THE BIG PITCH: How can McDonald's use PR to keep Europe's BSE crisis from hurting it in the US?

DANIEL P. PUZO, Senior Vice President, Edelman Public Relations Worldwide, New York

DANIEL P. PUZO, Senior Vice President, Edelman Public Relations Worldwide, New York

DANIEL P. PUZO, Senior Vice President, Edelman Public Relations Worldwide, New York

McDonald's must establish leadership by enacting the strictest beef quality standards in the history of the restaurant industry. Under the 'McDonald's Quality Beef Initiative' (MQBI) the company requires that all its beef come from herds that have been fed only approved feed, or product free of any animal by-products believed to be the cause of the disease. Suppliers must document their compliance under the MQBI on a regular basis.

If possible, McDonald's should then go one step further: ensuring its beef comes from herds that have been fed grain-based feed for years if such supplies are available. The MQBI then needs to be communicated to regulators, elected officials, media and consumers. Reassuring Europeans, and keeping its supplies free of the Mad Cow variant, would retain confidence in the US market.

SYLVIA TAWSE, Partner, The Fresh Ideas Group, Boulder, CO

McDonald's should use this as an opportunity to dive into the organic market place. The company does not seem shy of making radical public commitments in the media lately. For instance, it has said it wants to use potatoes that are free of genetically modified organisms, and the only way to do that now is to buy organic potatoes.

Because Europe is so ahead of the US in its fervor for organic products, McDonald's should take the lead. It could offer an organic hamburger option, use Europe as a test market for the first organic Big Mac and have organic Big Mac tastings. It could also use US certified organic beef for the burgers.

DAN COLLINS, Senior manager, Media Relations, Mercy Medical Center, Baltimore, MD

I would not recommend marketing a new product, the 'McCrazy Meal.' Seriously, not even the reincarnated spirits of Ivy Lee and Ed Bernays can fashion a PR plan to help if the work to ensure a safe product isn't being done. McDonald's should have an independent medical team of the highest order to inspect all McDonald's products (and if they do already, they should enhance it with additional hires), not just the meats, and provide the results of regular food product audits to the media. Take a tip from the Tylenol people: open your doors, files, and cooking grills to the press, have them see first-hand the evolution of a Big Mac, from the mooing cow to the paper sack. Be up front and honest, and you can't go wrong.

LEN BIEGEL, Principal, Crisis Management Practice, BSMG Worldwide, Washington, DC

Several key words come to mind: concern, speed, facts, and action. Think of your customers in Europe, where you need to continue to state the facts about the origin of the beef in signage, advertising, media coverage, and on the Web. Store managers need to be equipped to answer concerns when customers raise questions. At the first sign of a problem, do not hesitate to act and change the supply source. And, in the US, where there is no problem, preparation is the byword. Store managers need to be trained to answer questions and give assurances, while the Web and all media should be monitored daily, watching for potential rumors that need to be stopped as quickly as possible

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