McDonald’s new spin doctor puts local branding high on the menu

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Series Details Vol.7, No.46, 13.12.01, p32
Publication Date 13/12/2001
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Date: 13/12/01

Mike Love has gone from packaging ex-British PM Margaret Thatcher to extolling the virtues of the McDonald's brand. It seems an unlikely move but, as he tells Laurence Frost, voters and customers are usually the same people

WHEN McDonald's Europe wanted a new head of corporate affairs, the search was on for someone experienced in selling brands with less-than-perfect reputations on the continent.

It soon became clear that the company need look no further than its own UK vice president, Mike Love - a former aide to British ex-premier Margaret Thatcher.

Two months into the job, Love is eager to begin dispelling the "myths" he insists still dog the company.

"We've got this large global brand that everybody sees, but actually that's not how it works," he says. "We see ourselves as a small business - it's really no more complicated than a single restaurant."

It's all about local production, local management

and democratic decision-making, he argues - not unconvincingly, if you swallow the off-the-cuff figures.

Around 90 of the ingredients used by European McDonald's outlets are bought from European producers. Fewer than 20 Americans work for the company outside the US. And more than 80 of the restaurants in European countries are franchises owned and managed by local businessmen, who vote on company policy.

Spring him a random, detailed question on chicken welfare and he's annoyingly unrattled. McDonald's has spent three years putting together a new UK supply chain that now allows it to use 100 free range eggs; Germany is not far behind.

Love can take comfort from the fact that while McDonald's-bashing is now standard in many parts, the punters don't seem to be letting it affect their eating habits. In France, where the restaurant-trashing antics of leftist hero Jose Bové have firmly associated McDonald's with the dark side of globalisation, the boom in sales is held up as an example to other European operations.

"People see a brand, a company and a restaurant, but they don't necessarily connect the three. Ultimately we look at the effect the criticism has on the success of our business - that has to be the main measure," says Love.

He is unusual among his company peers in never having been a full-time burger flipper. Most of the firm's executives, including European CEO Charlie Bell, started behind the counter on hourly pay.

But Thatcher's former constituency agent and campaign manager did his penance upon joining McDonald's UK eight years ago, when he spent a month working in the Leicester Square restaurant in London.

"I wasn't even allowed to see my new office," he says.

Ask him for similarities between Thatcher and McDonald's and he is a little less forthcoming. "They're both market leaders," he ventures, before retreating to something a little more general: "Politicians succeed when they're close to the interests of their electorate, and businesses succeed when they're close to their customers. It's often forgotten, but customers and voters are actually the same people."

Interview with Mike Love, head of corporate affairs at McDonald's Europe.

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