In this exclusive Q&A with Paul Macaluso, president of McAlister’s Deli, we learn how the company partners with social media influencers to help them tell their brand story.
Franchise Chatter (FC): What is your background in the franchising world, and how did you start at McAlister’s Deli?
Paul Macaluso (PM): I began my franchising career over 20 years ago at Taco Bell as a company-owned Restaurant General Manager.
My first franchisee-facing role was as a Franchise Business Consultant, helping franchisees and licensees to profitably operate and grow the brand.
Next, I spent several years as a Field Marketing Manager with both Taco Bell and later with Burger King, which helped me to appreciate the value of strong local marketing, integrated with strong national marketing.
I went on to spend time in Product Marketing at Burger King and then at Sonic, continuing to advance my career in the marketing department, including roles in merchandising, media, consumer insights and brand positioning.
In 2011, I joined FOCUS Brands as the VP of Marketing for Moe’s Southwest Grill, helping to take Moe’s from a super-regional to a national brand.
Following that, I spent 2 years leading brand marketing strategy across all six of our brands. During that time, I served as the Marketing Committee Chair of the Southeast Franchise Forum.
In December 2016, I was selected to be Brand President for McAlister’s Deli. For someone who started their career as a Restaurant General Manager, it is a dream come true.
FC: What sets the McAlister’s brand apart from other fast casual restaurants in the industry?
PM: McAlister’s sets itself apart from the industry in multiple ways. Genuine hospitality is at the root of our brand and we strive to offer that little something extra to our guests when they dine with us.
Secondly, our neighborhood restaurants are more than just a place to eat. They have become community gathering places where we regularly see and welcome families, groups of friends, sports teams and the like, to relax and stay awhile as they enjoy great food and great company.
And lastly, a major component that keeps our guests coming back is that we take great pride in offering real handcrafted food and delicious sweet tea that’s simple, yet elevated and always made-to-order using the freshest and finest ingredients.
We partner with our franchisee and company operators to ensure they have the tools to not only support our vision, but truly live it and go above and beyond to make sure their team does so as well.
FC: How many McAlister’s Delis are there?
PM: We currently have more than 380 McAlister’s Delis open across the country in 28 states.
FC: Tell us about the McAlister’s campaigns for National Sandwich Day in November and more recently, Valentine’s Day.
PM: The National Sandwich Day and Valentine’s Day campaigns were our first forays into activating social media influencers to help us tell our brand story. We decided National Sandwich Day was the perfect first project since our club sandwich is so iconic.
We teamed up with select food artists with great social followings and had them create sandwich art using the ingredients featured in our club sandwich. Not only were the creations amazing pieces of art that captured general attention, but they also catapulted our brand into the buzzed about Sandwich Day topic in a unique and fresh way – and to an audience who may not have been familiar with our offerings.
For Valentine’s Day, we wanted to rewrite the assumed “rules” of the holiday. We believe in celebrating families of all shapes and sizes and hoped to turn Valentine’s Day into a family affair. To make it easier for families, we offered a kids-eat-free promotion for the holiday and also gave away a year’s worth of free family date nights at McAlister’s.
We partnered with social influencers who focus on family to host their own family date night at a local McAlister’s, or to post about how they make time for their family, while sharing the news about our promotions.
We were pleasantly surprised at how engaged the influencers were, how strongly the message resonated with their followers, and the high-level conversations that occurred. Our franchisees saw and felt a special buzz on Valentine’s Day and we think influencers had a role in making that happen.
The Valentine’s Day campaign was a home run on all fronts and really showed that if we find influencers who naturally align with our brand messaging, their authentic voices shine through and resonate at a very high rate.
FC: What made you decide to integrate digital influencers into these campaigns?
PM: We picked National Sandwich Day and Valentine’s Day to integrate influencers because there was a natural buzz worthiness to both promotions and knew they lent themselves to unique and eye-catching content, which are key in standing out on social platforms.
FC: How did the success of these campaigns contribute to McAlister’s overall business goals?
PM: Our business goals are intertwined with our overall brand goals, so when we are able to tell our story and have it resonate with both our established guests and potential new customers, it’s a win.
Seeing success on the financial side, while necessary to run a business, is an added bonus. When you put the focus on your customer and their experience with the product and brand, the financial success will naturally follow.
FC: What advice would you provide readers for implementing digital, integrated campaigns across their franchises?
PM: We have a team that is dedicated to digital and they are closely integrated with our brand team. If anyone is looking to step up their digital campaigns, I highly suggest investing in the support system and brain power behind it all, because it’s not something you just throw together.
Having the right team behind the magic is only half of the puzzle, though. Being supportive, open and approachable with your franchisees earns their trust and participation. If it wasn’t for everyone on the ground supporting our initiatives, we wouldn’t be able to pull them off. It’s truly a full team – in-house and field – effort to make digital campaigns a success.
FC: How can our readers learn more about franchising opportunities with McAlister’s Deli?
PM: Readers interested in franchise opportunities with McAlister’s Deli can head to www.McAlistersDeliFranchise.com for a wide range of details or they can call 888-855-DELI (3354) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.