Profile: Standing up for McDonald's - Nick Hindle, UK head of corporate affairs, McDonald's

Whether wooing Britons with its organic milk and salads, or promoting its sport sponsorships and salt reductions, McDonald's is fighting back in the war on obesity. The fast-food firm's PR operation wants to stress that McDonald's isn't single-handedly super-sizing Britons and few days seem to pass without it launching a fresh initiative to indicate concern for Fat Britain's weight problem.

McDonald's top UK PR man is head of corporate affairs Nick Hindle, a mellow 38-year-old from Nottinghamshire, who munches away on fruit toast while meeting PRWeek for breakfast at a branch on The Strand. 'Welcome to the future of McDonald's,' he opens, indicating this flagship outlet's retro design and internet terminals.

PRWeek meets Hindle 48 hours after it emerged that McDonald's is to replace its golden arches with a question-mark for an ad campaign - a decision that has left many analysts baffled.

The firm has suffered a veritable McFlurry of bad publicity, such as the film Super Size Me and a fall in UK profits. Does it annoy him that McDonald's is, in his words, currently 'typecast as the villain' in the obesity war? 'You can't feel that way,' he says. 'Many brands are cast as heroes - good for them but they've got to keep that going.'

Flagging up changes ranging from new menu items to the introduction of the YumChums - ad characters who extol balanced diets and exercising - Hindle says: 'The changes are foundations for growth. Perception is one thing, reality is another - we need to close the gap. Public perception has been moulded by our advertising tone of voice. We are putting PR at the top of the agenda. It is not to do with a redirection of spend - it's to do with an attitude, the way we navigate through issues, it's about transparency.'

Hindle's first PR job was at a firm in Rotherham. He 'made tea' and did 'simple PR', such as producing a newsletter for Hartlepool's Camerons Brewery ('proper beer!'). After spells at four different agencies, he joined Countrywide Communications, where he spent five years (meeting his wife there). He then joined Phipps PR, before moving to McDonald's, his first in-house role, in 2002.

He describes Super Size Me, which showed its maker Morgan Spurlock becoming ill after living on McDonald's food for a month, as a 'well-edited and well-directed movie'.

The film shows McDonald's US PR team engaging with Spurlock belatedly and reluctantly. How does he feel the film portrayed McDonald's PR response?

'Jim Cantalupo (the global CEO and chairman who died of a heart attack in April) had a lot of stuff in his diary... CEOs of big business have to prioritise - an unknown filmmaker is not as high up the list (of priorities) as serious journalists and analysts,' he says. He is similarly dismissive of Fast Food Nation, describing it as 'boring' and a 'history lesson more than a contemporary work'.

Hindle appears perplexed by a question as to whether he devours the anti-capitalist literature in which his employer is often public enemy number one. 'Not top of my reading list,' he asserts, with a shrug that suggests he would rather chomp his way through a Spurlock-sized banquet of rival Burger King Whoppers than spend an evening chewing over some Noam Chomsky or Naomi Klein. But he praises books such as Food Politics by Marion Nestle and My Trade by the BBC's Andrew Marr.

Hindle says one of the projects he has most enjoyed involved the recruitment of five Pop Idol rejects to record a version of the Justin Timberlake track used in McDonald's ads. As he talks, by coincidence, the track comes on over the tannoy - with characteristic humility, Hindle jokes 'I'm more Disco Dad than Destiny's Child these days'.

Hindle lives in Newbury (he 'fires up' his laptop for a 6.56am commute into London) and has two children.

Asked what has frustrated him in his career, he replies: 'When you work hard on something and then get trumped by a bigger news story - you spend your time questioning your forward planning.'

A problem in the past, maybe, but surely not at McDonald's: there will always be few bigger marketing stories around than a global mega-brand in the throes of change.


1986 Trainee, WFO - Rotherham

1987 PR division executive, Moss Advertising

1988 Account executive, PCA

1990 Account manager, Grayling

1992 Account director, Clarion Communications

1994 Account director, Countrywide Communications

1999 Managing director, Phipps PR

2002 UK head of corporate affairs, McDonald's

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