CEOs of all companies are carefully watching the aftermath of one of the boldest-ever transparency plays: that initiated by McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson. Thompson recently threw open the doors of its food-production processes to the public with a new online platform and a new PR and TV-advertising campaign. Will it work for beleaguered McDonald’s? Could a deeper thrust into transparency work for other CEOs? And what might be the unintended consequences of Thompson’s strategy?
Thompson’s decision is a major new strategic prong for a company that has been struggling with everything from weak U.S. sales to a lack of significant new products to a global breakdown in its once-sterling reputation for customer service. Years after it launched smaller but similar transparency initiatives in Canada and Australia, McDonald’s is answering critics’ complaints by showing how its food is produced via a multi-pronged campaign, called “Our food. Your questions.”
Thompson and his brain trust even went so far as to invite Good Morning America into one of its beef-supplier plants and to invite customers to ask McDonald’s questions online about its food content and safety, promising to answer the most common ones. “In today’s 24/7 news cycle, people are looking for faster, more straightforward responses to their questions about our food,” Ben Stringfellow, vice president of communications for McDonald’s USA, said in a statement. “We have great information to share and we’re looking forward to engaging in two-way conversations with as many people as possible.”
In that light, should Thompson have hit the transparency button sooner in the U.S. market? Questions about “pink slime” in Chicken McNuggets and McDonald’s burgers have dogged the brand online and in the news media for many years, providing a negative subtext that McDonald’s long has struggled to address.