The winner is expected to walk away with the majority of the creative in the contest for the $400 million account.
McDonald's marketing group was said to be in "heated" discussions over their choice Friday.
The stakes are unusually high for the two Chicago-based agencies, both currently on the fast-food chain's national roster. DDB Needham, which does mainly international and U.S. promotional work for McDonald's, had handled the marketer from 1970 to 1981, when it lost the majority of the national work to Burnett.
Since then Chairman-CEO Keith Reinhard has made it a personal crusade to win back the business.
For Burnett, a loss would be a huge blow, particularly for Chief Creative Officer Cheryl Berman, who has spearheaded highly charged emotional efforts for McDonald's in recent years.
"Losing it would do to her what it did to Keith Reinhard 15 years ago," said an executive with knowledge of the situation.
DDB Needham's run at the business came July 23 at the agency's Chicago office where at least four top-level officers-including Mr. Reinhard, Vice Chairman-Chief Creative Officer Bob Scarpelli, Spike/DDB Creative Director Spike Lee and Chicago President-Operations Dick Rogers-presented to about 10 McDonald's executives.
The agency's other aces at the pitch were DM9 President Nizan Guanaes and Jim Ferguson, chief creative officer in DDB Needham's Dallas office. Mr. Ferguson is an ex-Burnett creative and onetime protege of Ms. Berman's and helped create campaigns for McDonald's, including an emotional spot featuring dads coaching peewee football and the Larry Bird/Michael Jordan commercial called "Nothin' but Net."
The 6-hour pitch included a general media plan as well as what executives close to the agency described as a multipronged branding approach that has as one element a loyalty program.
Burnett is also said to have pulled out all the stops to develop its pitch, pulling in every creative team in the shop-including the formerly sacrosanct group on Philip Morris Cos.' Marlboro brand.
At least five top executives including Ms. Berman, Chairman Rick Fizdale and President Jim Oates, were at the presentation in Burnett's main office, beginning fittingly at high noon on July 24.
Within its pitch, which lasted about as long as DDB Needham's, the agency also is believed to have included a loyalty program and showed finished spots.