PR effort enables Wegmans supermarket to open store fully staffed

The Wegmans expedition division team was concerned about recruiting employees in time for the opening of its Princeton, New Jersey-area store, where unemployment hovered around 2-1/2%. Wegmans had budgeted for a major recruitment advertising program and worked hard to devise innovative compensation programs to lure people from area restaurants and retailers. “Wait a minute!” I said. “There is a better way.” While the Wegmans shopping experience defies description and its customers form a cult following in Upstate New York, few in New Jersey had ever heard of the company. Advertising by itself would be throwing away money. First, we needed to help people understand the magnitude of what was coming to town. We needed to explain how the Wegmans family earned Fortune Magazine’s designation among the country’s best companies to work for. And we needed to whet their appetite for its gourmet, prepared foods. The primary focus was to create value for Wegmans beyond salary and benefits, to differentiate opportunities with Wegmans from other employment opportunities, to establish credibility and to make people want to work for the company. This was a job for PR. 

Job Fair

We recommended focusing on the company’s most appealing point of differentiation: its food. Job fairs featured chefs preparing sizzling cuisine, ideal for consumption by TV cameras. We used the low unemployment rate to promote our employee benefits packages and secured ample TV and print media coverage. While the store was under construction, we setup media tours at the company’s nearest location, Allentown, Pennsylvania, and secured front-page coverage in several newspapers, as well as a cover feature in a key trade magazine. Once the editors and reporters experienced Wegmans, we reasoned, they would become our loudest cheerleaders. And they did.

Believe the hype

We secured coverage in regional business publications focusing on the business side of the supermarket wars; in the food sections of key newspapers focusing on Wegmans’ chefs and their gourmet prepared foods; and in regional news sections showcasing the store’s European-designed brick ovens, French patisserie and other issues to drive waves of coverage prior to the opening.

On the radio

Reaching the harried, professional consumers that comprise the core of Wegmans audience demanded airtime on the radio. While advertising during the morning drive time was costly, we devised a strategy to secure live, on-air PR coverage. Showcasing the talents of the executive chef, we coordinated a tour whereby the chef cooked gourmet breakfast on the air during the morning drive at key radio stations. On WPST, the most critical station in our campaign, we earned more than 15 minutes of coverage, the kind of positive, credibility-building coverage that simply cannot be purchased by advertising. Over the course of a few weeks, I frequently overheard people talking about Wegmans at the gym, the diner and the shopping malls.

Once the PR program created interest and built buzz, the classified ad space could be used to tout the innovative compensation packages rather than on explaining the company history. Job fairs became more heavily attended and the quality of applicants improved. Interviewing and hiring moved smoothly. Wegmans became widely known and respected in the Princeton area. We stirred an intense curiosity among consumers. By opening day, the store was fully-staffed with the personable, highly trained staff that has made Wegmans synonymous with passion and service.

Common Sense Marketers Know:

1. PR builds the credibility and name brand awareness that adds value to employee compensation packages, attracts qualified applicants and boosts the impact of recruitment advertising.

2. The impact of PR may be increased exponentially by transforming articles, TV and radio appearances and other clips into job fair displays, applicant information kits, employee benefit brochures, company videos, Web content and other materials.