Will ex-BA chief safely steer McDonald’s through market turbulence?

McDonald’s appointment of former British Airways global marketer Jill McDonald as its chief marketing officer for Northern Europe is being welcomed as a smart move by the industry. Industry insiders believe that McDonald, who left BA after 16

McDonald’s appointment of former British Airways global marketer Jill McDonald as its chief marketing officer for Northern Europe is being welcomed as a smart move by the industry. Industry insiders believe that McDonald, who left BA after 16 years at the beginning of this year, has the right credentials to steer the fast-food chain through the tricky issues it is facing. McDonald’s has struggled to overcome concerns about health and obesity and, despite introducing healthier options to its menu, has become a focal point for criticism from health and food lobby groups.

Her role is a new one that straddles both the UK and Northern Europe. According to a McDonald’s spokeswoman, it reflects the new divisional structure across Europe, but one industry insider says that is “a cover”, believing that McDonald will be the chief marketing officer for the UK. The source adds/ “Her appointment means that McDonald’s is upgrading its marketing capability and adding a powerful voice at board level.”

The appointment has also led industry observers to question whether it will lead to changes to the existing marketing team at McDonald’s. The two key marketers – vice-president of marketing Laurie Morgan, and head of marketing Dominic Rowell – will both report to McDonald. But the source questions what role Morgan, who is on maternity leave, will play when she returns: “With Rowell, who has significant retail marketing experience, and [Jill] McDonald’s own experience of brand marketing, I think Morgan will be squeezed out.”

Former colleagues and friends of McDonald, who started her career at Colgate-Palmolive before moving to BA, say she is “very bright and personable”. AAR chief executive Kerry Glazer describes her as a “classically trained marketer who is “down to earth and will bring an energy” to the role. Tim Duffy, chief executive of M&C Saatchi, the agency that handled BA until last autumn, says she is capable of bringing teams together to achieve results. He adds: “She is good at getting things to happen as she has the skills to motivate people.”

There is little doubt her new employee will welcome this ability to deliver. Sales figures for April show the chain’s performance in Europe has improved. McDonald’s says strong sales in Germany, France and the UK led to a 9.3% increase in comparable sales, and attributed the increase to the return of its Monopoly promotion and Easter sales.

But an industry insider warns against complacency, saying: “The debate McDonald needs to have surrounds whether to devote resources to building sales among existing consumers, or whether to build brand penetration. If is the latter, there are powerful parallels with what she did at BA.”

Whatever her decision, McDonald has a tough job facing her. Haystack Group managing director Suki Thompson comments: “McDonald wouldn’t be happy if she didn’t have a big brand and a big challenge”.

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