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Kevin Cate: How Publix lost the power of Powerball

in Apolitical/Top Headlines by

The whole world watched and waited to learn the names of the winners of the $1.5-billion Powerball jackpot last month. Any news, and a lot of non-news speculation, was breaking news.

Then we learned something.

Publix in Melbourne Beach, Florida, sold one of the winning tickets.

It was rewarded $100,000, but, it lost a lot more than that.

While the media gobbled up the sliver of news, and millions of disappointed players moved on with their lives, Publix ignored the most massive earned media and viral publicity opportunity it’s ever had.

First, let’s get something out of the way, we all love Publix. Not just because of the millions it spends in heartwarming advertising, but because it runs great grocery stores, “where shopping is a pleasure.” As a Floridian, naturally, I have friends who work at Publix, and they all seem to love it.

But here’s the deal, Publix lost many millions of positive, viral publicity last month.

Imagine opening up Facebook or Twitter to clickbait like, “Watch: Publix Meets with Employees of Powerball-Winning Store, You Won’t Believe What Happens Next” or “Meet the First Powerball Winners, Regain Faith in Humanity.”

That would have been exactly what you wanted from your Powerball news. Before you knew who the huge jackpot winners were, Publix would have shown you that kindness and the relationships we have with each other are way more important than winning a billion dollars.

Instead of Publix’ spokesman coldly treating the $100,000 store prize as “any other transaction,” and filing it away in the register, according to news reports, they could have split it up among the employees who made the $100,000 store bonus possible.

I’m not sure how the math would have worked out, but I’m guessing, at least, every bagger, cook, cashier, and manager would have walked away with a life-altering amount of kindness and a life-improving bonus. And, of course, Publix would have walked away with millions of dollars worth of heartwarming publicity and public goodwill.

Most of us already know, Publix employees are the people who make shopping a pleasure. They are the people who win Publix the lottery of goodwill they enjoy in Florida, the South, and, I’m sure, eventually throughout the rest of the country.

But, it wasn’t to be. And not because of lack of effort.

I do public relations and advertising for some pretty massive clients. I teach a graduate class on earned media at Florida State University. My calls and emails went unacknowledged.

In my business, we can’t take credit for most of our good ideas, and sometimes, we even give away our best ideas for free, like this one — an idea inspired by the warm, friendly cashiers at my local Tallahassee Publix.

I wish I didn’t have to call out Publix for losing Powerball, but it’s my grocery store.

I’m sure this might cause their public relations department a little heartburn, and I’m sorry, but more importantly, I hope this might remind the rest of us to appreciate and take a minute to thank the workers stocking, preparing, and selling us our food every week.

That would be pretty powerful, too.

• • •

Kevin Cate owns, a public relations, digital, and advertising firm based in Tallahassee, Orlando, and St. Petersburg, Florida.

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