The Player: McD's U.S. marketing chief reassesses staff and creative

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Over the past few years, McDonald's Corp. has suffered from a disconnect between the images of its sunny crew workers serving hot, fresh burgers in the blink of an eye and the less than smiling reality in its stores.

So when the fast-food titan named Bill Lamar as senior VP in charge of McDonald's U.S. marketing, the choice was surprising, but logical. Mr. Lamar has spent roughly half his 18 years with the Golden Arches in operations posts, the rest in marketing. Mr. Lamar managed a store on 18th Street in Newark, N.J., ran field-service operations in Boston, and most recently was general manager of the 700-unit Atlanta region, which he led to become the top-selling area.

Despite some early criticism from Wall Street for hiring yet another homegrown insider, Mr. Lamar's appointment seems to have gained some credibility for McDonald's among franchisees. Franchisee support is critical, especially as owner-operators have seen their fortunes shrink after funding expensive corporate initiatives amid stagnating sales.

"[McDonald's] just created a better link with someone who understands the people who are closest to the most important people that we want to please and serve, and that's the customer," said Paul Schrage, McDonald's retired longtime chief marketer-turned consultant.

"You have to know the operations side, not just a couple of weeks learning how to cook french fries, to be a good executive," said Gary Oerther, a franchisee with 19 units in Orlando, Fla. Mr. Oerther has worked with Mr. Lamar on one of its "innovation teams" that tested pay-for-play kids games and cashless payment. "It's a helluva good choice," he said.

That simpatico between the field and corporate is what Mr. Lamar is most proud of in his McDonald's experience. "All the tactics wouldn't achieve results if the owner-operators, regions and staff didn't work together," he said.

Earlier in his career, Mr. Lamar held marketing posts with Quaker Oats Co. (managing Life cereal brands) as well as United Airlines. His first exposure to McDonald's was in the early 1980s as a VP-account director at the then-named Burrell Advertising, Chicago, where he helped expand the shop's creative services to comprehensive marketing plans for the African-American consumer market.

Already he's talked with McDonald's roster shops and staff to assess "whether we're using everybody in the right position," he said. He is looking at the chain's creative over the past four years. "I've seen some wonderful advertising from our agencies. ... But sales aren't where anyone would like them to be, so right now everything is open to scrutiny, open to judgement," he said.

Still, he was optimistic he could make a short-term impact by "making sure we as marketing team can quickly get oriented to some of the short-term strategies and activities ... and make sure we execute them as highly as possible," he said. "Then we can get immersed into what motivates our customers."

Fast Facts

Name: Bill Lamar

Age: 50

Now: Senior VP-U.S. marketing, McDonald's

Challenge: Give consumers compelling reasons to choose the Golden Arches

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