole report is cunningly understated, people-centric, and directed at one audience: Walgreens shareholders. 

That is why the 2012 Walgreens Annual Report won the Best Annual Report category in Ragan’s 2012 Employee Communications Awards.

This annual report puts living faces on each of the company’s five biggest business goals:

  1. To transform the traditional drugstore into a health and daily living destination.
  2. To advance the idea of Walgreens as THE community pharmacy.
  3. To delight customers with an outstanding experience through enhanced employee engagement.
  4. To expand across new channels and markets.
  5. To reinvent Walgreens’ cost structure by continuous improvement and innovation.

The “Letter to Shareholders,” as usual in Walgreens publications, could serve as a model of business writing for MBAs. It is devoid of rhetoric. It says what it says clearly and simply. It explains what Walgreens has done and what it still has to do to realize its goals. The prose is a pleasure to read—it even looks inviting and readable.

The “Letter” is long, true, but one reads it marveling at the effectiveness of plain words in the service of everyday business.

The next 10 pages hold stories of customers, employees, and vendors whose lives and work illustrate the five big ideas (see above) behind Walgreens’ new business model:

  • An Indianapolis police officer whose dependence on Walgreens for groceries and staples other than drugs grows as his young family quickly grows from three to five.
  • A 60-year-old diabetic Texas park ranger who learns to control his blood sugar better from his Walgreens pharmacist.
  • A masterly prose snapshot of a middle-aged Puerto Rican woman who teaches low-income children in San Juan being pampered at the upscale LOOK boutique in the Walgreens flagship store in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

But it’s the “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Operations and Financial Condition” section of the annual report that compels astonishment. This statement takes up 25 pages of crowded, dense, 9- or 10-point sans serif type. The very typeface and point size is an excuse for corporate jargon, euphemisms, bad grammar, confusing syntax, typos, smoke screens, and obfuscation if there ever was one.

Instead, the “Management’s Discussion” section is as clearly written, literate, interesting, and to the point as the “human-interest” first part of the annual report. Not one word in this report is allowed to serve as routine, time-killing verbiage. That is remarkable.

Moriah Simpson is the editor responsible for all of this telling elegance, clarity, and understated persuasiveness.

To view the winning work, click here.

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