David Harnish: Loss of a Multimedia Giant

David Harnish: Loss of a Multimedia Giant

David Harnish, longtime manager of Walgreens’ Meetings and Media Department, has passed.

It is devastating for his wife Nancy, brother Paul, and his Walgreens co-workers of his expansive career at Wilmot Rd.

My fellow employees at Brien Lee Creative Solutions / VideoStory know how devastating this is for creative types throughout the Chicago and Milwaukee markets.

I last saw David at his retirement party in 2016. It was an amazing gathering of his fellow employees and bosses, closest suppliers, and by videotape, a procession of current and prior Walgreens CEOs.

I first met David when he and his then department head came up to Milwaukee when I was working at Visuals Plus. I had hosted a show and tell in Chicago of the then magic video box, the TVL. The TVL Director, as it was called, was a precursor to today’s big-time video graphics boards. It allowed for limited computer video editing, special effects, smooth speaker support, and timed audio-visuals shows comprised of images and a soundtrack, much like the enhanced slide shows that had preceded it.

The owner of Visuals Plus was attracted to the boss, naturally, but I figured out who the power player really was– David. He knew about technology; he seemed to understand meetings. After the boss duo had grabbed an elevator, I said to David, “I know who’s really running the show.” He smiled.

Over the course of the next few months, we hit it off, and what started as a new way to create slides became an opportunity to create a couple of “modules” for their upcoming managers meeting. Here’s the thing– David didn’t tell anyone he had contracted for this. Up until that time, he had used “rental modules” produced in multimedia widescreen slides to start and end his meetings. No one, not even the President of the company, was aware of what he was doing.

The two three-screen videos we produced were an opening Americana piece, showing how Walgreens was a coast-to-coast part of American lives, and an original rock song which featured a wide range of Walgreens people mouthing the words to the song, some in humorous situations.

They had a major impact. For one thing, they codified Walgreens’ corporate image. For another, they made the audience feel good about themselves and their role in the company.

That started a nearly 25 year partnership that bi-annually answered the question, “How do we top that?”

Every time a meeting was announced we met at the Greek Restaurant in Gurnee, Illinois to come up with a creative direction, usually based on a theme (for instance, “The Magic of Balance”) that the execs had dreamed up.

And everytime, there was technological and creative growth.

The other part of David’s impact on me personally came after Visuals Plus closed its doors suddenly in 1994. When 1995 arrived, I was working for TVL as a Marketing Director. It was a home office job, and by this time others at Visuals Plus had started their own companies. But I felt the rug had been pulled out from under me, and didn’t take any creative job offers that had come my way. In fact, I convinced TVL to rent an inexpensive office in Milwaukee so I could do Demos.

Then I got a call from David. “I have a meeting coming up.” We jointly decided it would be advantageous to bring the gang together once again. I started a new business, which David named “Brien Lee Creative Solutions” and we picked up where we left off, now fully into video meetings. Our best work was yet to come, including a mixed media stage show celebrating Walgreens’ 100th Anniversary. (I love anniversary shows).

David was always the guy Walgreens came to for communications advances. We partnered on many of these, like interactive DVD’s, starting up the in-house video network, e-learning systems, video compression for the network, non-linear video editing and more.

I was especially proud when David’s boss, Jim Schultz, invited my small company to attend David’s 25th anniversary party at Walgreens. It had incredible meaning for my staff and I.

In 2011, David was asked to do a timelapse video of the buildout of a new Duane Reade store at the Trump Building near Wall Street in New York. This was so successful, it lead to two more “time lapse stories” for store new stores in San Francisco and the “Net Zero Energy” store in Evanston, Illinois.

This brought us to 2014.

Those who knew him know what a talented, sweet guy he was. I know he worried about everything, partially because of his drive to be more creative, a better boss, a better husband and friend, and the best “Keeper of the Flame” Walgreens will ever see. The only words I could think of when I learned of his passing was “HE WAS A GIANT.” My condolences to Nancy, Paul, and all his friends and cohorts– we all are better for have knowing David.

I am attaching below two things: David’s 50th Birthday video, and a write-up I did in 2007 recalling most of the work we had done together until that point. Both bring back memories of David driving through empty ballrooms in his golf-cart. You’ll find both below.