McDonald’s new Impact Team is helping it ‘feed and foster’

The cross-functional team is taking an "act first, talk later" approach to commitments that go beyond marketing.

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By Will Novosedlik

When your brand is global, small decisions can make a big difference.

For instance, when McDonald’s reduced the size of its napkins by 20%, it kept 2.6 million pounds of paper from being wasted annually. In a world where more and more people are demanding social and environmental commitments from the brands they buy from, the impact of such a decision can go a long way in building brand trust.

That’s why a year ago, McDonald’s created an Impact Team. According to Gemma Pryor, senior director of the team for McDonald’s Canada, it was an important step to formalize a set of commitments while aligning with its mantra of “feeding and fostering communities.”

“This journey started with defining who we are and what purpose we have in the world,” says Pryor. “We didn’t start with marketing; instead, we asked what commitments we wanted to make to our consumers in Canada, and what actions and behaviours we would take to realize them. It builds on our legacy of initiatives like the founding of Ronald McDonald House Charities.”

‘Feeding and fostering communities’ has always been at the heart of the brand. From 2020 to 2021, McDonald’s supported Food Banks Canada by donating more than 800,000 meals to those experiencing food insecurity, and during the depths of the pandemic, the brand kept healthcare and emergency service workers fueled with more than 2.7 million free coffees and over 11,000 meals. In May 2020, McDonald’s supported the Canadian Red Cross through corporate donations and with more than $1.1 million from #FriesForGood fundraising.

Now, as outlined in its “Love What’s Next” campaign, which displays just how interwoven the brand has become within communities over the last 55 years, the QSR commits to making a positive impact for the planet, communities and food quality. The campaign includes TV commercials, digital ads, web content and more.

The official team is a blend of experts who are communicators, government and public affairs professionals and sustainability leaders who now have an important seat at the table and and are tasked with overseeing the commitments. These strategists ensure that what is communicated is truly action-led. In fact, the entire strategy could be summarized by the phrase “act first, talk later,” based on their approach to lead with integrity and intent rather than a marketing ploy.

“It isn’t marketing and comms campaigns driving this,” says Pryor. “This is about having substance, making commitments, being transparent, asking Canadians to hold us to account – then communicating and marketing those commitments.”

The impact team is currently working closely with supply chain management – an area of focus that will support reaching its goals. Even before the team was set up, the brand was already testing initiatives such as fiber lids and paper straws instead of plastic ones. “We collaborate with the work that’s going on and then instill a culture of purpose-led decision making across all areas of our organization,” says Pryor.

But does an internal group like the impact team have the power to compel its colleagues across the operation to execute based on its goals? According to Pryor, it’s less about making sweeping demands, and more about leaning into McDonald’s culture of collaboration to ignite change. “Because of the legacy of McDonald’s Canada over the last 55 years, it’s very much already within our DNA to look at what we can do to support our communities. We often say that when we open a restaurant, it’s not about being in a community, but being part of one,” she says. “We lead with collaboration across other parts of the organization to ensure we’re making purpose-led decisions.”

As the company celebrates its 55th anniversary and looks towards the future, the impact team will play a crucial role in not only advancing social missions, but retaining customer loyalty. “This is something that both our Canadian CEO Michèle Boudria and our global CEO Chris Kempczinski see as vitally important in the organization’s efforts to build trust over the next 55 years,” says Pryor.