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VOL. 133 | NO. 134 | Friday, July 6, 2018

Dan Conaway

Dan Conaway

Lessons From Ronald McDonald

Dan Conaway

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CIRCLES AND ARCHES. Our son, Gaines, called the other night and we talked a bit about business, his now and mine once.

My mind wandered to a convertible in a Christmas parade in Jonesboro, or maybe Jackson, Tennessee, or it could have been Tupelo. Wherever it was, Ronald McDonald jumped off the back of the convertible, ran along the edge of the crowd shaking hands with kids and doing the Funky Chicken with any volunteers he could find.

That particular Ronald McDonald attended the very first Ronald McDonald School in 1972 at McDonald’s brand new headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. The second day, everyone was paired with someone for the makeup training … think pancake and half a jar of cold cream. For several hours, each Ronald-in-training sat six inches across from another Ronald and critiqued the red and white face in front of him.

I was that particular Ronald McDonald, and the face across from me was Ray Kroc’s … as in founder. He was in his early 70’s at the time, but he attended every session because he wanted to see how it was done, and could be done better.

Two all beef patties …

A couple of years later, a McDonald’s owner/operator in Birmingham sent me some Big Mac product footage and told me to listen to the jingle embedded. He thought there might be a promotion in there somewhere and he knew my ad agency was looking for something for this market.

special sauce …

With a big chunky tape recorder, we went allover the city of Memphis getting people to say those now familiar words in four seconds or less – from cops at the jail, to potheads in Court Square, to the trading floor of E.F. Hutton – as in – “if E.F. Hutton says …”

lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions …

The first 60-second radio commercial that Alan Tynes and I put together at WREC in the basement of The Peabody had 32 edits in it, done with a razor blade and clear tape. You know the rest. The idea went national, first on radio and then TV.

and a sesame seed bun.

My career began with McDonald’s, and I worked on the account for about 12 years. While I learned – a lot – about hamburgers, fries and a Coke, I really learned about product mix and preparation, food and paper cost, customer preferences by product and time of day – and that each of those customers was the boss, that each restaurant was the measure of the company worldwide, each french fry the marker … how the makeup looked on each Ronald McDonald.

Now I’ve come full circle, because Gaines has been a regional marketing manager for corporate McDonald’s for the last couple of years, and I’m hearing lessons learned in a phone conversation with the next generation.

So, I want to thank McDonald’s for several things: jumpstarting my career, for Gaines’ career at this stage, and for the Egg McMuffin.

I’m a Memphian, and that’s a damn fine sandwich.

Dan Conaway, a communication strategist and author of “I’m a Memphian,” can be reached at dan@wakesomebodyup.com.

PROPERTY SALES 92 242 2,507
MORTGAGES 108 336 2,943
BUILDING PERMITS 202 643 6,711
BANKRUPTCIES 43 176 1,963