How McDonald’s USA ties communications to the bottom line

Impressions don’t cut it in PR measurement at the fast-food chain. What matters is proving one’s impact.

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan’s distance-learning portal The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations, and interactive courses.

Perhaps it has happened to you. You discuss a campaign with your marketing partners, and some type-A hard-charger demands, “We need to get one billion media impressions for this campaign!”

And maybe you’ve had to let your gung-ho teammate down gently: Bear in mind, pal, there are only about 318 million people in the United States.

So how do you measure your PR efforts, if not with impression mania or the discredited Advertising Value Equivalency? Molly McKenna-Jandrain, director of public relations at McDonald’s USA, tells how the restaurant giant connects PR to profits.

In a Ragan Training session, “How McDonald’s USA ties communications to the bottom line,” McKenna-Jandrain lays out how the company charts the value of the media it generates.

This video clip is taken from the Ragan Training session, “How McDonald’s USA ties communications to the bottom line.”

“What is our purpose in that campaign or in creating a Facebook page?” she says. “It shouldn’t just be putting all this activity out there. What’s that end change or end goal that we really want to get to?”

Your goal, she goes on, must be a measurement process that is both meaningful and actionable. Whether your goal is to drive product sales or make people feel better about riding the bus in Chicago, generating impressions isn’t going to help you measure it.

New standards emerge

The Barcelona Declaration and the Institute of Public Relations have called for new standards in measurement, says McKenna-Jandrain, who has been active in such efforts. Standards foster a common language for comparison and promise increased reliability, efficiency, and innovation. This is because the focus is on outcomes.

McKenna-Jandrain says, “We want to tell a simple story”—that is, to show that a campaign:

  • Has increased effective earned media coverage and story sharing by X percent…
  • Which increased awareness, positive brand perceptions, and advocacy by X percent…
  • And therefore contributed to an X percent increase in restaurant visits for those who were aware of messaging.

Unlike AVE blather, figures like this will make your bigwigs stop fiddling with their BlackBerrys and listen for a change.

Of course, not all media mentions are the same. So how do you measure the value of the pickup you are getting on a story? McDonald’s has a scheme for charting this.

“Let’s say we’re trying to target 18-year-old women who ride motorcycles,” McKenna-Jandrain says. “We don’t necessarily always want to always reach out to the USA Todays of the world. That might have really high numbers, but maybe our key audience isn’t reading USA Today.”

Media analysis framework

McDonald’s rates media stories and mentions from one to three points on three-part “media analysis framework” scale:

  • Outlet: How relevant are the outlets to the audience? The outlets are rated from tier one through three.
  • Visibility: What is the potential reach of each outlet? They are rated for potential reach, from above average to below average.
  • Story type: What is being said about the brand or product? Does it deliver emotional benefits (three points), rational benefits (two), or merely mention the product or brand (one).

McKenna-Jandrain cites coverage of McDonald’s new Premium McWrap, a tortilla with fresh vegetables and chicken. The company targeted outlets that would reach a younger audience—millennials—who could help get the word out about the product.

For this audience, tier one included entertainment, pop culture, and lifestyle publications, such as US Weekly and InStyle. Tier-two publications are those that cover either food or general news, such as The Huffington Post, despite its massive audience.

The Wall Street Journal? Sorry, America’s leading business paper: On the McWrap story, you’re in tier three, right down with Nation’s Restaurant News.

“Our target might not be reading The Wall Street Journal,” McKenna-Jandrain says. “Huge outlet, huge numbers, but not necessarily a priority against this goal.”

Story types

“Story type” rates the tone and content of the coverage. Best are the plugs like Hungry Girl’s:

“And starting next week, the meal-sized Chicken McWraps will be available everywhere! We suggest the Sweet Chili Chicken variety (Grilled, not Crispy) for just 360 calories and 9g fat.”

At the bottom are ho-hum mentions of the new product. “There’s not really any added emotional benefit, or not necessarily something that would make you go out and buy it,” McKenna-Jandrain says. “So this is something important that we’re really trying to home in on: in getting more emotional benefit and advocacy in our messages.”

Weighing all this, an AP story on the new McWrap in The Huffington Post (which some organizations would die for) rated only a seven for McDonald’s: Two for the outlet, three for visibility and potential reach, and two for the story type (rational benefits).

To go beyond such numbers, McDonald’s also surveys before-and-after campaigns, asking whether buyers were swayed positively, how a sample of influencers felt because of the campaign, and whether they were more likely to buy the product. The surveys examine what medium led them to buy or advocate for the product.

McDonald’s recently plugged its sustainably caught Fish McBites. Pre- and post-launch surveys established that Fish McBites saw a 12 percent boost in people wanting to try the new offering or feeling better about the brand, McKenna-Jandrain says. This proves the impact on sales.

“Being able to demonstrate this in measurement—that was a specific goal of ours,” McKenna-Jandrain says. “Then we could measure against it, versus just going ‘We generated two million media impressions about our new fish.'”

What are your measurement musts? Here are a few that McDonald’s identifies:

1. Define measurable goals and objectives for PR plans.

Don’t just cut and paste boilerplate about driving awareness from a previous plan. Really think about your end goal.

2. Test your messaging and approach with consumers in advance of the campaign.

As it turns out, McDonald’s fans like talking about foods such as Big Macs, ice cream, and chocolate. They don’t want to hear about fat or calories.

3. Identify what’s most important.

If you’re trying to explain your ROI, you can use the research, goal setting, and strategy to move forward.

4. Establish a media analysis framework and consistent measurement template.

This raises your credibility with the bosses and presents data in a consistent format.

5. Measure holistically, year over year.

The industry tends to do a good job of measuring individual campaigns. Take it beyond that, examining the year’s goals.

6. Refer to resources and adopt industry standards.

Among other things, check out the Dictionary of Public Relations Measurement and Research and the Twitter hashtag #SMMStandards.

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