McDonald's Win Is Only the Beginning for Wendy Clark and Omnicom

Holding Company Has 120 Days to Build 'Agency of the Future'

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Wendy Clark in McDonald's uniform, the first time.
Wendy Clark in McDonald's uniform, the first time. Credit: Wendy Clark/DDB; Photo by Betsy Ludlow (Wendy's Mom)
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Wendy Clark was almost speechless. Almost. And only for a minute.

But according to the DDB North America CEO, she and Omnicom staffers who'd been working on the pitch for the McDonald's creative review had arrived for a Monday morning meeting with the "understanding it was going to be a commercial terms discussion."

Instead, they were greeted by McDonald's U.S. Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl and "Ronald McDonald with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of Champagne."

"It was a lovely bit of misdirection," especially after a summer of chasing the business. "You want to believe it's going to happen. … We worked Mother's Day. We worked Father's Day. Almost all of the team missed Cannes. So many vacations were postponed."

And the win was especially sweet considering the history and the pressure. Ms. Clark was a shift manager at McDonald's early in life. McDonald's and DDB have had some form of relationship since 1971, even if it hasn't been continuous. And DDB Chairman Emeritus Keith Reinhard and former Chairman-Chief Creative Officer Bob Scarpelli are credited with some of the company's most iconic work.

"Try having Keith Reinhard walk by your office and ask me how the pressure was," said Ms. Clark. "If there's anyone in the world you don't want to let down, it's Keith." She added, though, that both Messrs. Reinhard and Scarpelli were absolute gentlemen during the process. "They would never ever dream of overstepping. They were there for support, guidance, encouragement more than anything." (For a look at Mr. Reinhard explaining the creation of the marketer's "You deserve a break today" ad, click here.)

But the pitch is over, the Champagne bottles have been popped, what next? What about that agency of the future?

After all, DDB didn't win the review. An as-yet-to-be-named Omnicom agency did. The shop will fall under Ms. Clark's purview, but it will have its own P&L, as well as its own C-Suite. Contingency offers are on the table, but Ms. Clark declined to name the CEO, who will report to her.

A shortlist of agency names is being worked on by the legal team. "Within a week or two weeks it will have a name. … All good options. Some point more to the model itself. Some point more toward McDonald's. We had Interbrand help us," said Ms. Clark.

The agency will consist of about 200 staffers drawn from DDB and other Omnicom shops.

Also sitting in the under-construction offices at 225 Michigan Avenue will be team members from The Marketing Store, Facebook, Google and The New York Times' T-Brand Studio. Those companies were part of the pitch process "and as part of that they agreed to embed in the agency with us," said Ms. Clark. They're not officially employee agencies, but rather partners with McDonald's.

"They were existing marketing partners going into the review. We went with what we knew the client wanted," said Ms. Clark. "We demonstrated to the client we could work within and external to the network."

There will also be other people constantly rotated into the mix as part of a dynamic staffing to accommodate marketing needs and "deliberately to avoid getting stale."

So what about those much-talked about pay-for-performance measures that McDonald's has put into the contract? Shortly after the review began in late April, WPP dropped out of the process -- and some suggested it was because the chain was asking the companies to work at cost. "That was not from us at all," Ms. Wahl said.

Ms. Clark declined to go into details about the measures, saying only that "there will be KPIs we agree to. We've already had those discussions."

"We wouldn't work for anyone we didn't feel fairly compensated by," she added. "And we feel fairly compensated."

The shop will also have the ability to look beyond McDonald's. "They're actually favorable to the agency eventually pitching [other] business," said Ms. Clark. But that's "obviously not on the radar in the near term. Year-two maybe."

For the time being, she's got bigger fish to fry. "Our contract date is January 1 2017. We've got exactly 120 days to stand up this agency."