Omnicom Launches Dedicated McDonald's Agency We Are Unlimited

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We Are Unlimited (from l.): Brian Nienhaus, chief executive officer; Chip Knicker, chief digital officer; Graceann Bennett, chief strategy officer; Jon Ellis, chief production officer; Linda Poe, chief financial officer
We Are Unlimited (from l.): Brian Nienhaus, chief executive officer; Chip Knicker, chief digital officer; Graceann Bennett, chief strategy officer; Jon Ellis, chief production officer; Linda Poe, chief financial officer Credit: Courtesy We Are Unlimited

The wait is over. Omnicom has unveiled the identity of its dedicated agency for the McDonald's U.S. creative business, naming the newly staffed group We Are Unlimited three months after winning part of the business from Publicis Groupe.

BBDO Senior Director Brian Nienhaus is taking the helm as CEO of Unlimited, while John Hansa, who led the creative piece of the McDonald's business at former incumbent Leo Burnett Chicago, joins as executive creative director.

McDonald's selected Omnicom to handle U.S. creative in August after a four-month review, and the holding company pitch was led by DDB North America CEO Wendy Clark. McDonald's selection of a dedicated agency within Omnicom marked the end of the fast-feeder's 35-year relationship with Publicis' Leo Burnett in the U.S. However, Publicis still has some McDonald's business outside the country.

The agency will be housed in Chicago and officially takes over full creative duties for McDonald's U.S. business on Jan. 1, 2017. The staff will be comprised of about 200 staffers, including embedded team members from companies such as The Marketing Store (TMS), Facebook, Google, Twitter, Adobe and The New York Times' T Brand Studio. McDonald's multicultural agencies, including Alma for the Hispanic market, Burrell Communications for African-American marketing and IW Group for the Asian market, will also play a key role.

About 40% of the group will come from outside of Omnicom, while the rest will come from the group's agencies including DDB, BBDO, OMD, Sparks & Honey, Critical Mass, Annalect and more, said Mr. Nienhaus, who reports into Ms. Clark. The 200-person group is probably one of the "top 10 or 15" largest client teams in the country, said Mr. Nienhaus, adding that AT&T's Omnicom team is around the same number.

Mr. Nienhaus, who previously led the AT&T corporate brand and business solutions accounts at Omnicom's BBDO New York, added that Mr. Hansa may bring in some other people from Publicis Groupe. "We want to make sure we have a deep bench of McDonald's history and capabilities," he said.

In addition to Mr. Nienhaus and Mr. Hansa, Unlimited's new leadership team includes Chief Strategy Officer Graceann Bennett, who has worked at shops like Ogilvy & Mather and M&C Saatchi; Chief Digital Officer Chip Knicker, most recently managing director for Accenture's North American e-commerce practice; Chief Production Officer Jon Ellis, previously executive integrated producer at DDB; Chief Financial Officer Linda Poe, most recently CFO at Omnicom's Fathom Communications and former controller at Omnicom's Element 79; and Senior-VP Group Director Ursula Ostrom, previously with The Marketing Store.

Unlimited's collaborative model includes a strategy model called The Cortex, which gives the agency a data-informed view of customers by gathering insights in real-time from experts across digital, social, retail, behavior and more, said Mr. Nienhaus. The diverse team within Unlimited will help McDonald's build anything from a tweet or long-term marketing campaign to a Super Bowl spot or in-store kiosk designs.

Deborah Wahl, chief marketing officer, McDonald's USA, has said that along with the new agency model, her team is working on a new briefing process to make sure that they are adaptable in today's ever-changing marketing market.

"You have to be ready to go if something happens competitively or there's a cultural moment, you have to be ready to unleash and put messaging out there that's relevant," Ms. Wahl told Ad Age in October at the ANA Masters of Marketing conference. "The big thing today is to be more flexible in the approach."

She referred to such planning as the "foundation and plumbing" and stressed that she wanted McDonald's and its agency partners to be more nimble and flexible.

While Mr. Nienhaus wouldn't go into specific financial goals for McDonald's, he said the agency is focused on increasing guest counts and sales. He said the U.S. business is strong, but it's in a "slow growth pace," which is why Unlimited has to get the chain in the growth business again.

In the U.S., McDonald's and other restaurants are grappling with what the Golden Arches has called "continued industry softness." After two years of sales declines at longstanding U.S. restaurants, McDonald's same-store sales moved back into positive territory in the third quarter of 2015. Such sales, a key measure of health in the restaurant industry, have continued to grow in each subsequent quarter. But lately, the pace of growth has been weakening. McDonald's U.S. same-store sales soared 5.7% in the fourth quarter of 2015, buoyed by the introduction of All Day Breakfast. So far this year, McDonald's U.S. same-store sales increased 5.4% in the first quarter, 1.8% in the second quarter, and just 1.3% in the third quarter.

McDonald's first work under Unlimited will launch in the first quarter of 2017. At the same time, McDonald's USA will have a new leader in Chris Kempczinski, who joined McDonald's in October 2015 as exec VP-strategy, business development and innovation and is set to become the president of its U.S. business on Jan. 1.

The We Are Unlimited name came from the fact that the bespoke shop was built around McDonald's customers, with a focus on collaboration, leveraging data and the agency's belief "that the human potential is limitless," said Mr. Nienhaus. The reason why the agency name couldn't be shortened to Unlimited was due to ownership of IP and domain name issues.

The agency has its own logo, featuring the abbreviated "Unltd" name in white above a white line within a colorful circle.

Mr. Nienhaus added that the logo, which was created by Omnicom design leaders, was created with a modern vibe so it looks "intriguing and cool from a recruiting perspective."

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