McDonald’s was once viewed as an employer of choice among potential employees, parents, customers and third-party influencers like teachers and school counselors. But low unemployment, a tight labor market and diminished customer service experiences have tarnished the company’s image as an employer. Over the years, those employed by the quick service restaurant industry were seen as the punchline of jokes throughout pop culture and among key influencer groups, and negatively referred to as unskilled workers who were nothing more than “burger flippers.”
In 2000, McDonald’s Corporation executives enlisted Golin/Harris to restore luster to the company’s employment image – a feat that all agreed would be a long-term effort.
An unprecedented “People Team,” comprised of representatives from McDonald’s marketing, human resources, operations and communications departments, along with executive leadership, teamed with Golin/Harris’ Employee Communications Consulting Group to address the problem.
Despite the fact that McDonald’s employment image had been slipping for years, there was evidence working in the team’s favor. McDonald’s Minneapolis Region provided a model for successfully implementing a grassroots employment image program. By initiating community and media relations activities in their area and promoting the achievements of former and current employees, the region experienced unemployment levels one half below the national average. Examining this data and the success the region had experienced proved to the People Team that enhancing employment image was possible.
One of the main charges was to communicate to McDonald’s 2,800 independent owner/operators the benefits an enhanced employment image has on business growth and success. Despite the work of the Minneapolis Region and some other local groups, no efforts to date had been fully supported at the corporate level, or launched nationwide.
There’s no question McDonald’s negative image was affecting the bottom line: turnover costs the company tens of thousands of dollars per restaurant annually, adding up to millions of dollars in the U.S.


The overarching goal of the program permeated every tactic used to make it a reality: become the best employer in every community where McDonald’s does business. The team established several objectives that ultimately would help measure the program’s success.
List on Fortune Magazine’s Best Places to Work 
Improved customer satisfaction ratings
Attitude change among key audiences
Improved retention numbers
Recognition from third-parties as a great employer           
Increase in job applicants
Use of tools developed for field staff
Regions sharing program ideas with each other
To begin, the team developed a key message platform to drive the program, with an overarching message to underscore the charge: “To be the best employer in every community where we do business,” and five sub-messages to support it. Research was conducted to help refine and fine-tune messages, and research results laid the groundwork for future program decisions.
  • Conducted focus groups – 17 comprehensive focus groups were conducted to test program messages to gauge believability and value among different audiences
  • Developed a “Challenge Team” – comprised of field employees (e.g. regional marketing, HR and communications representatives who work for McDonald’s, Owner/Operators, and other local PR agencies that work with McDonald’s) who received information and tools first to share feedback about what would work best with their audiences
  • Participated in ROA (Regional Operation Association) meetings – conducted several round-table discussions with Owner/Operators to gauge their interest in the program and solicit feedback and suggestions about program components, and how to make them as useful as possible for the operators
  • Held frequent feedback sessions with People Team officers – intended to solicit feedback from them and ensure they were well-prepared to speak on behalf of the effort to their colleagues and other audiences within McDonald’s
  • Televised MCN Broadcast – program was presented to division and regional staff via a broadcast telecast, and feedback was solicited from participants to obtain their buy-in for the charge


Developed logo/identity – build awareness of program and communication elements
Developed Executive Kits – cascade method to help leadership communicate with various audiences (included the message platform, talking points, Q&A and a PowerPoint presentation)
Provided colorful, laminated designed message platform featuring focus group-tested key messages to every Owner/Operator in the field and regional HR, PR and marketing managers
Established ambassadors for the cause – current and past employees to speak about the benefits of working at McDonald’s
Created employment image (password protected) intranet called ImageWorks, that provides step-by-step tactics for improving employment image, including:
Building or leveraging relationships with local community leaders and educators
Sharing positive McDonald’s news with local media
Trading employment image program ideas/“best practices” with colleagues
Localizing national image programs for their markets
Customizing fill-in-the-blank media and outreach materials
Rising above the clutter
Publicized web site launch – via email introduction and link from other corporate intranets, and internal publications
Emails from corporate leadership
(announcing launch, educating field about resources available)
Designed postcard mailing to remind field members about web site, sent to Owner/Operators, Regional Marketing and HR Managers, and Division Presidents
Since initiating the program in late 1999, the employment image campaign has seen much success, even though direct recruitment/retention results will take some time to evaluate.
ImageWorks has become a popular tool among field staff seeking new ideas and resources for building employment image programs locally. Regions are “borrowing” and implementing each other’s program ideas after learning about them on ImageWorks. For example, a field story (best practice) posted on the website in June by the Detroit Region which has successfully portrayed employee anecdotes about the benefits of working at McDonald’s, was adopted by the Philadelphia region and is already seeing success there. In addition, the Minneapolis Region, a region that typically blazes the trail, is borrowing another concept from the Detroit Region called “Under the Arches,” an in-store image newspaper that highlights recent crew accomplishments.
During its first month, ImageWorks experienced a total of 206 visitors – proof that the launch was a success and that Owner/Operators and division and regional staff were using its resources to combat tarnished employment images in their areas. One month later, after a postcard mailing was distributed, ImageWorks visitors increased to approximately 600. Visits per month still average about 100 since the postcard mailing was distributed. Improving employment image for the world’s largest quick service restaurant isn’t a quick fix, but this grass roots tool is becoming a key component of part of a larger effort that will encompass further marketing, advertising and employment branding efforts.