Sainsbury’s: Transforming a Traditional Role

Shopping habits have changed. And in the highly competitive UK retail sector, customer experience is the new battleground for retail differentiation. To capitalise on this, Sainsbury’s, one the UK’s big five grocers, decided to transform one of its traditional roles – and reimagine store management in the process.

Their goal? To create a simpler, more rewarding experience for staff and customers alike. What Sainsbury’s wanted to do was to replace the traditional role of retail or store manager with a new role of Customer & Trading Manager.

This new role gave store managers the freedom to get out of the weeds and really lead teams, for the first time free of operational duties. Essentially, they were creating a new era of retail management. And that needed new skills and a different mindset. Some traditional retail professionals would be able to transition into these new roles, but some wouldn’t have what it takes. So Sainsbury’s needed new talent from the outside.


From the start, we faced some significant challenges:

  • The role was entirely new to the market, so we had to explain the new, unfamiliar employment proposition clearly to audiences both inside and outside of retail.
  • The role of retail manager had a real image problem; it was seen as a transactional role that often saw you stuck on the registers.
  • The media were confusing the issue – we had to deal with several misleading, negative reports of large-scale retail redundancies.


Sainsbury’s considered this to be one of their biggest recruitment challenges. They asked us to challenge and overturn negative public perceptions of retail management, introduce and embed an entirely new type of role and hire 2,400 managers, from 24,000 applications, in just six months.


First, we took apart the job profile to challenge the requirements. It was clear that the single most motivating benefit of the role was the potential to be a leader, and to get the very best from a team. That suggested that the best candidates for this new type of retail role didn’t necessarily need retail experience.

We wanted to reconnect people with the emotional core of what’s great about management. It meant presenting the role – and Sainsbury’s – in a new light. So, we stripped away the language associated with the job day to day, and instead put the focus back on employees as people.


We developed an overarching campaign message – Leading Starts Here – to clearly state our employment offer.

And then to bring it to life, we used the following concept as our organising thought:

We all need someone to inspire us.

This universal, relatable truth was what we talked about as we worked to capture the moving stories of individuals who have overcome huge obstacles – everything from low self-esteem to disability – with the help of inspirational leaders.


Video was our chosen vehicle. Our diverse cast reflected Sainsbury’s approach as an inclusive employer and included people from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds, people with common mental health issues and people with disabilities. While some of the responses were scripted, the strongest were spontaneous reactions to the simple prompt, tell me about someone who inspired you.


We used geo-located and behavioral targeting on search and social media to put our videos in front of audiences across the hospitality, travel, cabin crew, leisure and care industries. Videos were edited, cropped and optimised for each format.

The campaign featured a blended approach of active and passive channels:

  • Active channels included Indeed and a wide variety of other job boards, Google Search and Google Display Network.
  • Passive channels included social media, billboards in key locations near major offices, newspapers and other online destinations.
  • We created 69 individual pieces of artwork, a campaign landing page with the hero video and an in-store toolkit, which included pull-up banners, poaching cards, posters, leaflets and stickers – everything a store needed to amplify the campaign.


10:1: High quality candidates with application to hire ratio of less 10:1.
19,000: Over 19,000 applications received in first 12 weeks.
4,500 hires made.
69 content pieces.
£71 attraction cost per hire.
1 MILLION: Close to a million people engaged with the brand as part of the campaign.
376,986: After 12 weeks, the campaign had generated 376,986 clicks across online paid media. This has been achieved at an average cost per click of just £0.59.
462,168: The core film has been played 462,168 times and counting, receiving extremely positive feedback, praising its inclusive message. After 12 weeks, the campaign had generated 19,000 applications (beating our 12-week target by 171%).