Plum Benefits gives D.C. employers a new way to reward employees

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October 14, 2012

It’s busy season at Raffa Financial Services, a Rockville-based firm that works with employers to provide benefit packages to their employees.

As many companies look to recalibrate their benefit offerings for their annual open enrollment period, they’re dealing with tight budgets and rising health-care costs.

“Employers want to know what else they can do to attract and retain their employees without adding expenses,” said Andrea Dykes, the company’s director of insurance services.

That goal prompted Raffa to start working with Plum Benefits, a service that formally launched in the Washington area in October that gives employers a free way to offer perks to their employees.

Plum contracts with local arts and sports venues to get exclusive discounts on tickets to a variety of entertainment events. Those bargain-priced tickets are then available to workers at participating employers.

“Really our mission is to make that employer look good. And make the employee appreciate where they work, but also where they live,” said Michael Civello, the director of client relationships at Plum Benefits.

Some of its offerings have included discounted tickets to a Washington Wizards game and a Shakespeare Theater Company production.

Since Plum is free for employers, the company makes its money off of the commission from ticket sales, which is paid by the venue or organization holding the event. In that way, Civello said the company functions on a “pay-for-performance” model, in which it only makes money when it succeeds at filling seats.

Civello said Plum set up shop in Washington because the region has the right chemistry for it to succeed: It has a host of established cultural venues and a wide mix of corporations.

“I know it’s extremely important that the District of Columbia in particular establish a hometown vibe,” Civello said. At Plum, he added, “We have a way to do that. We are speaking to people who are working and living around the District of Columbia.”

Because of its targeted way of reaching local workers, Civello said his company can play a role in building audiences for arts venues. Unlike marketing strategies that are geared at tourists, Plum is focused on local residents who could potentially become repeat patrons.

Plum’s services are already available to employers in New York, Las Vegas, Orlando and Philadelphia. Civello said that some of its first clients in the Washington area are employers who have offices in these other cities and are already familiar with their work. Many of the early adopters here have been law firms, banks and professional services companies.

For employees who take advantage of these offers, Civello said they can feel more confident that the event is worth attending.

“I think when people get a message from their HR director instead of seeing something on the street, it builds trust,” Civello said.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economics news.
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