April 30, 2013
Maria Brous began her Publix career in 1990 at the age of 14 as a front-service clerk. After spending nine years in the retail market, she turned her attention to the support side of the business as a facilitator in the Education & Training Development Department. In 2002, she became the media and community relations manager for the Miami Division and spent two years in the diverse market, building strong media and community relationships. Brous has a bachelor’s degree in English from Florida Atlantic University and more than 19 years of grocery retail experience.
She is now the director of media and community relations at Publix Super Markets, Inc. in Lakeland, Fla. She is responsible for media strategies and corporate philanthropy for four divisions across five states, and more than 1,000 grocery store locations and the communities they serve.
Why did you decide to go into communications?
Since I was young, I’ve had the gift of communication. I learned at an early age to speak and write with purpose and intent. Having a career in a field and with a company that allows me to be creative and engaged seemed like a natural extension for me.
I started out as a mass communications major in college and graduated with an English degree. I probably changed my major six times, including a short stint in education. I have worked for Publix since I was 14. I started my career in retail, then expanded my knowledge and passion for teaching in our education and training development department. An opportunity arose to put my formal education, passion for Publix and love of interacting with people together as a media and community relations manager.
What does your job entail at Publix?
We have to be flexible and multitask. We don’t often have the luxury of time when it comes to media interviews, so we have to be prepared. Keeping up with current events and national news stories is key. We have to understand what is happening globally and think locally. A lot of my time is spent being an internal company reporter. My job is to anticipate media questions before they are asked.
How does Publix use social media to engage fans and the community?
Publix launched our Facebook page in 2011 and our Twitter accounts this past February. We were aware that we had raving fans engaging on social sites and the one thing that was missing was us.
As a conservative company, we didn’t want to enter the social arena without doing it right. We developed cross-functional teams to study, recommend and implement our social networking strategy. Our commitment to fans was a natural extension of our stores. And we’ve been just that. We have a great social media team that is excited, passionate and creative. They love to engage our customers, whether it’s by answering questions, providing suggestions or sharing our culture and history.
What role does public relations play in building the Publix brand?
Our job is to protect and promote the Publix brand. Communications and public relations are critical in this function. It’s our role to build and nurture relationships with our media partners, community leaders, peer groups and Publix customers. Once we’ve established a relationship, we enhance awareness, which builds trust and brand loyalty. Every company should want customer loyalty because that leads to brand ambassadors and company advocates.
What challenges does Publix face with reaching employees who work in a non-traditional office setting throughout many regional stores?
We have more than 157,000 associates across five states and 1,068 retail locations, so communication is a vital function at Publix. We have a public affairs team, which consists of corporate communications and video production, government relations, media and community relations, social media and customer care and special projects (award submissions/company historian). We work diligently at sharing information, developing messaging that is consistent, internally and externally, and communicating those messages.
Out of challenges come opportunities, and we see our employees as our best opportunity to build customer loyalty.
Publix recently announced its first two locations in North Carolina. What are the challenges of expanding into new markets?
We have been in operation for 83 years in the South, so we are fortunate to have built a brand with great recognition and loyalty among our associates and customers. With this comes an increased awareness and expectation from our associates and communities. As we move into a new state, we do what we do best — build relationships and engage with our community partners who will become Publix shoppers.
It starts at the top. We have a CEO, Ed Crenshaw, and a president, Todd Jones, who understand and believe in the power of doing what is right, taking care of our associates and building relationships within our communities. We don’t have to sell our function or try to convince our leadership of the importance of a communications team. We are entrusted to know our markets, strategy and messages and to execute on those points every day.
Publix is ranked on many lists of the best places to work and has never had a layoff. Describe the corporate culture at the company.
We are proud of the accolades we’ve received from our customers, peer groups, community, but most important, our associates. I’m often asked what makes Publix so successful and our point of differentiation is our associates. We have a culture dedicated to the dignity, value and employment security of our associates; focused on customer value; and involved as responsible citizens in our communities. It’s all about caring for our people. If we take care of our associates, they will take care of our customers.
How does Publix display its socially conscious mindset to customers?
Publix’s continued success depends on sustaining our environment, the people in our company and communities, and our business. Publix has always been committed to the responsible use of environmental resources. We promote this with customers, associates and suppliers, and in the retail industry by offering environmentally friendly products, providing customers and associates with tips for practicing sustainability at home and working with suppliers to identify sustainable product and packaging options.
What advice would you give someone looking to break into the PR profession?
Be passionate. Communicate with intent and purpose. Don’t just get a job — build a career!
Any three dinner guests (past or present)?
President Bill Clinton, President John F. Kennedy and Princess Diana
Best leadership advice you’ve ever received?
People don’t care how much you know, they want to know how much you care.
Managing Editor Amy Jacques interviewed Maria Brous for this month’s member profile.