The Best and Worst of CVS' Big News

Unknown-1This morning, the giant CVS drugstore chain made big news by announcing it would no longer sell cigarettes and other tobacco products in its stores, effective later this year.

The company broke through with a national news splash and re-shaped the news day before it began in earnest. Here are a couple of initial observations, with the full disclosure that I worked on PR for CVS’ entrance into the Michigan market in 1999:

They exceptionally orchestrated this announcement, with a 7 a.m. embargo that was honored by every news organization that had the story ahead of time, ready to go. As far as degree or difficulty goes in PR, this is about a “9.” They also set up their CEO for a round of interviews and had a website online with their messaging, in various forms. The strategy and execution of this announcement is a positive case study waiting to happen.

However, what keeps this from being a flawless announcement (if there is such a thing) is that in its messaging, the company does not talk directly to its customers. It seems to talk around them. The CEO’s language is filled with healthcare-ease and corporate-ease, in between powerful lines like “tobacco products have no place in a setting where healthcare is being delivered.” For example, he talks a lot about “outcomes” (a term popular in healthcare circles that consumers don’t use) and an upcoming smoking cessation program that is promised to be “robust” (another favorite in corporate communications that rings hollow for the public). He told CBS, in a quote that ran on the radio World News Roundup, “(this decision) positions us for future growth and the opportunity to play a bigger role in our evolving health care system.” Huh?

It’s important, when making news, to communicate directly to your key audience. In mainstream media, for a retail company, that is customers. Conversational language and a second-person tone using “you” and “your” would have taken this announcement from “really good” to “great.”