Not one to settle for just being an American icon, McDonald's has always supported education, both as a corporation and as individual franchises.The fast-food chain has supported funding and scholarships in schools for years, but people weren't seeing the faces behind the generosity, those of the individual restaurant owners. Without this publicity, they were missing out on key opportunities to raise awareness of their programs.
"We know that consumers' expectations of McDonald's is to be active in the community, and this is one of the areas we felt we could make a difference," says Paul Cottrell, chairman of the Tri-State McDonald's Public Relations Committee.
McDonald's called on The MWW Group to help join all of its education programs into one comprehensive effort. MWW and McDonald's had worked together for years, so the PR firm was familiar with the programs, but they saw a lack of consistency that was integral to the campaign. The building blocks were there; they just needed to be restacked.
In order to create more ROI for the company, MWW had to organize all of the existing education programs to work under the banner of "McDonald's Serves Up Education in the Community." By tying everything together, they could consolidate promotional efforts.
Another issue was the dichotomy of McDonald's restaurants as both local businesses and jewels in a very large corporate crown. Most people associate McDonald's restaurants with being the latter, but MWW wanted to stress that the individual franchise owners were members of the communities they gave back to.
"It was important that we communicate that it was the local McDonald's owners doing things with their own restaurants," says Alissa Blate, MWW consumer marketing director.
MWW forwent direct advertising and focused on partnerships with third-party endorsers, such as ABC Television and the US Department of Education, to bring news of the educational programs to the public and, more important, to the kids. In addition, they sent mailings to teachers and educators in the hopes of drawing attention to the campaign's most outstanding program, Check It Out, in which kids completed a summer reading program in order to receive free Happy Meals.
The biggest assets were the restaurant owners, who distributed communications and conducted interviews from within their own restaurants as a reminder of the campaign's local roots. "We wanted to tie it back to what McDonald's really stands for, and that's its work in the community," says Blate.
Thanks to MWW's outreach efforts, more than 250 stories appeared in the media, resulting in more than 50 million impressions and creating tremendous equity for McDonald's as a whole. What had started out as a few well-meaning programs had snowballed into an entire educational initiative, with momentum building each year.
McDonald's saw increases in many aspects of participation, from booklet requests to scholarship applications. About half a million parents, families, and organizations were active in the program, and more than 100 in-store events were held to showcase the McDonald's owners' role in it all. "It was interesting to see how we could use some good community work and business objectives in tandem to achieve these results," says Cottrell.
McDonald's and its owners look to continue their good work, adding onto the program yearly. In the upcoming year, MWW hopes to solidify a partnership with the New Jersey Nets as a third-party endorser for the Check It Out program.
"We have created so much equity that we have to look for a way to sustain it," says Blate. "So we'll continue to look for creative partners to bring into the McDonald's community."
PR team: McDonald's New York Tri-State Owners/ Operators and The MWW Group (East Rutherford, NJ)
Campaign: McDonald's Serves Up Education in the Community
Time frame: January to December 2003