Player Profile: Golden rules: Peleo-Lazar takes a place atop arches

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It's a good thing Marlena Peleo-Lazar has a sense of humor.

Leading her first Owner-Operators National Advertising meeting of McDonald's Corp. franchisees, the VP-chief creative officer for the burger-and-fries purveyor was alternately mistaken for the wife of her boss, USA Chief Marketing Officer Larry Zwain, and Alan Feldman, McDonald's USA president.

Ms. Peleo-Lazar cleared things up with a smile when she opened her presentation saying that she was married to neither gentleman. That quip was in trademark style for the woman who, ironically, joined the Golden Arches on April Fool's Day this year from Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago. At Ogilvy, she was managing partner-deputy exec creative director.


"When [McDonald's] first called me, I started laughing because I had reputation of wearing out clients until they did great work," said Ms. Peleo-Lazar, who prefers not to disclose her age. The burger giant was looking for someone to fill the shoes of Roy Bergold, who was retiring from the post after 23 years.

Ms. Peleo-Lazar honed her retailing skills at Ogilvy, where she was responsible for creative leadership on several accounts, including Sears, Roebuck & Co., Kimberly-Clark Corp. and Helene Curtis. Prior to joining Ogilvy in 1997, Ms. Peleo-Lazar was global creative director on the Procter & Gamble Co. account at Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, where she started her career in 1975 as copywriter.

Charged with being the steward of "brand brilliance," Ms. Peleo-Lazar is responsible for all McDonald's creative developed in the U.S. by the chain's advertising and marketing agencies.

"She's the ultimate consumer," said Cheryl Berman, chairman-chief creative officer at Burnett, which handles kids' and youth marketing at the chain. "She has kids, she understands the market, she's a woman and she's in the business of talking to moms as decision-makers."

In her short tenure at McDonald's, Ms. Peleo-Lazar has already secured her reputation as a tough customer. She has a penchant for keeping meetings short and to the point-a trait she attributed, in jest, to a short attention span.

"She has a good way of cutting through the b.s. with a joke or off-the-cuff comment," said Bob Scarpelli, U.S. chief creative officer of DDB Worldwide, Chicago, the burger giant's lead agency. "But she also knows how to get great work out of the agency."


The challenge is to boost sluggish store transaction counts that persist despite the months-old "we love to see you smile" campaign.

"You have to drive immediate sales and build the brand in the long run," said Mr. Scarpelli of his client's dual strategy. "People expect it of McDonald's. People want us to do great work like what was done in the past, and when we don't do it, they're disappointed. We also know we have to drive sales immediately."

Despite the slow start, Ms. Peleo-Lazar remains committed to the strategy. "This [campaign] has tremendous underpinnings," she said. While she said the campaign has done what was expected of it, she wants to evolve it over the next 10 years.

"Evolution means you're never satisfied with the product you have," she said. "I would like to stretch the boundaries to see where we can take this fundamentally good idea."

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