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The Interview: David Macdonald, Director of Communications, Global Brands & International Retail at Walgreens Boots Alliance

Gaelle Walker
10 March 2021

A personal passion for wellbeing, health and beauty, combined with expertise in communications, finance and tech, has seen David Macdonald become a key cog within the workings of health and beauty powerhouse Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA).

As head of the team that manages brand PR, corporate and internal comms for WBA’s consumer packaged goods business (including the No7, Liz Earle, Soap & Glory, Botanics and Sleek MakeUP brands) as well as international retail, David’s role has always held a wide remit.

However, its one which has been broadened yet further in recent months; with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic having prompted the team to explore and embrace innovative new ways of communicating, not just with consumers but also with the media, wider industry and of course, each other.

Tell us a little bit about your career background?

I have worked in PR and communications for 20 years, starting out in technology PR. I loved working with incredible experts and discovered that beauty was underpinned by amazing science.

I moved to L’Oreal in 2008 and have worked in the industry pretty much ever since then, both in brand and corporate communication as well as CSR and philanthropy.

Liz Earle

What’s the best bit about your job?

I love surprising people who sometimes question our industry. In the past year for example, we have moved to virtually opening the doors to our labs, inviting the media and influencers in to see how we innovate and create ground-breaking products.

We have also just completed a project with the British Beauty Council on the creation of a film that profiles the incredible scientists who took years to create our Line Correcting Booster Serum.

It’s great to see people amazed by the power of beauty on self-esteem and from a business perspective. Not to mention the thousands of incredibly talented people that work behind the scenes to bring much-loved products and campaigns to consumers.

And the most challenging?

I have just finished reading a book called ‘The Obstacle is the Way’, so am firmly of the mind that any challenge is an opportunity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly created numerous challenges for us all, but together we have already overcome so many.

For us as a business, one of the biggest challenges has been finding new ways to stay in touch with our consumers and that’s mostly been through innovative new digital experiences.

In communications, we have connected expert spokespeople with the media to provide consumers with advice and information on how to look after their skin in lockdown. I’m so proud to work with our incredible advisors who, using technology are working in new ways to provide digital consultations and support.

The pandemic has forced us to find new ways of working, new ways of using our time and focus and I have been blown away by the camaraderie and collaboration colleagues have shown.

No7 Virtual beauty advisor

Please describe the impact that COVID-19 has had on your role specifically in the past year…

Communications has played a very important role in keeping our people connected. We have used video more than ever, upped the frequency of our newsletters and used online platforms like Microsoft Teams in new inventive ways.

We’ve also listened to our colleagues like never before, and found new ways of reaching our consumers with expert advice – in fact, we all worked together to create our first ever digital only launch for the No7 Advanced Retinol 1.5% Complex Night Concentrate last summer which was an incredible success.

No7 Advanced Retinol

What has the biggest learning been?

There have been so many learnings. Given the physical distance we all face and the challenges we all have in our personal lives dealing with the current situation, empathy wins over for me.

Taking time to listen and understand how our colleagues are feeling and the situations they are facing has really made the difference.

From a business perspective, the ability to adapt quickly and to find new ways to overcome problems has led to the greatest successes.

There are so many things that we used to take for granted and those who have won through have fearlessly tried new approaches and looked for opportunities among adversity.

Will we ever return to the “old ways” of working?

I am excited about getting back to the office and I am sure that many others will look forward to being together again. We have learnt so much about digital communication over the past year and I think we will see new, inventive and collaborative ways of working that will mix both old and new.

What do we have to look forward to from No7 in 2021?

We have just launched our ‘Unstoppable Together’ campaign in the US, in response to the unprecedented challenges of the past year and its impact on working women. We will be doing more to support our consumers when they need it.

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