Media Mavens

Media Mavens: Heather Oldani, McDonald's

Exec Leverages Social Media to Help Keep Marketing, Innovation and Communications in Sync

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When McDonald's sees one of its test products as a trending topic on Twitter, it takes that seriously.

The chain frequently tests menu items and sees social media as a way to get feedback and tweak the items. Test items have even become trending topics in test markets. "As we go into select cities and test certain menu items, [there's] an opportunity to leverage social media primarily to further engage customers in that city, as well as get additional insights from them on the menu item and what improvements or enhancements we might need to make," said Heather Oldani, director-U.S. communications for McDonald's USA. It's all part of the chain's effort to engage its customers and open up communication.

Heather Oldani, McDonald's
Heather Oldani, McDonald's

Like many marketers, McDonald's jumped on the social-media bandwagon without a clear idea of where to go. It dabbled with social a few years back, but Ms. Oldani, who was co-leading the social-media efforts at the time, took a step back to evaluate how the strategy should move forward.

Now, she says, what's different is that McDonald's is "going out there and listening, in a very open and transparent way, to conversations about the brand," and determining where the company has opportunity to engage in direct conversations with customers, as opposed to "one-way communications channels" such as marketing and merchandising.

Ms. Oldani has been with McDonald's since 2002, leading PR efforts for launches such as the now-iconic "I'm lovin' it" slogan, and managing the team that developed the strategy for the company's national hiring day earlier this year. She leads the company's external communications and is responsible for its PR strategy, as well as overseeing a team including those in media relations, social media, multicultural PR and PR strategy for menu launches, promotion and brand-trust efforts.

Ms. Oldani said that the company's goal is to have multiple departments—everything from communications to marketing to menu innovation—working cohesively. And when it comes to paid vs. owned vs. earned media, "it's not one at the expense of the other, it's how do all three work together?"

"She has good instincts on what trends and tools our company should jump on or pass by ," said McDonald's USA President Jan Fields. "And I don't mean that just in the realm of social media. I trust her to be able to go toe-to-toe with agencies, media outlets and our own senior management—and she does it all with finesse."

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