McDonald's primary agencies are DDB and Leo Burnett, both of Chicago. And insiders indicate that Mr. Golden will stick with them -- for the shops in this case, the changing of the guard may be a benign progression.
Mr. Golden, 46, will assume the job April 1. Mr. Lamar's desire to retire has been no secret; in fact, rumors swirled that he could retire as early as last January. And Mr. Golden, VP-marketing for McDonald's USA, has long been considered the front-runner for the top U.S. marketing spot. Further, Mary Dillon is still in place as global CMO, and Mr. Golden worked directly under Mr. Lamar before getting control of the $1.7 billion U.S. advertising budget.
"What Bill has created in building the base of the business has been terrific," Mr. Golden said. "I intend to continue with this strategic focus on the overall health of the business, food value and being in touch with the attitudes of our consumers." After working with Mr. Lamar on and off since 1996, Mr. Golden said they share similar styles.
"We're both pretty thoughtful, we're both committed to doing the right thing the right way, and I think we're both champions of building a great team and supporting that team," he said.
Mr. Golden did say "tactical changes" are possible following the change in leadership, but those are expected to be about tweaks in messaging and media choices rather than about major strategic shifts or culling of the fast feeder's roster.
"Let me assure you we have fabulous agency relationships," Mr. Golden said.
Mr. Golden will have big shoes to fill. Mr. Lamar, 55, helped fuel the turnaround at the fast feeder's domestic units, oversaw the launch of the Dollar Menu and premium products including McGriddle breakfast sandwiches, gourmet salads and coffee and the introduction of digital marketing, which reduced dependence on TV ads. Mr. Lamar also led the charge to develop a uniform domestic-marketing strategy, which led to the "I'm Lovin' It" campaign. The 25-year Golden Arches vet was responsible for marketing of nearly 14,000 U.S. restaurants as well as product development and business research. He has served as U.S. CMO since 2002.
"Bill's contributions to our brand are simply too vast to attempt to quantify," Don Thompson, president of McDonald's USA, said in a statement. "What Bill has effectively done in his own unique and quiet way is leave an indelible mark on our brand that will last for generations to come."
Darren Tristano, executive VP of Technomic, likened Mr. Lamar's retirement to Michael Jordan's from the Chicago Bulls. "He's done a very good job helping bring McDonald's together, been part of a team that's turned the company around, been part of a very successful advertising campaign," he said.
Gregarious with a booming baritone voice, Mr. Lamar was known as "the operations guy." He spent 10 years in various restaurant-operations positions. Five years of that was spent working as VP-general manager for the McDonald's Atlanta region, which included more than 700 restaurants in four states and more than $1 billion in annual sales.
Dick Rogers, North American president of DDB, said his agency has an excellent relationship with Mr. Golden and that he doesn't see any changes in the offing.
However, McDonald's took some of its critical breakfast business away from DDB earlier this year, siphoning it to Havas' Arnold, Boston, and independent Moroch, Dallas. At the time, Mr. Golden told Advertising Age that the move was not intended as a punishment.
As for stylistic differences between the two, Mr. Rogers, said, "I don't see very many off the bat. Bill and Neil have worked very closely together on the [Plan to Win] and it's been hugely successful."
Not everyone feels the same. While Mr. Lamar spent many years in operations, Mr. Golden has a marketing resume, which can be seen as a weakness at an outfit like McDonald's.
"Operational experience is really important when you're marketing in a world where you control the distribution channel," said an agency executive who has worked closely with both Mr. Lamar and Mr. Golden. "Bill, having worked on the operations side, really understood that well. I'm not sure Neil has the same depth of understanding in that area."
Mr. Golden is certainly starting off in an odd position in the market: on top. While many marketers benefit from beginning at a low point, from which they can be credited with any success that comes later, some experts are wondering how much better McDonald's can do in the U.S.
"To be fair, after adding $2.2 million of sales per store, how much higher can the sales go per store and how much higher can the margins go, how much more profitable can the U.S. market be?" said David Palmer, an analyst with UBS. "Those are significant questions, and for investors the heartening answer is that the U.S. need not be the horse that drives the majority of profit growth."
But it will be critical for Mr. Golden.
In his most recent position as VP of U.S marketing, Mr. Golden has led the strategic business and marketing planning for McDonald's USA and also led the pricing strategy framework for the company and been instrumental with evolving the overall ethnic marketing.
"We've adopted an approach whereby we lead our marketing planning process with ethnic consumer insights," Mr. Golden said proudly. "That's in my judgment one of the keys to our success."