McDonald’s ramps up digital marketing arsenal, experiments with agencies outside roster

McDonald'sMcDonald’s has hatched an ambitious plan to boost its digital marketing capabilities in Asia Pacific, and has begun hiring staff from agencies around the region.

The new function will serve to improve McDonald’s digital brand experience and to develop new digital products, with specialists in media, merchandising, social, CRM and analytics joining the fast food chain.

The unit will be staffed by 70 people across 38 markets in Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa by the end of the year, with a core regional team based in Singapore, the burger chain’s VP of digital and media Andrew Knott told Mumbrella.

Silas Lewis-Meilus is among the latest executives to join the company from one of McDonald’s partner agencies. The OMD business director has joined as director, digital media lead for APMEA.

“Silas is a media subject matter expert who understands digital. While we are increasing our digital investment, we don’t want digital to sit in isolation of the media mix,” said Knott.

Lewis-Meilus joined around the same time as Josephine Tan from MediaCom as director of digital product marketing, also based in Singapore, the company’s regional HQ. OgilvyOne’s head of consulting Michelle Wong joined as McDonald’s APMEA’s director for CRM and analytics.



“This is not about building an internal agency,” Knott said. “It is about establishing a docking point for agencies and vendors, so that they can connect with our markets and corporate, and help us move forward and stay relevant as the world changes.”

“Agencies are forever pushing clients to evolve, but clients by default move at a slower pace. There’s often a barrier on the client side to making step-change decisions. Our new structure will bring that barrier down,” he said.

Knott pointed to McDonald’s fast-growing delivery arm as one area of the business to have benefitted from stronger digital products.

McDonald’s ‘Surprise alarm’ idea by DDB Singapore claimed a gold at the recent APAC Effies.

In answer to a question about resistance from agencies to hiring their staff, Knott said: “Once agencies have got over the shock of losing good people, I think they see the upside, as they have a better, more progressive client to work with.”

McDonald’s works with DDB, TBWA, Leo Burnett and Dentsu (in Japan) for creative and OMD for media, but the company has started trying out agencies outside of its long-standing roster.

The company has appointed VML in Australia, TBWA\Hakuhodo in Japan and Riverorchid Notch in Vietnam, its newest market in the region.

“We are very loyal to our roster. You hear comments about promiscuous clients in this region, but we’re not that way. That said, we are looking to where we can supplement our roster around key projects,” Knott said. “We are committed to our existing relationships, but we do sometimes need supplementary expertise,” he said.

The news emerges two months after the burger giant appointed a new CEO. The company’s former chief brand officer Steve Easterbrook came in to replace Don Thompson, who quit in January.

In an interview earlier this month, Easterbrook said he would “not shy away from the urgent need to reset this business,” which saw a 15 per cent net income decline last year.

The company is to do away with the geographical corporate structure it has been using to date, and introduce four market segments: the US; international lead markets (Australia, Canada, France, Germany and the UK); high-growth markets (China, South Korea, Italy, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands); and foundational markets, which make up the rest.

McDonald’s bid to improve its digital marketing begun with the hire of its first global chief digital officer in 2013, the former Amazon and Yahoo veteran Atif Rafiq. He came in with a brief to focus on future growth in e-commerce, updating the restaurant experience and engaging with consumers in digital channels.


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