Close-up: The Advocates - Burnishing the golden arches McDonald-style

McDonald's marketer Jill McDonald doesn't want to 'add to agencies' problems' by screwing down margins.

Jill McDonald and McDonald's seem to have been made for each other in ways that go far beyond the coincidental sharing of their name.

The corporation's chief marketing officer for the UK and Northern Europe has burnished the golden arches in Britain in a way that would have seemed inconceivable when she took up the challenge four years ago.

From a time when profits were in freefall, the UK operation has notched up £460 million in extra sales on her watch as well as 15 consecutive quarters of growth. This is mirrored in a £90 million marketing spend that has seen a double-digit growth this year.

And all this at a time when the market is, at best, flat or, at worst, in decline and when McDonald's continues taking most of the flak from those who still see it as the embodiment of all that's wrong with Britain's bad eating habits.

Few doubt that it was the double act of Steve Easterbrook, the boss of McDonald's UK operation, and McDonald, 45, who arrived within months of each other in 2006, that has given the corporation its mojo back in Britain.

It's all a far cry from 2005 - a truly annus horriblis for the corporation, McDonald concedes. Its restaurants were looking old-fashioned as the UK operation became preoccupied with expansion rather than enhancing the eating experience for its existing customers.

Meanwhile, it was still suffering fallout from the infamous McLibel case - a PR disaster for the company that stood accused of bully boy tactics in pursuing two eco activists over the contents of a leaflet they'd written and distributed.

The company's reaction was to circle the wagons. "We lost confidence and hunkered down,"

McDonald admits. "Today, we recognise that not everyone will like us but we're confident about who we are and what we do."

Just as well, given how fiercely competitive the eating-out market has become. In the mid-70s it was just fish and chips and Chinese takeaways, McDonald points out. Now the competition ranges from drink and sandwich deals at Boots and Marks & Spencer to high-street Vietnamese noodle bars.

"It's very much a market share fight," she says. "You have to keep a close eye on how consumer habits are changing and stay with them. If we don't meet our customers' needs, they'll soon tell us."

She believes McDonald's has drawn strength from its basic marketing instincts. "This is the most consumer-led business I've ever worked in," she says. Under McDonald, the company has organised a multifaceted response to its problems in the UK - refurbished restaurants, better kitchen equipment to provide hot food faster and greater emphasis on promoting the quality of its food.

TV ads by Leo Burnett, the company's lead UK creative agency, remains the principle vehicle for delivering the messages. Between 40 and 50 new spots appear each year. In part, it's because 60 per cent of McDonald's restaurants in the UK are franchised operations and franchisees expect it.

"These are local businesses that are giving me 4.5 per cent of their annual sales," McDonald explains. "They have to be convinced they're getting marketing that works."

Digital accounts for around 9 per cent of spend and McDonald doesn't plan to increase it. She hired Razorfish to inject some fun into the online presence. "We know that to engage with teenagers and young adults, we have to be online," she says. "But TV continues to draw big reactions."

She's full of praise for Burnett for the way it applies itself and sees little point in screwing down margins if it means not having the best available agency talent. "Agencies are having a hard time. I don't want to add to their problems."

Nevertheless, she's not convinced about "one-stop shopping", believing no single agency can offer the best of all disciplines. As a result, she's content to manage an extensive roster that also includes OMD for media planning and buying, and The Marketing Store, which handles sales promotion.

The fact that her US-based employer cuts her considerable slack clearly helps her do this. "They run me on a long leash - but I suppose there's a choke collar at the end of it," she smiles. It doesn't look as if she'll be pulled up any time soon.

THE MCDONALD LOWDOWN

- Going global with BA

The graduate trainee programme at Colgate-Palmolive provided her route into marketing. She stayed four years before beginning a 16-year stint at British Airways, ending up as its head of global marketing.

Changing agencies - and jobs Having been closely involved in the decision to switch the BA account from M&C Saatchi to Bartle Bogle Hegarty, she opted for redundancy.

- McDonald's goes for McDonald

Within six weeks, Steve Easterbrook, the man hired to revive McDonald's UK fortunes, named her as his marketing chief.

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