McDonald's Neil Golden Out as U.S. CMO

Longtime Fast-Food Marketer Will Retire in Early 2014

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McDonald's USA CMO Neil Golden is leaving the company, Ad Age has learned.

Mr. Golden had been McDonald's USA CMO since April 2008, when he moved up to the position from a VP-marketing role to replace retiring CMO Bill Lamar, who had been in the post since 2002.

Neil Golden
Neil Golden Credit: Tim Klein

The company confirmed Mr. Golden's departure, adding that he will retire from McDonald's in early 2014. McDonald's USA Chief Brand and Strategy Officer Kevin Newell said in a statement: "We thank him for his leadership and many contributions to the brand over the years, and wish him all the best in the future. Over the course of his tenure, Neil has held numerous positions at McDonald's, most recently serving as senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the U.S. business. During this time, he's been responsible for leading, developing and executing fully integrated marketing plans to drive the business, while expanding strategic partnership and alliances across the McDonald's U.S. business. Looking ahead, McDonald's is confident in the future and direction of our business and our brand. We are aligned on strategies that will take our success to the next level and advance us toward our vision of becoming our customers' favorite place and way to eat and drink."

The company said it is too soon to speculate about Mr. Golden's replacement.

It's unclear at this point whether Mr. Golden's departure will prompt an agency review or a reassignment of work to new agencies. McDonald's lead creative agency in the U.S. is Omnicom's DDB, and its media agency is DDB sibling OMD. Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett handles the Happy Meal and other family marketing, and McDonald's works with a number of agencies on a local and regional basis.

Mr. Golden's departure is the latest in a flurry of executives changes since CEO Don Thompson took the reins when he replaced Jim Skinner in July 2012. Mr. Golden's exit comes less than a year after former U.S. President Jan Fields left the company. Jeff Stratton replaced her in December.

In February, the company reorganized its U.S. leadership ranks. As part of that reoganization it moved then-Global Brand Officer Kevin Newell to a newly created U.S. brand and strategy officer position. In Mr. Newell's new role, a number of departments at McDonald's were rejiggered to report directly to Mr. Newell: marketing, menu, strategy and insights -- departments that previously reported to the U.S. president. The reorganization meant that Mr. Golden was to report to Mr. Newell.

Mr. Golden has likely been feeling pressure to stave off McDonald's decelerating sales, which began in early 2012. McDonald's U.S. same-store sales in 2012 were up 3.3%, but sales in the most recent quarter were up 1%, and August U.S. same-store sales rose just 0.2%.

McDonald's has launched a number of initiatives -- even reworking its marketing calendar -- to increase sales in the last year. It's also launched a number of new products, including the McWrap, Mighty Wings and a new line of Quarter Pounders. On top of that, along with most chains, McDonald's faced difficult comparisons early this year because the prior winter's weather was milder than usual, drawing more customers to restaurants.

In September 2012, McDonald's reworked its late-year marketing calendar to roll out the McRib in December rather than October in the hopes of goosing December sales. In October, it posted its first global sales decline in nine years, which prompted the departure of Ms. Fields.

In the wake of disappointing sales, McDonald's in November urged its franchisees to stay open on Thanksgiving and again compelled franchisees to stay open on Christmas after November's sales results were positive -- all while increasing its value promotion to stem any declines.

McDonald's for nearly this entire year has been pushing value promotion and dollar-menu marketing, spurring ire from some franchisees. According to a report released in April by Janney Analyst Mark Kalinowski, some franchisees were upset that McDonald's urged them to market the McWrap, a premium product and the largest product rollout of the year, at a steep discount.

The Dollar Menu, which accounts for about 13% to 14% of the chain's sales, was introduced 10 years ago but its low margins have caused friction with franchisees. McDonald's is looking for ways to rework its dollar-menu and value offerings, and is currently testing a Dollar Menu & More concept, with one version of the new menu being tested including three price points -- $1, $2 and $5 items like 20-piece Chicken McNuggets.

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