Monday, March 9, 2015

McDonald's PR Un-Happy Meal

When I'm on the road, I buy hot coffee at McDonald's. Until now.

McDonald's Corp. is valued at $93 billion, but sales are declining. I'm part of the decline, and by the end of this tale, I hope you'll join me in dining elsewhere.
By Ramon FVelasquez, via Wikimedia Commons

Last week, the company -- still profitable, by any measure -- invited a band to play at their South by
Southwest showcase. Without pay. In turn, the band Ex-Cops used social media to expose McDonald's cheapness. Rolling Stone and other online media picked up the story. This gave McDonald's unwanted PR exposure it doesn't need, with the SXSW-age audience it so desperately needs to reach.

Worse? McDonald's media relations drone responded by essentially saying, "We're just paying artists the way other sponsors do." Except they aren't paying. Other SXSW sponsors pay their performers, says Ex Cops. And not with Happy Meals.

If SXSW were a country music mega-concert, it's a safe bet that McDonald's would find cash to get a Carrie Underwood or Blake Shelton on their stage. 

But that's not really the point. 

McDonald's, under constant fire for poor hourly wages, shouldn't espouse a practice of not paying artists. Its PR drone should have more brains than to say the equivalent of: "We're just as stingy as every other SXSW sponsor." On social media or any other medium. So she's a dolt. (More so by adding the #slownewsday hashtag as a slap at the writer who contacted her.)

The winning PR opportunity here would be to say: "We value and respect artists and their fans. So even if other sponsors aren't compensating their showcase acts, we're going to make things right and pay Ex Cops to play in our SXSW showcase."

So McDonald's blew a chance to bond with a coveted audience. Instead of saving a few bucks, it bought itself a super-sized meal of derision and unwanted media attention. In the media most frequented by the demographic it wanted to reach. 

What does McDonald's pay its hourly employees? Not enough. But to extend the "free fries in lieu of cash" practice to external event sponsorships is beyond heinous. It's evil. A $90 billion company should have a few dollars available to pay artists it hires, even if it's only for an afternoon in Austin.

Bye, McDonald's. Your $1 coffee was the only menu item I'd buy anymore. But it's still too much to spend at your restaurants.