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Take Care of Your Team and Then Your Community

Posted: Oct 20, 2017, By: Mandy Fernandez and Amy Minchin

Publix Super Markets, Inc., based in Lakeland, is the largest employee-owned grocery chain in the United States. Frequently recognized for its customer service, Publix has 1,155 store locations, including 776 in Florida and 10 in the Greater Pensacola area. Publix also operates distribution centers and manufacturing facilities in Florida.

Dwaine Stevens, public affairs, media and community relations manager for Publix, joined FPRA Pensacola as the guest speaker for the Oct. 19 luncheon at First United Methodist Church of Pensacola. He discussed the supermarket chain’s community engagement and corporate social responsibility, especially in response to Hurricane Irma.

Publix has a robust communication plan. With stores across Florida and the Southeast, the grocery chain trains and educates its employees on protocol for dealing with a crisis and communicating operations before, during and after a crisis.  

“We speak to our team first,” said Stevens. “This way they don’t hear about what’s happening or, in the case of a hurricane, stores closing from someone else. There is a call-in process in place if there is a store closing and our employees are trained on this.”

Stevens said this approach has kept Publix thriving, even through a disaster like Hurricane Irma.  He also shared these tips for being successful amidst a disaster:

1. Take care of your team first. Make sure every person, every employee is accounted for and doing okay. If not, then find out what they need.

2. After the team is okay and in place, then focus on serving the community.  Do what you can. Even something small is better than nothing.  (Note: Publix makes reopening stores after a storm passes a priority, bringing in staff from other areas to assist if necessary, in order to help people coming in to shop for basic needs.)

3. Collaborate with other groups to serve the most people in need. After the storms of 2017, Publix partnered with United Way, Red Cross and another grocery chain to help communities recover.

4. Extend kindness through simple, human gestures because it’s the right thing to do, not for media attention. Stevens explained how Publix donated food items to first responders after 9/11. After storms, the company has taken care of families in need because they could. He said they did it because they knew it would help, but didn’t promote it because it wasn’t necessary and they have no interest in exploiting a bad situation.

5. Be as prepared as you can be. Meet about how to handle different emergency situations. Have spokespersons in place who are trained in dealing with the media.

Stevens also discussed corporate social responsibility. He addressed Publix’s investment in generator power to help stores remain operational, prevent food loss and reduce waste after storms that cause power outages. He said the company learned many valuable lessons from the hurricanes that hit Florida in 2004 and 2005, which has led to more sustainable business practices.

The session was informative and allowed ample time for questions and answers from the audience on the culture at Publix, communicating across districts and preparing statements for media when sound bites are not an option.

Stevens also made the presentation fun, sharing trivia about the two most purchased store items after a recent hurricane: beer and ice cream.

Thank you to Dwaine Stevens for speaking to our chapter. His examples were encouraging and a reminder of our chapter’s theme this year, Purpose in PR, demonstrating how our work can bring great meaning to others. 

Left to Right: Josh Newby, VP of programs, Chapter President Brandi Gomez, and Dwaine Stevens of Publix.