Market Leader Interview - 5 minutes with...

Alistair Macrow

Senior Vice-President; Chief Marketing Officer at McDonald's

Alistair joined McDonald's in 2007 and has held the position of Senior Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer since January 2014.

This year his leadership was recognised as he was awarded the Marketing Society Leader of the Year 2016

Before McDonald's Alistair worked at Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and Blockbuster; where he established Blockbuster online.

creativebrief: As Senior Vice-President; Chief Marketing Officer, what is your primary focus?

Alistair Macrow : For me it’s about securing the long term-future of the business by building the strength of the brand, exciting customers, making sure we stay relevant and giving them plenty of reasons to visit us. To do that I need to ensure we have the right people, in the right place, with the right support to continue to build our brand, and drive the business well into the future.

creativebrief: What is the biggest issue for your brand today and how are you addressing it?

Alistair Macrow : Myths continue to surround our brand and the food industry in general. From the quality of our food, to how it’s sourced or the nutritional profile of our menu, there are always people looking to undermine trust in our brand.  We need to ensure that the truth is known so that our customers can feel good about eating at McDonald’s.

I’m particularly proud of the steps we have taken to put food quality front and centre of our communications. Whether it’s through our engaging and perception-challenging ‘Good to Know’ campaign, improved food imagery or our work to give social media stars full access to our supply chain to let them tell their own McDonald’s stories to their followers, we’re ensuring that people know the truth about our food.

creativebrief: Is there a broader initiative that you are driving for the brand outside of the day-to-day?

Alistair Macrow : The transformation of our restaurants to Experience of the Future is the defining achievement of the brand over the last 18 months. We’re creating an experience that changes our customer’s perceptions of McDonald’s. Whether it’s ordering at a digital kiosk, choosing the convenience of table service at the speed they expect from us, or trying our new Signature Collection of premium burgers - our customers are noticing, enjoying the difference and feeling better about our brand.

Up and down the country we are continuing to transform our restaurants, adding customer friendly technology like self-order kiosks that, alongside our redesigned kitchens, mean every burger, salad or wrap is freshly prepared, and made to order. By the end of this year we expect to have transformed 600 restaurants – over half of our estate. It’s one of the biggest drivers of perception change we’ve ever undertaken and is already helping to move the dial on trust.

creativebrief: What attributes do you think are required for success for a CMO today?

Alistair Macrow : I don’t think there’s a one size fits all; we each approach the role in our own way, adapting to the organisation and building the best team to complement our own skills.  That said, there are a few key traits that I think are important for success; willingness to listen and learn, confidence in your own judgement and the strength to make mistakes - and then admit to making them.

creativebrief: You were awarded Marketing Leader of the Year by the Marketing Society. How would your team describe your leadership style?

Alistair Macrow : At its heart, marketing is about challenging the way people think and encouraging them to act. Leadership really isn’t much different to that: it’s about challenging people to be the best they can be.  In the past I worried about trying to be an inspirational leader, thinking it was all about being wise, profound and visionary. Those are all great traits but fundamentally for me it’s all about challenging the way people think and giving them the confidence and support to do great work. I see it as providing a sense of direction, not turn-by-turn route guidance. This means that you get to enjoy the journey with your team. It’s that kind of freedom that I enjoy from my boss and I hope my team experiences and values from me.

creativebrief: What work are you most proud of over the course of your career?

Alistair Macrow : I’m proud of much of the work I’ve been involved in over the years. The transformation of the McDonald’s brand hasn’t been about doing one or two things right, it’s been about delivering for our customers every day in multiple ways, putting in the hard yards that mean we have permission from our customers to market to them.

If I had to pick a single moment it would be London 2012 – through our Olympic Park restaurant we gave our customers an experience that matched the occasion at a price they could afford. We helped train the volunteers to be the Games Makers we’re all so proud of, and we created a beautiful advertising campaign that captured the emotions of Britain. Under the brightest of spotlights and closest of scrutiny, the McDonald’s brand stood tall.

creativebrief: You have moved to using content to engage your audience. Can you tell us more about that?

Alistair Macrow : Marketing has always been about creating great content so in many ways we’re not really doing anything different, just staying relevant to our customers. What’s changed with the social media boom is there are now more ways than ever to get content in front of people. We also know a great deal more about customers thanks to data and insight.

It’s a constant learning curve: what works isn’t set in stone. Our ‘Channel Us’ project, for example, created outstanding content that engaged viewers - but ultimately not enough of them to make a difference. Working with Little Mix, Tinie Tempah and Jessie J has allowed us to reach millions, but perhaps we could do even better at cementing brand relevance.

Where I feel we’ve hit a sweet spot is in engaging with YouTubers, by opening up our supply chain, kitchens and restaurants for social media stars to experience for themselves and share their McDonald’s experience with their followers, on their own terms.

We’ll keep trying new things, keep listening to our customers, keep making mistakes and ultimately, keep learning what makes the great, authentic content that our customers love.

creativebrief: Do you prefer to use an ‘integrated’ or specialist agency approach?

Alistair Macrow : I want to work with the best people for the job, whoever they might be. I value people and partnerships. Our agencies need to understand our brand and reflect the values of our business. They need to challenge us thoughtfully and be as committed to our success as we are. If you’re working with the right people you can get equally good work out of specialist or integrated agencies.

Due to the scale of our business, it’s hugely important our agencies are able to collaborate, challenge each other and align behind a strategy or idea when we have made a decision. The one thing that I am convinced by is that you will not achieve long-term, consistent success if you are forever changing agencies – I want the agencies I work with to feel part of the team, to feel rewarded, trusted and confident. When that happens we get the best out of them and importantly they get the best out of us. No agency can do it alone whether they are newly-formed or long-standing, large or small, integrated or specialist.

creativebrief: How do you stay in-touch with the industry’s best agencies and their work?

Alistair Macrow : I don’t obsess over other people’s work. My time is spent getting to know more about our customers and what they are doing and thinking. If you follow your customers you soon get to understand not only how to appeal to them but how competitors are, too.

creativebrief: What’s your attitude to the ‘traditional’ pitch? Is there a better way?

Alistair Macrow : I don’t give a lot of thought to the business of pitches, although I’m not sure I know a better way when you are looking for new partners.  I always get more excited by the people behind the ideas and it’s important to spend time with the people who will really be doing the work on a day to day basis. I want to really understand the people and the ethos of the agency before I get into having ideas pitched at me.

My philosophy is that if you work with your agencies in the right way and develop an open, honest relationship with real trust, then you’re less likely to need to worry about pitches in the first place!


About the author

Ben Somerset-How, Client Director

Ben heads-up the brand focused business development team which sees him dedicate time to engaging both new and existing clients of Creativebrief. He is also the driving force behind our Market Leader Interview series and regularly guest-lectures at a variety of university marketing & management courses.

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