Easterbrook hire highlights importance of marketing to McDonald’s turnaround strategy

The man behind many of McDonald’s recent strategic marketing changes, Steve Easterbrook, will take the spot of CEO in March as Don Thompson, who has taken the heat for many of the restaurant’s financial failures, steps down.

The restaurant has seen two years of sales declines in the US, its biggest market, under its current leadership, and CEO Don Thompson has paid the price. Today (29 January), he announced his retirement from the company after two and a half years in the role and 24 years with McDonald’s.

The company’s latest quarter results, announced on Monday (26 January), were lower than expected, with a profit decline of 21% year on year and total revenues for the quarter down by 7.3%.

As recently as Monday, Thompson was laying out the company’s marketing plans that he hoped would push sales in the right direction, such as a push of its “Create Your Taste” marketing platform, a global initiative that lets customers select their own toppings and ingredients to build their own burgers through a touch screen, as part of a wider aim to push customer engagement through digital kiosks, table service and mobile ordering.

However, it will be the man McDonald’s credits for overseeing recent efforts in marketing and menu development, UK-born chief brand officer Steve Easterbrook, who takes this on.

Last year, the company announced it would “streamline” its marketing around its core menu and said it would drop menu items in US stores to focus on core burgers and breakfasts, a strategy it will likely continue under Easterbrook.

It is also likely that Watford-born Easterbrook, who will be the first non-US chief executive for the company, will apply his history with McDonald’s UK business to the CEO role, as the company has often cited the UK as its most successful market.

Easterbrook began his career with McDonald’s in London as a financial reporting manager in 1993 and over the following years held restaurant and operations roles before being appointed as regional vice president for the UK’s southern region in 2001.

He went on to become deputy managing director for the UK business in 2005, and was ultimately promoted to McDonald’s UK CEO in 2006 and senior vice president and division president of northern Europe in 2007.

Although he became chief brand officer and then president of McDonald’s Europe, he also brings an outside perspective to the CEO role, as he made a shock move to leave the company in 2011 to become CEO of Pizza Express.

He returned to McDonald’s in 2013 after another CEO stint for UK chain Wagamama.

In his roles with McDonald’s UK business, Easterbrook turned around sales by pushing menu innovation, a move that he will now look to mimic worldwide.

In December, Thompson said McDonald’s would use its London restaurants, which feature smaller menus with a focus on core products, as a template for success.