PR Team: Connecticut and Western Massachusetts McDonald's Owner/Operator Association and Cronin & Company (Glastonbury, CT) Campaign: McDonald's Fantastic Scholastics Time Frame: February 2003 - ongoing Budget:$140,000McDonald's owners in Western Massachusetts and Connecticut have long been involved in programs to help local schools and other educational causes. But their efforts were fragmented and, more often than not, did not receive a great deal of recognition in their communities. Owners also had difficulty getting across the message that they are local businesspeople, rather than merely part of a major multinational corporation. They wanted customers to know they are part of their local communities. "They were trying to be good corporate citizens, but not getting the recognition," says Patti Stern, an SVP at Cronin & Company. A third challenge local operators faced involved parental and educator concerns about commercial enterprises marketing in schools. The owner/operator association hired Cronin in 2002 to develop a program to raise the awareness level of local McDonald's education programs, and deal with other concerns surrounding those efforts. Strategy Cronin decided that the best way to gain recognition for local owners' educational efforts would be to bring together various programs under one banner. To raise credibility, partners such as schools, libraries, and others would be brought into the campaign. "One of the key objectives is to position McDonald's as a positive influence in the communities they serve," says Stern. Focus would be placed on reading and increasing child literacy. Tactics McDonald's Fantastic Scholastics was created as the umbrella for local educational efforts. Partnerships were inked with such highly reputable third parties as the Connecticut Department of Education, the Connecticut Association of Schools, the Southern Connecticut Library Council, and the Western Massachusetts Regional Library System. Local sports teams were brought in as partners, providing free tickets as incentives to encourage children to read. "Each partner had to bring something to the table," Stern recalls. Working with the state education department, reading curriculums were developed for kids in kindergarten through third grade. Information sheets outlined levels of comprehension children should achieve in each grade. In February, roughly 4,000 packets were sent to principals and K-3 teachers in 700 schools across both states, detailing the programs McDonald's offered local schools and educators. Meetings were held with educators and librarians. Articles about the program were published in partner newsletters. Local NBC affiliate WVIT-TV, the program's exclusive media partner, produced and aired a PSA on the program. State education-organization logos were used on the education information packet, adding credibility to the offering. And approximately 600,000 tray liners were created, touting the new campaign. Results Before the PR campaign, "a lot of educators said they weren't even aware of the programs McDonald's had," says Wayne LeBrun, president of the owners' co-op and the McDonald's Owner/Operator Association in Western Massachusetts. Since the effort began, "we've gotten a lot of schools to open up to us." In May and June, Ronald McDonald conducted 17 in-school performances for more than 4,000 students with a new show, It's Book Time with Ronald McDonald! Local owner-operators attended to introduce themselves to principals. More than 33 library appearances were scheduled for Ronald in July and August as a result of the campaign. Media coverage included the NBC station/partner and a local CBS outlet. Future Ongoing educational programs from local owner/operators will be incorporated under the Fantastic Scholastics umbrella. The program will likely expand beyond reading and literacy in 2004. "I think we've got years of this ahead of us," says LeBrun of the ongoing campaign. Stern says the agency will look for additional partners for the program, pointing to the health and nutrition area as a natural sector in which to seek out new campaign partners.