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In April 2023, Sandy Rodriguez was named McDonald’s global CCO, succeeding Michael Gonda, who has been promoted to chief impact officer, North America.
In her role, Rodriguez leads the fast-food giant’s comms function — one of four new ‘Global Impact Centers of Excellence.’ That includes being responsible for ensuring a consistent voice, driving authentic content to better connect our positive impact with consumers to drive brand trust, and assuring communication readiness for all issues that impact McDonald’s.
Rodriguez’s appointment came just one year after she first joined the chain in May 2022 as VP of US communications from Roche Diagnostics Although her stint as US comms lead was a short one, Rodriguez was well-primed for her global role. Her responsibilities included driving McDonald’s USA’s reputation and brand trust strategy. Rodriguez had direct oversight of the US communications team, serve as a member of the US SLT, the global impact leadership team, and the communications leadership team. She also led the brand’s effort to foster local connections and be the point person for local and national community programs.
Can you share a moment in your career when you saw PR’s direct impact on business performance?
Relevance has long been PR’s currency, and that was definitely on display recently at McDonald’s with our Cactus Plant Flea Market initiative. We are always seeking to put McDonald’s at the center of culture, and we do that through the connections we build with fans across the world. But this integrated marketing campaign – partnering with one of the hottest streetwear brands to reimagine the happy meal experience for adults – tapped so purely into our fan truth of the power of nostalgia that it not only broke headlines, but business records. We launched the promotion with a late-night trifecta of earned coverage on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, the Late Late Show with James Corden and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, plus two top national morning show hits, and we reached peak pop culture relevance when our McDonaldland characters (the core of the campaign) were highlighted on the season premiere of Saturday Night Live. What was intended as a month-long promotion started selling out after the first week, and it helped drive the highest weekly digital transactions ever for the US business.
What are the communications industry’s biggest challenges and opportunities in the year ahead?
It’s so clear that post-Covid we are operating in a completely different work environment. Comms seemed to be particularly invested in hustle culture before the pandemic. Collectively, and as individuals, our motivations have evolved. Keeping employees engaged and committed to organizations is paramount. And on a more tactical level, how do we deliver consistent messages in a more divided world? And how can new tools, like AI, help make us better vs. working against us?
What have you most admired about the communications industry over the past year, and what has disappointed you?
I am proud about the role of increasing importance and influence comms plays within organizations as leadership teams have come to understand that business results aren’t just about profits/sales, but also about reputation and positive societal impact – from within our own walls of employee engagement, to how we are showing up for our communities, and what we are doing for our planet. The field is evolving so fast and there is no written playbook for how we do what we do, so in lieu of formal protocols, we’re usually able to overcome any temporary challenges, as long as we’re thinking of our customers first. That fan-centric mindset has helped us mobilize and sharpen the trajectory of progress we want to see for our organization.
What work from your team are you most proud of over the past year?
My favorite program is based on the fact that the special sauce behind our brand is the crew - McDonald’s employees who serve delicious meals and create feel good moments every day. Inspired by all the ways our franchisees were recognizing and rewarding crew members in their own ways, we launched the “Thank You Crew” campaign, and invited customers to join us by submitting their thankyou stories. As the stories of extraordinary service and experiences rolled in, local owner/operators found even more exceptional ways to celebrate and reward their crew members who go above and beyond for their customers. Take Sydney Raley, who jumped out of the drive through window to save a choking customer’s life. Outside of work she has a passion for animation, so the owner/operator of her restaurant rewarded her service with a new Mac full of design software and a suite and is sending her to a summer animation academy. McDonald’s alum turned platinum rapper, Lil Yachty, kicked off the campaign by surprising a restaurant team in his hometown of Atlanta and the initiative has only grown from there.
How have you switched off from work and maintained wellness over the past year?
I make time to go outdoors. Long walks and taking a moment to just take in nature. Now that it’s summer, I spend time in my garden. Growing fresh herbs makes me happy and the added bonus is when I can cook a meal for my family with herbs from my garden.
Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through the past year or provided inspiration?
Re:thinking with Adam Grant has helped me get fresh perspectives on problems/issues I am trying to navigate and has inspired me to pick up new books or get further educated on new topics.
If I wasn't working in marketing/communications, I would be...
Impacting kids, either through education or running a non-profit focused on children.
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